African Journal of Historical Sciences in Education 2 (1), 2006.

THE ROLES OF UNITED NATIONS CHILDRENS FUND (UNICEF) IN REVATILIZING GIRLS' EDUCATION IN NIGERIA

A.A. Jekayinfa

Abstract

We live in a world where inequality reigns. This inequality manifests itself in various spheres in Nigeria and it affects greatly, the women. Inequality exists in Nigeria in political, social and educational spheres and the girl children are being discriminated upon based on their gender. This paper discusses inequality in education and how it affects the girl children, the reasons why girls should he educated and the millennial goals on girl child education. The paper also discusses the roles of the UNICEF in revitalizing girls’ education and in achieving the Millennium Development Goals on girl child education in Nigeria.

Introduction

Women are at the heart of most societies. Regardless of whether they are working or not, mothers are very influential people in children's lives. Educating girls is one of the most important investments that ay country can make in for its own future. Education has a profound effect on girls’ and women's ability to claim other rights and achieve status in society. Having an education can make an enormous difference to a woman's chances of finding well - paid work, raising a healthy family and preventing the spread of diseases such as HIV and AIDS (UNICEF, 2004).

Women with at least a basic education are much less likely to be poor. Providing girls with one extra year of schooling beyond the average can boost their eventual wages by 10 to 20 per cent (Psacharopoulos, & Patrinos, 2002). An educated woman is 50 per cent more likely to have children immunized against childhood diseases (Summers, 1994)

Despite the importance and necessities of women education, there are still 58 million girls worldwide who are not in school. The majority of these girls live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia (UNICEF 2004). At the May 27, 2005 Nigeria's Children Day Celebration, leaders call for accelerated progress on girls' education. The theme of the day was "Educate the girl child, educate the nation". The UNICEF deputy representative declared that "Providing quality education for all children is a must". Particular attention should be paid to girls not only for the development of the country, but to fulfill the right of every child to education (UNGEI, 2005).

In September 2000,188 heads of state from around the world signed Millennium declaration and established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS). While most goals aim to achieve significant progress in development by 2015, one of the goals was to be achieved by 2005 - gender parity in primary and secondary education.

In a recent UNICEF publication, "Progress for Children", reporting on progress made on primary education, shows that the current rate of progress in Nigeria is too slow to achieve gender parity by the end of 2005 and Universal Primary Education by 2015, the target dates for Nigeria's achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals in Nigeria. In Nigeria, about 7.3 million children do not go to school, of these, 62 percent are girls.

Nigerian girls are still disadvantaged in their access to education. As a result, all do not register for school and those who register do not attend regularly, often dropping out of learning very little (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, 2005). The gender gap favoring boys has remained consistently wide in Nigeria over the last ten years. In the Northern part of the country, the number of children out of school is particularly high and the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from 1 girl to 2 boys and even 1 to 3 in some states.

In 2003, the Ministry of Education in Nigeria adopted the strategy for accelerating girls' education in Nigeria. In 2004, the ministry launched the Girls' Education project supported by UNICEF, in order to focus interventions on states with the lowest enrolment rates for girls.  UNICEF also supports the 25 by 2005 global initiative for the acceleration of girls' education in order to achieve gender parity in 25 countries by 2005. Nigeria is one of the 25 countries selected for the first-track action. Supporting education in Nigeria where there are 7.3 million children of primary age out of school, of whom 62° o are girls, the Federal Ministry of Education in Nigeria is implementing an educational programme with support from UNICEF to achieve gender parity and Universal Basic Education (UBE). This support from the international multilateral organizations will directly benefit girls as well as boys in six northern stales of Nigeria. The main thrust of this paper is to highlight the roles of UNICEF in revitalizing the education of the girls in Nigeria

 

Women's Educational Level in Nigeria

The most important issue in any country is the number of girls that have access to education and quality of education they receive as measured by levels of retention and performance. Despite several efforts to increase enrollment and reduce gender gap,. significant increase in access to education still show declines in the overall proportion of girls’ enrolled at different levels of education system. The gender gap has not narrowed across the continent of Africa. Some countries including Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania and many others, though have made significant progress in reducing the gender gap, still they have low enrolment for girls at all levels of education. Overall, in sub-Sahara, more than two-thirds of eligible children are out of school, a majority of whom are girls (Forum for African Women Education, 2001).

