Tackling educational inequality in Northern Nigeria

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By Remi Joyce Babayeju

Going by the United Nations, UN, Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 4, all counties should provide education for all children by 2030. In light of Joyce Remi- Babayeju X-rays the trends of inequality in education between boys and girls particularly in Northern Nigeria and the fall in the 2030 target.

Tofa Model Primary School situated in Tofa Local Government is geographically located in the semi- arid zone of Kano State and it can best the described as a typical school common in the Northern region of Nigeria.

Tofa Model Primary school with a population of 300 pupils and 13 teachers is next door neighbour to a dingy Islamiyah Almajeri school and these two educational institutions can best be described as two seeds in one coin. One offers Western education whiles the other Islamic education.

In the cluster of this neighbourhood lives Sa’dia Abdullahi a young girl who stays with her mother who is a widow but instead of benefiting the advantage of Western education, she hawks and sells groundnuts in the vicinity of the school to children of her age.

Sa’dia is a sad girl because each day she sees her age mates going to school but she cannot do same because her mother told her she doesn’t have money to sponsor her education.

She said, “I admire other children going to school but I cannot join them because my mother’s poor.” She is one girl too many who may not be educated for life because of some inequality due to socio- cultural and economic factors.

So also is Abdullahi Adamu, a 19 year old Almajeri boy from Gwazo in Kano State who attends an Islamiyah School built close to Tofa Model Primary School, but unlike Sa’dia, Abdullahi said he detests Western education because of religious colourization.

Speaking with Nigeria Pilot, Abdullahi, an Islamic student said, “I don’t admire people of my age who are schooling because I have no interest in Western education. I believe this is what Allah wants for me.” Schooling is “haram” meaning bad, he said.

In his spare time Adamu engages in farming to augment his feeding and admitted that he is very comfortable in the Islamic School because the Mallam in charge of the school feeds him so he doesn’t go begging.

Both Sa’dia and Adamu are part of the 10.5 million of out of school children particularly in Northern Nigeria.

A teacher at Tofa Model Primary School, Mallam Sabiu Umar Ibrahim said that the juxtaposition of the school and the Islamiyah School is not a challenge because the children are taught mainly in western education.

“Here we teach the children with a system known as grouping; we group the children to teach them and not by the conventional teaching method. This is to enable each pupil assist one another. This method is designed is to help the low learners among them to catch up.”

Education in Nigeria is still sloppy and the case is even worst in the Northern part of the country between boys and girls.

Reasons of education gaps include socio- cultural factors where girls fall into the cracks of educational inequality. They are usually excluded from getting education and if they do it is Koranic education because it is believed that the place of a women remains in the kitchen despite societal change, cultural infiltration and globalization.

The latest Multiple Indictor Cluster Survey, MICS 5, ( 2016-17), data conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, shows that a majority of Nigerian children especially in the primary school are out of school with a high figure of 11.5 million children.

The MICS survey shows that out of the 11.5 million children out of school in Nigeria, 7.9 million or 69 per cent are in the Northern states. North East has the largest number of out of school children followed by the North West. This could be attributed to so many factors including the recent insurgency upsurge in the Northern region of the country with attendant displacement and humanitarian crisis which has kept majority of children out of school. Also many schools have been destroyed.

On factors responsible for out of school figures in Nigeria, UNICEF Education Specialist, Azuka Menkiti at a 2 day Dialogue with Bloggers on Access to Education in Kano State, said that Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children globally, and 45 per cent of out-of-school children in West Africa and that within this huge number of out-of-school children, girls are in the majority especially in northern Nigeria.

Menkiti said that factors causing educational gaps are location (residence), gender and wealth status. She explained thateducation indicators for northern Nigeria are different from the southern part of the country.

While southern states have on average 11% of children aged 6-14 years out of school, northern states have an average of 31% of children aged 6-14 years out-of-school rate, (MICS 2016), she disclosed.

She explained that gender is an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalization in Northern Nigeria where the population of girls in school is very low.

In northeast and northwest states of Nigeria the female primary net attendance ratio is 44 per cent and 47.4 per cent respectfully which means more than half of primary school aged girls are not in school.

