By Modupe Koledoye, Mercy Abalaku, Idoko Philip.
Education plays a pivotal role in shaping societies and influencing the trajectories of our future. It is a human right, a public good and a collective responsibility. Despite many global declarations, development goals, and significant efforts by the international community, gender disparity in education continues to exist, as seen in many societies, including Nigeria, where girls have historically been marginalised and denied access to education. Despite efforts by the Nigerian government through different education programmes (Universal Primary Education (UPE), National Mass Literacy Campaign (NMLC) and Universal Basic Education (UBE)) initiated to ensure that every Nigerian is educated, girl child education has been marred by numerous hindrances such as lack of political will to implement such programs, socioeconomic barriers and traditional patterns. However, the tide is slowly turning, and the importance of educating girls is being increasingly recognised. In 2018, the Governor of Kaduna State declared free education for girls in public secondary schools. This declaration created an enabling environment to improve girls’ enrolment in school, especially in vulnerable situations, without being charged levies. Despite this declaration, challenges such as hidden fees, lack of awareness of the free education policy, sexual violence and the threat of sexual assault and insecurity were identified as some of the key barriers impeding girls’ enrolment in school.
In 2020, Education as a Vaccine (EVA), with support from the Malala Fund, implemented the “Advocating for Girls Education”Report project towards creating an enabling policy environment for increased school enrolment and retention for all children, especially for girls. This project aimed to empower girls by advocating for their right to education through evidence-based advocacy strategies, ensuring the successful implementation of the free education policy and removal of hidden fees. The project was implemented in Rido, Nasarawa, Karatudu and Kudenda communities of Chikun Local Government Area, Kaduna state. The target population was out-of-school adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 20. Through this project, EVA was able to engage stakeholders, parents and communities to enrol 150 girls back to school and provide them with school materials for progression. Some notable achievements during this project include the capacity building of 47 girl advocates and 40 community champions to engage in evidence-based advocacy at local and state levels, as well as reaching 2709 adolescent girls and young women with information on their rights, especially their right to education through peer-to-peer sessions.
Another significant achievement was the establishment of a task force committee led by community champions in Rido. This committee was created to monitor and address the loitering culture during school hours towards reducing the incidence of school-related gender-based violence. Empowering these community champions to take on leadership roles provides the committee with invaluable insights into local dynamics towards a safe environment for pupils to attend school without fear. This strategy not only enhances the effectiveness of the initiative but also ensures cultural sensitivity, fostering a sense of ownership and collective responsibility among community members.
“Going back to school has changed my life from ignorance to being literate. I now realise there is nothing more important and interesting in life than education. I want to become a politician so that I will use that opportunity to support girl’s education.”—Shamsiya Ibrahim
“I am 15 years old; when I finished primary school, I thought that would be the end of my story and my dream for the future. Going back to school through EVA’s intervention helped me believe I can be who I want to be. I see myself becoming a doctor, taking care of children, and helping older people.” —Hauwa’uAbdulwahab
“This intervention has meaningfully reduced the rate of dropout from school, especially among girls, and it has improved learners’ performance.”—Principal of Government Senior Secondary, Rido
These statements reflect the transformative impact of this intervention in the lives of individuals like Shamsiya Ibrahim and Hauwa’u Abdulwahab. Their testimonials underline the profound change that returning to school has brought, shifting their perspectives from a life of ignorance to literacy and from a limited future to aspiring for meaningful careers.
In the wake of the commendable achievements witnessed through this project, it becomes paramount to connect these triumphs to the effect of education. The stories of the beneficiaries, whose lives have been touched by the transformative power of education, serve as poignant reminders of the link between education and sustainable peace. For us at Education as a Vaccine, girl child education is not merely a channel for knowledge but an effective means to empower the next generation of leaders. Through our programmes, we continue to reinforce that education has a ripple effect that extends far beyond individuals. When girls are equipped with knowledge, they contribute towards dismantling the foundations of misunderstanding, prejudice, and conflict, thereby paving the way for living together in peace. Studies have shown that when a girl is educated, she is more likely to earn a higher income, contribute to the economy, and break the cycle of poverty. Educated girls are also more likely to marry later, have fewer children, and provide better healthcare and education for their children, thus contributing to the nation’s overall development. They are more likely to advocate for peaceful conflict resolution, participate in community-building initiatives, and promote tolerance and understanding. Girls who are educated are less vulnerable to exploitation and violence, as they are more informed and empowered to make informed choices. This, in turn, contributes to the overall stability and harmony within the society. By providing girls with access to education, we are equipping them with the tools to become agents of positive change and contributors to peaceful coexistence.
As we commemorate the International Day of Education, let us continue the momentum of advocacy and work collectively to ensure that the transformative power of education continues to light the way toward a future where children and young people can achieve their full potential. Our combined efforts pave the way for a world where lasting peace is not a distant dream but a reachable reality.
Together, our united actions can compose a harmonious melody of progress, equality, and the promise of a brighter, more enlightened tomorrow for generations to come!!!