Forum for African Women Educationists (FAWE), a pan African non -­government organization, that seeks to promote the education of women and girls in Africa had done a lot to improve the education of the girl children in Nigeria and other African countries. One of its programmes in Nigeria is the "Nigerian Girls into Sciences" (NIGIS) which is an action-oriented performance enhancement programme for girls at junior secondary level in Nigeria. Its primary goal is to expand interest, and improve performance in science among Nigerian girls.  NIGIS project prompted the development of teaching manual in learning Science by Doing, based on the syllabus of Junior Secondary (JSII) science in Nigeria, f earn Science by Doing (LSD) is a guide for teaching integrated science in schools

Education is essential for improving women's living standards and enabling them to exercise greater voice  in decision making in the family, the community, the place of paid work and the pubic arena of politics. Basic literacy and other basic skills are absolutely vital to women's empowerment, and without the skills acquired in secondary education, women cannot obtain better paid employment (UNIFEM. Biennial  Report).

In Nigeria in 1997. The estimated adult illiteracy rate for the total population was 31.2% for men and 49.3% for women (UNESCO 2000). In 2000, the rate improved to 27.6% for men and 44.2% for women (UN Social Indicators).

The national literacy rate for females is only 56% compared to 72% for females, and in certain states, the female literacy, enrolment and achievements rates are much lower, for example, girls  net enrolment in Sokoto, one of the six target states under UNICEF African Girls' Education initiative, is 15%, compared to 59% for boys (UNICEF) HQ 92-0

Why Girls Should be Educated

                Education of girls is a vital factor in dealing with root causes of poverty and under-development. That girls' education directly contributes to sustainable development is no longer an issue. It is now documented that educating the girls and women is the singe most important investment that yields maximum returns for development (FAWE, 2001). Infant mortality rates decrease, children have a higher probability of getting a good education and most importantly, women become income generators, which increase the economic power-base of the family.

There is overwhelming evidence that there is a direct relationship between education and development. The more developed countries show high levels of participation in education for both males and females. Health is an important development indicator. Better health for a nation implies better quality of live and more productivity. UNICEF (2004) has documented that women who are educated provide better nutrition for their families and more children survive the early years.

An educated mother will realize the need for maternity, pre-natal and post-natal care. According to UNICEF (2001) "poor and uneducated parents lack the information needed to provide optimum care for their children, increasing the risks of childhood illness and childhood mortality". Educated mothers will almost always want their children, both girls and boys to acquire better education than they themselves received. This is critical in sustainable development because of the need to break the poverty cycle. UNICEF (2001) observed that 'Poverty' does not stop in one life cycle"

A girl born in poverty is more likely to marry early and have a child while still an adolescent. A malnourished girl becomes a malnourished mother, who will give birth    to an underweight baby  (UNICEF, 2001 P. 33)

Women who can write and keep records, hold position of authority and participate in several associations or development groups. It is quite true that in many African societies, women may not be the key decision - makers either in their homes, local or national levels still, there is evidence that an educated woman will make a useful contribution to the decision making progress both at home and outside the home. The educated women are able to negotiate their rights and are aware of their responsibilities.

 

Various researchers, Cochrane, Ohara and Leslie (1980) King (1990, 1993) Rufai (2001) have given some compelling economic justifications for increase in investment in girls education, which was considered to be one of the best investments a society could make. According to them, there are high social rates of return from educating girls. The above researchers linked female education to Gross National Products (GNP) growth, increased productivity and labour force participation, decreased infant and maternal mortality and increased child health. Girls education is therefore a must for developing countries not only for Nigeria but also for the developing West African sub-region. According to Osokoya (2004), an educated woman has the skills, information and self-confidence she needs to be a better parent, worker and citizen. When schools open their doors wider to girls, the benefits to the society multiply. Graduate girls are better able to make more independent personal, political and economic decisions

Access to qualitative and functional educational opportunity for girls is perhaps the most effective means to combat poverty, reduce misunderstanding, political and religious intolerance as well as lack of respect for others which had been the major causes of revolts and intermittent civil wars in West African sub-region. Osokoya (2004) claimed that Female and Girl-child education would not only move West African Countries forward economical,  politically and technologically, it would go a long way to liberate the women folk from their natural state of dependency, inferiority and other shackles that impede national development.

Millennium Development Goals

The year 2000 marked a milestone for the development community. During the year, various United Nations Organizations set up a list of goals targeted for 2015. This is known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The goals focus on a more "human-rights based and multisectoral approach towards development" (UNICEF, 2004).

Some of the developmental issues addressed by MDGs are: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating a global partnership for development. The 2004 Annual Report of UNICEF highlights two of these goals -the achievement of universal education and promotion of gender equality.

