Georgetown University

September 26, 2014

  1. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been invited here today to speak on the subject – Advancing Girls Education and their Safety in Nigeria and beyond. But let me begin by saying that the safety of Nigerian children particularly girls was never an issue in the history of my country’s education system until very recently. As many of you know, that on April 14, 2014, more than 200 school girls aged between 16 and 18 were abducted from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, North East of Nigeria by insurgents in Boko Haram – a terrorist sect whose key objective is to destroy formal or western education. This year alone, we know that Boko Haram has murdered over 170 teachers in Borno State, and an estimated 300 educational facilities have been destroyed in the three most affected states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, including 80 primary schools in Borno State alone.
  1. Since that ugly incident in April, 57 of the abducted girls have escaped and I recently had the opportunity to meet them, their parents, and the parents of the other girls still in captivity at a brainstorming session organised by President Goodluck Jonathan in his office to discuss the ways to support them and their families and secure the release of those still in captivity. As the mother of a daughter, I was greatly moved by that meeting.
  1. It is every parent’s nightmare that your child goes to school and does not return. To find that your daughter has been kidnapped and abducted from the safety of their classroom and taken far away from you into a remote forest area, is traumatizing. And the baseness of this terror is that as a parent you are left wondering what exactly is happening to your child.
  1. I’ve said before and will say again here today that the girls abducted from Chibok have been adopted by the people of Nigeria as our own. These brave girls are the daughters not just of wonderful parents – they are the daughters of Nigeria, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure their safe return to their grieving families, and to the nation.
  1. Let me take a few moments to thank the entire world for the enormous support and goodwill shown to Nigeria at our time of need. Several governments including that of the US, and many in Europe graciously offered to assist us to “bring back our girls” and many of our development partners and NGOs are constantly engaging on this issue and we are very grateful. Let me also thank President John DeGioia of Georgetown University, and my very dear friend and Head of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security – Ambassador Melanne Verveer and their teams, for the work they have done to convene this symposium, and for giving me a platform to share Nigeria’s experience in advancing education in a safe environment for our girls.
  1. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this abduction saga has now further compounded the challenges faced in our education system, making safety and security of schoolchildren and their teachers an issue in basic education. While our economy has grown at nearly 7 percent per annum over the last decade to become the largest economy in Africa at about $510 billion, and one of the most diversified on the continent, I cannot say that our achievements in education have been equally outstanding. Yet as President J.F Kennedy once said, “our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education”, and I believe this.
  1. In fact the relationship between the standard of living and school education in Nigeria is quite strong. Research by the World Bank shows that each additional year of education in Nigerian schools is associated with a 9 percent increase in wage income. Employees with primary education in incorporated private sector organizations are estimated to earn 16 to 20 percent more than those with no education; and those with secondary education earn between 25 and 35 percent more than those with no education. So no matter how well our economy does on aggregate, it is clear that we will fail to reduce the problems of inequality and achieve economic prosperity for all, if we do not fix the challenges that we face in providing access to education and improving the quality of education across the country.