In comparison, the attendance rate for boys in the North east and North West are 48.8 per cent and 50.8 per cent, she said.

According to her, Education indicators for northern Nigeria are different from the southern part of the country.

While southern states have on average 11% of children aged 6-14 years out of school, northern states have an average of 31% of children aged 6-14 years out-of-school rate. (MICS 2016)

Gender is also an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalization.

In northeast and northwest states of Nigeria the female primary net attendance ratio is 44 per cent and 47.4 per cent respectfully which means more than half of primary school aged girls are not in school. In comparison, the attendance rate for boys in the North East and North West are 48.8 per cent and 50.8 per cent respectively.

According to the gender expert, gaps in education could be linked to poor implementation of education policy and laws.

In Nigeria there is weak political will to fully and effectively implement the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 and other education policies, such as the laws prohibiting the withdraw of girls from school for marriage.

Others reasons are poor learning outcomes further complicated by the uncommitted, absent teachers, overcrowded classrooms, and poor learning environments many parents and guardians see schooling as a waste of time as their children are not learning – even to read and there is no link to livelihoods and the desired improvement in the lives of their children.

Also factors like low budgetary allocations, release and utilization further affects school supplies, like books, infrastructure, hiring of teachers, amongst others, Menkiti explained.

In recent times the country has suffered security threats especially in North east region of the country due to incessant insurgency attacks.

Kidnapping of school girls from Chibok and Dapchi has put fear down the spines of parents and significantly contributed to the low demand for education especially for girls and schools building worth millions of naira have being destroyed as a result of this mayhem.

UNICEF survey reveals that education gap further exists due to demand issues rooted in socio- cultural and economic environment.

There is perceived incompatibility of formal, “Western” education with Islamic education which affects both boys and girls in different ways.

Particularly in the northern part of the country some conservative communities believe that educated girls are incapable of raising children in accordance with Islamic tradition. It is also these believed that educated women are less likely to obey their fathers or husbands.

Such negative perceptions contribute to denial of the right to basic education for girls, Menkiti explained.

Another major blow to girls’ education particularly in rural communities, formal education for children is believed to be incompatible to Islamic teachings and capable of eroding traditional and religious practices and teachings in the children. This too does not encourage girls’ education.

In many parts of Nigeria early marriage is still a common traditional practice, which negatively impacts on girls’ enrolment and retention in school.

Poverty is another reason why children are not enrolled in school and where is is option most times boys are given the opportunity over girls because it is perceived that they would soon be married off and the boys would remain in the families.

“Parents and children from poor households struggle to meet the demands of direct and indirect costs of education. If parents had money, they would prioritise the education of their sons over daughters for socio-cultural reasons.”

Social norms equally contribute to gap in education whereby some cultural practices and beliefs keep children out of school and deny them the right to education.

Baseline Study Report of the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah Education (2011) showed that about 9.5 million school-aged children in Nigeria are currently attending Koranic schools/centres spread across the nation. Only 24 per cent of children aged 4-16 years combine both formal and Koranic schooling. Considering the large number of children attending Koranic schools, especially in the northern states, the Koranic schools present a strategic entry point or focus for addressing inequity. (UNICEF source)

Dr. Adedayo Ogundimu, a resource person, at a 2 day Dialogue with Bloggers on Access to Education in Kano State said that education is a process of lifelong learning at individual level, and that it is a socialization process through which a total child becomes a product of his environment.

Quoting the Sustainable Development Goal 4 which advocates for quality education to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, Ogundimu said that every country has a tailored made education policy based on its manpower and socio-economic development goals.

He lamented that access to education by millions of Nigerian children remains hindered due to lack of political will, bad planning, poor infrastructure, failure to engage communities amongst other factors.

Threats to equality in education in Nigeria include poverty, ignorance, culture, religion, and governance, corruption by way of recruitment of teachers, procurement of learning materials and politics / political will.

Ogundimu said that for government to correct the poor access to education scenario in Nigeria, government has to fully implement School feeding program across the country instead of doing it in a few states in the north.

Government has to do conditional and unconditional Cash transfer, Weekend back packs interventions, back to school program, among other useful programmes to get all children in school, he advised.

UNICEF is an international organization mandated to promote the rights