Home-grown initiatives for local challenges on gender inequality in basic education in Nigeria

By Chidi Ezegwu, Research Officer, EDOREN

Nigeria and the Global effort for equality in basic education
Across the world, there is an ongoing effort to provide an unfettered access to free and quality education for every child. UNICEF (2014) asserts that “Universal access to quality education is not a privilege – it is a basic human right”. In line with the global trend, Nigeria introduced Universal Basic Education (UBE) in 1999 to ensure that every school age child had access to education and to show its commitment to the global Education for All (EFA) initiative. Unfortunately, for many Nigerian children, education remains either a luxury or inaccessible because of poverty, local values and traditional practices. After a decade and half of the UBE operation in Nigeria, available records indicate that about 10.5 million school age children are out of school and different regions of the country manifest different gender dimension of being out of school (British Council Nigeria, 2012; Punch, 2014; UNESCO, 2014). The country has largely followed the global trend and benefited from international development efforts but has very few home-grown initiatives to promote universal access to quality education in a gender responsive manner.

Equality in Nigerian Basic Education
Over the years, school enrolment has increased but inequality, both in terms of gender and in geography, has also increased as regards access to basic education. Southern Nigeria generally has a higher enrolment rate than the North (Okobiah, 2002; Bennel et al, 2007; Humphreys and Crawfurd, 2014). In many parts of northern Nigeria, females are more disadvantaged than males, whereas in some parts of the South, females have better enrolment rates at secondary education level than the males. A closer look within the regions reveals that the majority of out-of-school males in the North are almajirai while the reason the majority of females are out-of-school is due to early marriage and involvement in household economic activities (Moja, 2000; Erulkar and Bello, 2007; Unterhalter and Heslop, 2011; Smith et al, 2012; Humphreys and Crawfurd, 2014). A study conducted in the Southeast reveals that while boys quit school as early as they can to acquire wealth, girls continue their education as far as they can in order to get husbands they desire. Consequently, the observed development is a situation where boys drop out of school even at primary school level (Ezegwu, 2012; UNESCO, 2000). These trends point to some ‘unchanging values in the changing world’ (Ezegwu, 2011).

Gaps in policy intervention
The widely-reported gender practices in Nigeria that impact on equitable access to education are embedded in some aspects of the local culture and may be difficult to understand for those who are not from Nigeria. It is therefore necessary to explore home-grown interventions to these localised challenges. Local initiatives are crucial and more effective in addressing local problems. Observations across development sectors have proven that “local people are best placed to combat local problems” and local interventions are most suitable for confronting local challenges (Kelly, 2001; Menard, 2012; Whitham, 2012). Besides the need to explore home-grown approaches to gender equality, it is also important that local communities are empowered to take local initiatives to address gender-based challenges to education in their localities. Engaging local communities to evolve home-grown approaches for dealing with disempowering values, unhealthy traditional and local practices could be more effective and result-oriented.

Currently, there exist multiple gender-based interventions in basic education in the country, but there are few functional locally-initiated and funded gender-based programmes that promote enrolment and completion at basic education level. Prominent gender programmes are largely introduced and funded by international donor agencies. Such programmes include the Girls Education Project (GEP) by DFID/UNICEF, Education for Girls in Nigeria and Tanzania (TEGINT) by ActionAid and, Strategy for the Acceleration of Girls’ Education in Nigeria (SAGEN) by UNICEF (Obaji, 2005; Unterhalter and Heslop, 2011; Humphreys and Crawfurd, 2014). Many national policies and programmes did not evolve locally, and the current Policy on Gender in Basic Education is largely born out of donor projects. The policy states that “This policy was developed in the context of the Girls’ Education Project, developed in 2005 and implemented by the FGN, DFID and UNICEF as a contribution to the pursuit of EFA/UBE” (FME, 2007:3). Possibly, because it was advanced from the girls’ education project, it inadequately captures relevant issues around boys’ education. UBE, which seeks to provide universal and compulsory basic education for all Nigerian children, “is intended as evidence of Nigeria’s commitment to the Education For All, at Jomtien (1990)” (UBEC, 2005: 16), rather than a determination of the government to solve its local problem of illiteracy that has serious implications for national development. It is also an “expression of the desire of the government” (UBEC, 2005: 12), rather than fulfilment of the country’s commitments to children’s right to education.

UBE in Nigeria was developed as part of the country’s effort to reduce illiteracy as espoused by various international conventions (UBEC, 2005). The universal connotes ‘irrespective of gender, location and economic background’. Regrettably, deep-seated inequalities linked to social backgrounds such as ethnicity, gender, location and wealth are still main obstacles to universal primary education (UNESCO, 2011; UBEC, 2013). Moreover, while the country is a home to largest population of out-of-school children in the world, external funding sources are narrowing down. It has witnessed a decrease in foreign aid “by nearly two-fifths between 2010 and 2011″ (UNESCO, 2013: 10). Considering the changing global aid climate and local transformation needs, should the country not look inward and evolve home-grown policies and initiatives to tackle its local challenges?

References not linked to in the text

Ezegwu, C. (2012). Masculinity and Low Male Secondary School Enrolment in Anambra State, Nigeria. Unpublished.  Education Gender and International Development, University of London Institute of Education.

Federal Ministry of Education (2007). National Policy on Gender in Basic Education. Abuja: Federal Ministry of Education.

UBEC (2005). The Compulsory, Free, Universal Basic Education Act, 2004 and other Related Matters. Abuja: UBEC

UBEC (2013). Framework for the Integration of Out-of-School Children from Southeast and South-South States into the Basic Education Programme. Abuja: UBEC

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