Challenges in Education

  1. So what are these challenges in our education system? First, there is slow progress and some inequality in access to basic education. While we are still doing surveys to ascertain the true state of things, some studies suggest that Nigeria has one of the largest out of-school populations in the world, with an estimated 10.5 million children out of school. This translates to about one in every three of school-age children not having access to basic education.
  1. Primary school net attendance rates improved insignificantly by only 7 percent, from 54 percent in 1990 to around 61 percent in 2003, and stayed at the level until 2010 in spite of a National Education Policy that stipulates free and compulsory basic education to all children. Though recent data from our National Bureau of Statistics shows that this has increased to 0 percent in 2012, it is still way below where we ought to be. The primary education completion rate which is the indicator used to monitor MDG progress increased from 82 per cent in 2004 to 87.7 per cent in 2012, which is 12.3 percent less than the 2015 MDG benchmark, whereas in some African countries like Ghana and Tanzania, faster progress has been recorded.
  1. According to statistics, the bulk of out-of-school children are concentrated in Northern Nigeria, particularly the North East where Boko Haram activity is focused. While only about half of school age children in the North are currently attending school, the rates for children in the south are about 90 percent or more. So in other words, children in the North are less likely to attend school than those from the South. But it must be said, that certain states within the North are doing better than the others. For example, primary school net attendance rates in Kaduna and Kano states in the North-West, at 64 percent and 59 percent respective, are much higher than those of Borno and Yobe in the Northeast, at 35.9 percent and 17.6 percent. The North-South divide is even more pronounced in pre-primary enrollment rates — as low as 7% in Northeast compared to 72% in Southeast.
  1. Gender disparities also exist, as about 31 percent of our girls are “out-of school”, compared to only 26 percent of our boys. In all, 52 percent of the total out-of-school children are girls. But further analysis by the World Bank and UNICEF reveals that the gender disparities are almost exclusively concentrated in the North, with 34 percent of our girls out-of-school in the rural North, compared to only 25 percent of our boys, whereas only 4 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys are out-of-school in Southern rural areas.
  1. This sharp divide between the North and the South has historical antecedents which as a country we have not been able to overcome. Essentially the legacy of colonial rule, which concentrated western education on the South of the country and supported religion or Qur’an-based teaching in the North, has yet to be overcome after all these years. Much of the gender bias can also be traced to culture and religion. Early marriage, combined with parental preference to educate boys is a key factor promoting gender disparities especially in the north.
  1. Second, the quality of our education system and associated learning outcomes needs to be improved. Studies have shown that 44 percent of students who have completed the 6th grade (i.e. primary school) are not able to read a complete sentence in English or in their preferred local language. In the North, more than two-thirds of students who have completed 6th grade remain illiterate. Dropout rates at the end of 6th grade in the North are 2-3 times higher than dropout rates in the South. In the 2014 West African Examination Council (WAEC) examinations, only 34.2 percent of our girls achieved the required pass rate and even fewer boys – 28.8 percent – achieved the required threshold. Yet I must say that I’m particularly proud of this outcome. It goes to show that in spite of the limited access to education peculiar to our girls, they are still doing better than our boys!!
  1. Third, the dearth of qualified teachers is a major issue affecting the quality of our education system. The teaching profession is no longer held in high esteem – a major departure from my school days – so relatively low-achieving students often enter Colleges of Education to be trained as teachers, according to our Federal Ministry of Education. Overall, an estimated 57 percent of primary school teachers are not fully qualified. In addition, teacher training is hugely theoretical rather than practical and a large number of teachers are not able to apply gender-sensitive methods of teaching, or educate special needs children. We need to find ways to better reward and motivate our teachers, particularly through non-monetary instruments.
  1. Fourth, poverty prevents children from attending school, in spite of free basic education. Poor nutrition is closely related to poverty and negatively impacts schooling outcomes. The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) database, which collects information from a large sample of nationally representative households in Nigeria, shows that there are extremely large within-country inequalities in school completion: for example while 95 percent of children from the richest households had completed 6th grade in 2008, only 31 percent of children from the poorest quintile had done the same. Similarly, gender inequality in grade completion remains likewise large especially among the poorer groups of the population. For example, at least 60 percent of male children from the poorest quintile complete grades 1 to 4, compared to about 45 percent of female children.
  1. Fifth, inadequate school infrastructure and a lack of teaching material are challenging. Several schools across the country are overcrowded, especially in the North, where average class size is 56 – almost twice as many as in the South, according to UNICEF statistics. Many schools do not have basic sanitation facilities particularly for girls, and many do not have electricity or running water. In fact when we met with the Chibok girls that escaped, their most important desire is to have constant electricity in school, particularly at night, to ensure that their dormitories are well lit. They made me understand that the reason why so many of them were taken is that they were not able to see clearly because it was dark and the school did not have any electricity. Moreover, about 80 percent of students do not have textbooks for a subject, and fewer than 15 percent of teachers have a teacher’s guide according to a UBEC study.
  1. Last but not least, the existing framework for administering education leaves some room for uncertainty. Education is on the Concurrent List of the constitution – meaning both States and local governments are responsible for its administration but the roles of these tiers of government within the system, are not clearly laid out. Through the Universal Basic Education Commission for example, the Federal government has aimed to support the states and local governments with matching grants in the delivery of basic education, but much of these funds are yet to be accessed because of misalignment of interests in education at the State and Local government levels. So there is some inefficiency in our education administration.
  1. Into this mix now come the very difficult issues of safety and insecurity in our schools. So what is the way forward? Well, like in most countries, our education system needs an overhaul and the government of President Goodluck Jonathan is working actively to reform this system.

