In Sokoto, school enrollment for girls increases but literacy still low

Posted by News Express | 18 September 2022 | 422 times

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•A cross section of female students. PHOTO: UNICEF.



Zulilahat Rilwan, 16, wants to become a teacher and is one of the best students in her school, Magaji Rafi’s Islamiya Primary School, Shagari Local Government Area of Sokoto State. For a society where girls are dared to dream with little or no hopes of fulfilling those dreams, she is determined to finish school and go on to become a teacher.

But there is only one problem: Literacy remains difficult for her and other girls of her age.

“Honestly, I never knew I could be frequently attending school the way I enjoy being in school now,” said Zuliahat in Hausa, speaking as one of the beneficiaries of the Girl for Girl initiative launched in her school and similar ones by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Although Nigeria has for many years had a problem with basic education especially with regards to low enrollment rate into primary schools and smooth transition into secondary schools – due in part to the absence of a fully funded education system, northern Nigeria lags behind among other regions with girls as the most affected.

To address this challenge, UNICEF launched the Girl for Girl Initiative as a measure aimed at empowering girls with information and knowledge to help build their capacity to stand up for themselves aimed at creating equal opportunities for girls to access education.

More than any other time, girl child enrolment at Magaji Rufi’s Islamiya school has in recent time been on the increase. It is due largely to one factor – safety, particularly menstrual hygiene.

In an interview, Mohammed Sama, the Head teacher of the Magaji Rafa’s Ishlamiya School, said the G4G initiative has not only helped with enrollment but in acquisition of equipment to enhance learning.

From less than 200 pupils with only 30 girls in the school before the programme was introduced before 2019, he said the number has now grown 860 pupils including 273 girls, indicating an increase of more than 300% over the period. It is a big success for the area, he said, considering that 60% of Nigeria’s out-of-school children estimated to be more than 10 million are from northern Nigeria.

But beyond the increase in school enrollment, a greater need lies in literacy level. There is still no adequate number of teachers and pupils especially girls are still trying to get used to a new education environment after being deprived of school in their formative years.

Although she has benefitted from the initiative in many ways, Zulilahat still cannot communicate fluently in English, a common problem among her peers and which is increasingly becoming a source of concern for teachers in the area. Instead, she speaks only Hausa fluently.

It is especially challenging for Zuliahat who has missed school on many occasions simply because of her menstrual cycle. Globally, 500 million women worldwide lack adequate access to menstrual hygiene products, according to a 2018 World Bank report, but the challenge is more prevalent in developing countries like Nigeria where poverty, cultural and societal factors pose even bigger barriers.

“It was difficult for me to manage the flow,” said Zuliahat of her experience with period poverty. “Most times, I use rags which in most cases I get stained before the close of school. Since I could not control it, I stopped coming to school during the period.”

Thanks to the menstrual hygiene component of the G4G initiative, the 16-year-old together with her peers were equipped with the necessary training during which they have learnt how to make sanitary pads in a bid to overcome that challenge

“I am very happy coming to school now,” she said. “However, I will be happier if I can speak English like you.”

However, not every girl is as lucky as Zuliahat to have benefitted from the UNICEF initiative. Abdulahi Adamu, 15 from Katsina state, was sent to Sokoto as an Almajiri, meaning he had to begin to take care of himself. Like most teenagers, he understands the relevance of western education but admitted he would rather focus on Arabic schools because “my dream is to become an Iman in future.”

“I would like to be a Quranic teacher and therefore there is no need for western education,” he said.

As shocking as it may sound, it is the mindset of many of his peers in Sokoto and other parts of Nigeria where children are often far apart from their parents and guardians in their formative years. It is worst for female children who are often restricted to stay at home, sometimes against their wishes.

For instance, 10-year-old Bilikisu perhaps understands the importance of western education, the big gap in education in northern Nigeria especially for young girls like her. According to her, “no female child in my family has ever acquired western school so I also do not want to.” And so all her dreams now revolved around just hawking till she is married to her husband, she said.

Thankfully, UNICEF’S G4G initiative is gradually changing that mindset and system with more girls like Zulilahat now being enrolled into school. But there are also concerns of sustainability to not only improved literacy levels but to widen the impact.

“There is a need for changes in the educational management, teaching skills, school infrastructure and learning materials,” said Sama, the headteacher at the Magaji Rafi’s Islamiya Primary School. “There are also needs for changes outside schools – in education funding and governance structures and systems.”


Source: News Express

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