The secretary of state for International Development was reporting in January 2005 that when leaders from around the world come together to take stock of the Millennium Development Goals, it will be glaring that they have collectively failed to keep the promise. Despite the much progress, a child without an education is still much more likely to be a girl than a boy.

In order to assist in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, some multinational organizations had cooperated with Nigeria, one of them is UNICEF.

 

The Roles of UNICEF in Revitalizing the Education of Girls' in Nigeria

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. Although the country had a National Policy on Education since 1981, the policy has not been effectively implemented due to certain reasons like population growth, a long period of undemocratic governance and poor management of scarce-resources. Women and girls have been mostly affected by these negative factors. The national literacy rate for females is only 56% compared to 72% for males. In order to attain gender parity in education, the Ministry of Education had collaborated with UNICEF for support In 2001, Nigeria joined the African Girls’ Education Initiative (ANGEI). UNICEF together with the Nigerian Government and its partners are involved in the following:

a)         raising national awareness on girls education through public awareness
campaign, rallies and seminars.

b)        building schools' technical capacity to develop girl-friendly school
environments, and helping communities to sustain girls' education.

c)         collaborating with government and other stake holders in reviewing
existing curriculum and teaching materials for gender sensitivity.

d)        promoting the employment of female teachers to serve as role models
and increase parents' confidence that their female children will not
face sexual harassment in school.

     e)   promoting the development of pedagogical skills that will enhance the participation of girls and improve learning outcomes (ANGEI ,2005). In 2003, the Ministry of education adopted the strategy for Accelerating girls’ education in Nigeria. In 2004, the Ministry launched the Girls education project, supported by  UNICEF  in order to focus interventions on states with the lowest enrolment rates for girls. UNICEF also supports "25 by 2005'' global initiative for the acceleration of girls education  in order to achieve gender parity in  25 countries by 2005. This collaborative efforts of the  government  with UNICEF have yielded results especially in the Southern part of the country as well as in the pilot projects in Northern States ( UNIGEL, 2005)

UNICEFs' current education programme, which focuses on both girls' education and the promotion of child-friendly schools, will enhance the multi-sectoral approach to schooling. UNICEF, with the Federal Ministry of Education, is currently implementing a large scale programme to accelerate girls' education in the Northern part of Nigeria. UNICEF has also been a major advocate for the concept of child friendly schooling for all Nigerian children since 2002 and has assisted the Nigerian government in pioneering nearly 300 Child Friendly Schools across all states. The Child Friendly School is a well managed school with a safe learning conducive environment, with access to adequate water and sanitation, with effective, well trained teachers with gender sensitive learning and teaching materials (UNGEI. 2005).

UNICEF has achieved a lot in supporting the Nigerian Government in the following initiatives:

a)             Development of a National Policy on Education that acknowledges
the need to equalize education, as opportunities between girls and
boys.

b)            Launching of a Universal Basic Education programme that will focus
on improving access, retention, a quality curriculum delivery for nine
years of formal education.

 

c)         Early childhood care and development of primary education, adult
literacy, and education of all undeserved groups, including girls, are
integral components of the programme.

d)        UNICEF, together with Government and its partners had started work
in six target states with the lowest female literacy rates in three key
areas.

e)         Conducting advocacy activities by meeting with PTAs, traditional
rulers, religious leader,. NGOs and community groups to build support
for girls' education.

(1)  Promoting the employment of more female teachers; establishing more girls only primary schools and organizing rallies on the negative effects of child labour, especially for girls.

(g) Improving the quality of educational service delivery to enhance girls' participation and improve learning outcomes, retention, and achieve­ment, by providing in-service training for teachers, administrative and inspectors, and by evaluating the curriculum for gender sensitivity.

(h)   Improving the learning environment by refurbishing schools, providing classroom furniture, books and materials, water and toilets for each of the five schools in six states.

(i)    Promoting sustainability and community ownership of this initiative by empowering the community and building capacity at the grassroots level. (UN1CEF. Girl Child Education in Nigeria).

Conclusion and Recommendations

It is already a known fact that girls' education is a necessary and important aspect of eradicating poverty. The most critical thing as the third millennium is progressing is to make sure that at the individual, family, community, national and global levels, that our girls, the future wives, mothers and citizens of Nigeria are not left behind as the world moves on to greater heights in technology and information.

In order to ensure the full participation of girls in their own lives, in the lives of their future families and also in the development of the country, the factors militating against their full participation in education must be removed. If this is done, there will be increase in the number of girls that will acquire secondary and post secondary education as well as acquire appropriate skills for development. A deliberate effort is needed to remove these hurdles; also, an integrated approach to eradication of poverty by all stake holders should be adopted.

 

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