Daily Trust

Rais­ing girls’ am­bi­tion through ed­u­ca­tion, a bet­ter fu­ture for Nige­ria

- By Ca­tri­ona Laing & Peter Hawkins Nigeria News · Illiteracy · Educational Inequality · Women's Rights · Society · Education · Parenting · Human Rights · Family · Nigeria · World Bank · United Kingdom · United Nations · UNICEF · Boris Johnson · United Nations General Assembly · Abuja · Aberdeenshire · Aberdeen F.C. · Lagos · London · Maiduguri · Manchester · Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie · Lawrence Summers

Renowned au­thor, Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie knows the power of am­bi­tion. In We Should All Be Fem­i­nists, she writes “We teach girls to shrink them­selves, to make them­selves smaller. We say to girls: You can have am­bi­tion, but not too much. You should aim to be suc­cess­ful but not too suc­cess­ful, oth­er­wise you will threaten the man”. She goes on to ask why we have such dis­parate goals for our girls and boys – “why do we teach girls to as­pire to mar­riage and we don’t teach boys the same?”

In­spired by In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl on 11th Oc­to­ber, we ask the same ques­tion. We know, like Adichie, that there is more to the fu­ture of th­ese young girls than mar­riage. We know that ed­u­cat­ing girls is one of the most im­por­tant ways we can em­power them, by help­ing de­velop their am­bi­tion and learn new skills to achieve the fu­tures they choose.

Ed­u­ca­tion is a hu­man right, and also fun­da­men­tal to last­ing poverty re­duc­tion, build­ing pros­per­ous, re­silient economies and peace­ful, sta­ble so­ci­eties. Re­search has shown the piv­otal role of girls’ ed­u­ca­tion, with sig­nif­i­cant health, so­cial and eco­nomic out­comes, not just for her­self, but the com­mu­nity and na­tion. Sup­port­ing ed­u­ca­tion for girls and women gives them a greater voice to ad­vo­cate for changes in their own lives and the lives of other girls and women.

There is a clear pos­i­tive ef­fect of ed­u­ca­tion on in­ter­gen­er­a­tional health out­comes: a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of five, 50% more likely to be im­mu­nised, and twice as likely to at­tend school. En­abling women and girls to choose for them­selves when they have chil­dren al­lows them to com­plete their ed­u­ca­tion and to take up bet­ter eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Girls’ ed­u­ca­tion leads to an in­crease in in­di­vid­ual earnings – global fig­ures sug­gest that one ad­di­tional school year can in­crease a women’s earnings by 20 per­cent. For­mer World Bank Chief Econ­o­mist, Lawrence Sum­mers, con­cluded that girls’ ed­u­ca­tion “may well be the high­estre­turn of in­vest­ment avail­able in the de­vel­op­ing world due to the ben­e­fits women, their fam­i­lies and so­ci­eties reap. And be­cause women make up a large share of the world’s farmers, im­prove­ments in girls’ ed­u­ca­tion will also lead to in­creased agri­cul­tural out­put and pro­duc­tiv­ity”.

In 2019 – glob­ally – gen­der par­ity in ed­u­ca­tion had been achieved, yet around 258 mil­lion chil­dren world­wide re­main out of school and gen­der in­equal­ity still per­sists within and between coun­tries.

In Nige­ria, girls con­sti­tute a tremen­dous un­der-tapped po­ten­tial. Var­i­ous fac­tors, in­clud­ing eco­nomic bar­ri­ers and so­cio-cul­tural norms and prac­tices that dis­cour­age at­ten­dance in for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, like early mar­riage, limit girls’ op­por­tu­ni­ties and im­pact their com­ple­tion of school.

One in five of the world’s outof-school chil­dren is in Nige­ria, of which more than half are girls. The av­er­age na­tional lit­er­acy rate for Nige­ria is 61%, and nearly half of women and nearly one-quar­ter of men can­not read or write. While the high­est pro­por­tion of chil­dren out of school in Nige­ria are in the north­ern states, only four per­cent of poor young women in the North West zone can read, com­pared with 99% of rich young women in the South East. At the start of 2020, 935 schools in the North East were closed as a re­sult of at­tacks and con­flict, for ex­am­ple.

