5 faces of girls’ education in Nigeria

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Nigeria is the largest country in Africa and also has some of the highest rates of out-of-school children in the world (UIS, 2010). The country faces severe challenges including high poverty levels, low enrollment, gender disparities, poor quality and relevance, poor infrastructure and learning conditions.

GPE is supporting education in Nigeria with a $100 million grant for 2015-2019. The grant aims to improve girls’ education by providing cash transfers to encourage girls’ participation, scholarships for women to attend colleges of education, capacity-building and operational support on issues affecting girls’ retention and gender sensitivity.

During a recent visit to the country, we gathered stories and testimonies which highlight the country’s progress and remaining challenges.

Mariam Isah, 8 – A community’s hope

Mariam Isah, 8, Tsamiya Goma, Jigawa State, Nigeria. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Mariam Isah is a 2nd grader from Tsamiya Goma village in Jigawa State. Her grandfather, the village chief, encourages villagers to send their girls and boys to school. He believes that as more girls go to school and return to support their communities, the more likely families will be to seek education for their girls.

While he sees a future in medicine for his granddaughter, she wants to become a teacher and “help other children to learn.” Either way, she knows that not only her family, but her whole village, is behind her. 

Nasiba Alhassan, 12 – Work and chores leave little time for learning

Nasiba Alhassan (pink hijab) hawking rice and beans with other girls. Jigawa State, Nigeria. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Nasiba, pictured in the pink hijab and a 5th grader at the Miga Central Primary School, is a busy girl. In addition to going to school, she hawks rice and beans to support her family, fetches water, helps keep her home clean, and attends Qur’anic school.

Due to the high poverty rate in her area, many of Nasiba’s peers are in the same situation. In fact, girls often arrive to school late, or not at all, because they must finish selling their wares first. Nasiba hawks so that her mother will sew her clothes and give her money to buy a snack during breaks from school.

When asked how she finds time to keep up with her homework, Nasiba replies,

“Sometimes I can sell the rice and beans quickly and then I go home and do my homework before I go to the Islamiyya [Qur’anic] school. But most of the time I have to do it in the morning when I come to school before I go to class.

Bilky Wada, 14 – Missing out on school because of her period

Bilky Wada, 14, sits with her classmates at the Central Miga Primary School in Jigawa State, Nigeria. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Bilky Wada is in 6th grade and loves going to school. She is working on doing well in school so that she can follow in her sister’s footsteps and attend secondary school. She wants to become a nurse because she wants to help her people.

However, she says the majority of her classmates are far ahead of her. Why? Because she stays home when she has her period. The only toilet in her school is used exclusively by teachers and she, and her classmates, are forced to go to the bush.

"The boys make fun of us when we go to the bush. Sometimes we run home and leave school because we are embarrassed.”

Sumayya Ado, 13 – Top of her class

Sumayya Ado, in red headscarf, sits on the floor with her female peers in a classroom at Janbulo Islamiyya Primary School. Nigeria Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
"My parents really encourage me. They want me to be in school.”

Despite the complex barriers faced by many girls in Nigeria, for some getting to school is as simple as “I wake up, I eat my breakfast and come to school.” This is the case for Sumayya Ado, a 6th grader at Janbulo Islamiyya Primary School, which combines ‘western’ and Islamic education.

When asked what she would change about her school, Sumayya replies that she wishes there was more than one toilet and that the classes were smaller and less congested. As shown in the picture, due to the lack of desks and cultural norms, girls sit on the floor (Sumayya is in the red head-scarf) while the desks are reserved for boys.

For the first time, one of her teachers is a woman and Sumayya says this allows her to “move more freely”:

“With the man teachers I ask questions, but I feel much freer to ask questions with the woman teacher. Both are good in terms of teaching, but because the woman teacher is more like me, I feel more relaxed and free to ask more questions.”

Rashida Ali, 14 – Displaced and out of school

Rashida Ali, 14, stands with a tray of melons on her head. Nigeria Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Rashida has been living in Jigawa state for 2 years. Originally from Doron Baga in Maiduguri, she fled her home with her family after Boko Haram came into her village and “started killing people in front of our eyes”.

When she was home, she would attend Qur’anic school with other children from her village. The ‘Western’ schools, which aren’t free for girls in Maiduguri as they are in Jigawa, were too expensive. When we visited the informal settlement, which consists of little more than grass huts fenced in by reeds, Rashida had just started a new business at the behest of her mother. She used 250 Naira she got from begging to buy sweet melons to sell. She has already gotten back her 250 and now the rest that she sells will be her profit.

Already 14, Rashida runs the risk of becoming too old to ever return to school. 

All photos by Kelley Lynch

Sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria

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The Global Partnership for Education Secretariat is headquartered in Washington DC and has approximately 100 staff. The Secretariat provides administrative and operational support to all its partners including 65 developing...

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