Charting The Way Forward

  1. First, we are putting forward a National Action Plan on Education, based on the extensive work of the Federal Ministry of Education. This will involve a rethink on the governance framework for basic education and promoting accountability by devolving budgetary control to school level.
  1. The action plan will focus on bridging the gap in geographical zones in our country that are still educationally disadvantaged, and also any gap gender education. This is what the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is presently doing. We have constructed 125 Almajiri schools to reduce the number of out of school children in the North. We have also constructed special girls’ schools in 13 states of the federation which have begun to improve girls’ education but we need more, given the sheer size of the out-of-school population. We also need to be innovative and tap into the technology space to see how we can tackle this problem of out-of-school children.
  1. With the support of donors like the World Bank, some states like Kano in northern Nigeria are providing financial resources in the form of Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) to equalize access to education for girls, with very good results. In this case, enrolment of girls in Kano went up by at least 10 percent. I believe we need to do more of these to support our girls. Through our new national identity card system which is being piloted at the moment, we will be able to better target poor families with young girls and support them to enable these girls to get an education.
  1. An important part of the Action Plan will be improving the quality of basic education through teacher training, on-the-job support, and provision of learning materials. For example, our development partners like UNICEF and DFID are also implementing a Girls Education Project, targeted at bringing in an additional 1 million girls into schools in Northern Nigeria by 2020, and so far in 2014 they have succeeded in enrolling an additional 359,104 girls in basic education, including 39,000 in Qur’anic schools and centers in five northern states. This project has also supported over 6,000 young rural female teachers to train as teachers at the level of NCE and deployed in the rural schools to support learning. Over 8,000 teachers and head teachers in over 2,000 schools have also been trained on gender-sensitive teaching methods and I wish to acknowledge these efforts.
  1. Now to address the issue of safety and security in our schools, the President has asked me to work with the international community led by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown former Prime Minister of the UK and a Coalition the Nigerian Business Leaders in an initiative to make our schools safer.
  1. Every child is special every child precious every child unique. While we will never give up on the effort to locate the Chibok girls, we must also assure parents, pupils and teachers that schools are safe. Children and teachers must be again free to go to school unharmed and unafraid.
  1. So the Safe Schools Initiative is designed as a nationwide intervention program that will prioritize schools in the North eastern states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, where a lot of damage has already been done. To this effect, the Nigerian government has set aside $10 million, and funding of another $10 million or more will come from the private sector-led Victim’s Support Fund launched by our President. The African Development Bank is supporting the initiative with a US$1 million grant and DFID has committed 1 million pounds in technical assistance. The Norwegian government has already disbursed US$1.5 million to UNICEF in support of the initiative, and the German government is processing a grant of 2 million euros for the initiative.
  1. While we do not aim to turn our schools into fortresses, the Safe Schools Initiative will to deploy physical measures that will either upgrade existing security systems in schools or put in place new systems where they currently do not exist. These measures could range from the basic, such as, perimeter fences, toilet facilities for girls, use of fire retardant materials in reconstructing schools, secured housing for teachers, community policing and school guards, to more sophisticated measures like alarm systems, communication equipment, and solar power panels to ensure schools are well lit. Working with the State governments we have identified 30 schools, 10 in each of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in which to pilot the initiative, and we will work with community leaders, teachers and parents to achieve the objectives.
  1. A second approach under the initiative is the transfer of school children from insecure locations in parts of the region to schools in other parts of the country that are safer. After receiving parental consent, we are preparing to send about 2,400 school children to their preferred Federal Unity Schools elsewhere in the country on full scholarship to continue their education. We will also provide counselling on an on-going basis to these schoolchildren, particularly the girls and also provide CCTs to their parents to encourage them.
  1. Lastly, working with UNICEF, we will be deploring innovative measures such as school in a box, school on wheels, double-shifts in schools, and so on, particularly in the IDP Camps to ensure that children there do not miss out.
  1. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, schools must never be instruments of war, nor battlefields for terror campaigns. We must show the insurgents that in the battle between terrorism and girl’s education there is only one winner –the school girls of Nigeria. Thank you for listening.