As a fun­da­men­tal pri­or­ity for the United King­dom and United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (UNICEF), we be­lieve that ev­ery girl, ir­re­spec­tive of where she is born, should get at least 12 years of qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. That is why in March this year, the UK Prime Min­is­ter, Boris John­son, ap­pointed Baroness Liz Sugg, as Spe­cial En­voy specif­i­cally for Girls’ Ed­u­ca­tion, to help ac­cel­er­ate progress to­wards this goal.

Speak­ing dur­ing the virtual 75th Ses­sion of the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly (UNGA) just last month, Baroness Sugg re­it­er­ated the UK’s com­mit­ment to Ed­u­ca­tion. She high­lighted the pres­sures COVID-19 is hav­ing on economies but ar­gued that the pan­demic is no rea­son for in­ac­tion on ed­u­ca­tion, im­plor­ing that in­vest­ing “in ed­u­ca­tion for com­mu­ni­ties rav­aged by con­flict and cri­sis is even more im­por­tant if we are to build back bet­ter.”

Chil­dren across the world have had their ac­cess to school­ing se­verely im­pacted by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, cre­at­ing the largest dis­rup­tion of ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems in his­tory. This has af­fected nearly 1.6 bil­lion learn­ers in more than 190 coun­tries and all con­ti­nents. With schools closed, girls face a higher risk of vi­o­lence and harm­ful prac­tices like sex­ual and gen­der-based vi­o­lence, early preg­nan­cies, un­safe abor­tions and child mar­riages. Girls fac­ing th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences are less likely to re­turn to schools once they re­open.

Build­ing back bet­ter from COVID-19, now re­ally is our op­por­tu­nity to re­set ed­u­ca­tion: to make it more in­clu­sive and to sup­port chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly girls. Sup­port­ing girls’ ed­u­ca­tion is a key lever to en­able Nige­ria to har­ness its de­mo­graphic div­i­dend and meet the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals. That is why, the UK and UNICEF have been work­ing to­gether in Nige­ria to de­velop new ways of re­mote learn­ing to make sure chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion con­tin­ues.

We have flexed our fund­ing to sup­port the con­tin­u­a­tion of home-based school­ing and re­mote learn­ing dur­ing COVID-19, for ex­am­ple by sup­port­ing chil­dren to en­gage in learn­ing through low-tech chan­nels like ra­dio. How­ever, re­mote learn­ing is a sup­ple­ment, not a re­place­ment, for schools. So, we are also sup­port­ing ef­forts to get chil­dren back to school when it is safe to do so.

Since 2005, The UK and the UNICEF have also been work­ing to­gether to im­ple­ment the Girls’ Ed­u­ca­tion Project which is now in its third phase. Over one mil­lion girls have been sup­ported to ac­cess school­ing in six states through this phase. Dur­ing the last year of the pro­gramme, the Girls for Girls (G4G) in­ter­ven­tion worked to en­sure bet­ter re­ten­tion of girls in ed­u­ca­tion by em­pow­er­ing them with the skills to re­sist pres­sure to with­draw from school.

En­hanced so­cial and life skills for over 18,000 girls and over 17,000 boys par­tic­i­pat­ing in the G4G and HeForShe ac­tiv­i­ties help them be em­pow­ered to use their plat­forms to in­crease sol­i­dar­ity and cre­ate de­mand for ed­u­ca­tion in their com­mu­ni­ties. Through the HeForShe pro­gramme, work on pos­i­tive mas­culin­ity and male cham­pi­ons work­ing as ad­vo­cates gen­er­ated peer sup­port for girls ed­u­ca­tion. The G4G in­ter­ven­tion also es­tab­lished read­ing hubs in 100 schools, which has en­abled and mo­ti­vated girls to lead read­ing lessons in their classes and speak with con­fi­dence, as well as take lead­er­ship po­si­tions in their schools as school pre­fects.

Girls can be lead­ers, ac­cel­er­at­ing so­cial change. If we ed­u­cate girls to­day, we will trans­form the world of to­mor­row and en­sure all fu­ture gen­er­a­tions thrive. This In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl let’s seize the op­por­tu­nity to be in­spired by what girls see as the change they want. We look for­ward to a world where ev­ery girl, whether born in Abuja or Aberdeen, La­gos or Lon­don, Maiduguri or Manch­ester, re­ceives a de­cent, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and can achieve their high­est am­bi­tions.

Ca­tri­ona is the Bri­tish High Com­mis­sioner in Nige­ria while Peter is the UNICEF Rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Nige­ria.

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