Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Illiteracy and its Risks for Women

Young girls... what they need is
education, not early marriage
Sixty per cent of Nigeria’s
illiterate 60 million people are
women and this has
contributed immensely to the
high rate of poverty among
women and the high rate of
infant and maternal mortality
in the country, writes Damilola
Halima Mohammed had about 13
children gathered around her,
she was teaching them to recite
‘I, J, K, L’, letters of the alphabet,
and already the children had
learnt to recite letters A-H, even
though few of them could recall
it. The children ranged from ages
five to 13 and were barely
clothed. There were also a few
women among the students,
some with children tied to their
backs. A solo and successful
recitation elicited applause and
shouts from the rest of the
learners, with a sense of
accomplishment for the soloist.
But none of them could write
even the letter ‘A’, the teacher
herself could not write, but she
knew the alphabet by heart, she
Other children thronged around
the community, barely glancing
in the direction of those
gathered under the tree. One
after the other, the children
dispersed to heed the call of their
parents while the women left to
commence preparation for
dinner for their households.
Halima’s husband, Mohammed
whose father also bears
Mohammed, joined her as her
students dispersed. Speaking to
THISDAY in smattering Hausa, he
expressed pride that his wife is
literarily the only ‘educated’
person in Paiko community in
Gwagwalada Area Council of the
Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
As far as he is concerned, she is
educated and so he loves her for
it, he has been named ‘muji n
Halima’ (meaning Halima’s
husband) a name he bore with
pride. If his dinner is late,
Mohammed would happily bear
the pangs of hunger if his wife is
busy teaching her students.
Also speaking in passable Hausa,
Halima disclosed that she can
recite the alphabet by heart and
figures 1-20; both of them know
the figures in Hausa. She
expressed a wish that she could
teach the village children about
what would be useful to them
and help them migrate to the
cities. But she is handicapped for
many reasons; the pupils do not
regard the ‘classes’ to be serious,
they attend as part of their
playtime. Their parents too, allow
them to attend the classes when
they are idle, when they are
needed, they are summoned
from the ‘classroom’.
That is why the classes take place
in the early evening, after farm
work and just before
preparations for dinner starts.
During harvest, classes barely
A few years ago, seven students
of the University of Abuja under
the auspices of Rural Education
Development Initiative (REDI)
donated slates, chalks, pencils
and exercise books to the
students at the time THISDAY
encountered this community, but
who would teach them to use
the materials? The only useful
items as far as the villagers were
concerned were the bathroom
slippers that were also donated
to them.
The Community leader, Mallam
Aliyu Pada also spoke in Hausa,
he said members of the
community were some of those
displaced in the Bassa crises in
Nasarawa State and migrated to
that area to start the new
He added that they would not
mind sending their children to
school, but the closest school is
about three kilometres away and
the little children would have to
cross the expressway to get
there. Some children have been
lost to accidents at a time they
were allowed to attend the
school. “There was time we
chose one adult to accompany
them to help them cross the
expressway, but he was afraid to
cross when he saw the way the
vehicles were speeding, so they
have stopped going. I think
Halima teaches them better and
her timing is more convenient
for the parents,” he said.
“All we do is a little farming, so
people prefer to keep their
children at home when it rains
so they help out on the farm. But
we do not want them to be poor
like we are; we want them to be
able to help others just as these
children from the university have
helped us.”
Pada added that the community
would provide land for whoever
is willing to build a school there.
If nothing is done, the children
born in this community would
join the population of 64 million
Nigerians who are illiterate.
Already the situation is this; even
though the community members
think formal education is
important and would help their
children to lead better lives in the
future, they cannot afford to
make the sacrifices required. If
their children get to attend
school, their parents cannot
afford to buy uniforms and
educational materials for the
high number of children per
The National Policy on Education
(2004) stipulates that it is the
responsibility of the government
to provide pre-primary
education, to promote training of
qualified teachers, and to ensure
full participation of government
and communities in pre- primary
education. It is also the duty of
the government to set and
monitor minimum standard for
early child education.
But even if the government
provides all that is required to
make education free, some
children would still not be able to
go to school. Case in point; the
children in Paiko community,
their parents cannot afford to
buy them school uniforms and
shoes which are considered
luxury items in the community. If
perhaps by some intervention,
their parents are able to provide
these, they still cannot afford to
let the children go to school
because of the dangers in
crossing the expressway to
reach the school.
In many rural areas especially in
northern Nigeria, many still
prefer to keep their daughters at
home to help with the
housework, while the male
children are allowed to go to
school. Also such rural parents
believe that the girl would end
up in the ‘kitchen’ anyway, so of
what essence is it wasting little
available resources on her? This
line of thinking has widened the
gap so much that girl child
education requires urgent
attention from the government.
Illiteracy leads to a cycle of
poverty, children of peasant
farmers who need their children
to work for them on the farms,
are likely to end up becoming
peasant farmers too. Children of
nomads are likely to suffer the
same fate, but it is women who
bear more of the brunt in the
fallout of this cycle of poverty.
Sixty per cent of Nigeria’s
illiterate are women. The biggest
affliction brought on illiterate
women is poverty. Because many
of the girls who fall into these
categories do not attend school,
they marry early and start to have
children. They become prone to
VVF in several cases where they
start to bear children early, and
are abandoned by family and
Girls’ education has other
important benefits for women,
health and communities;
education can increase women’s
livelihoods and can improve
Several studies have linked a lack
of education to the high rate of
infant and maternal mortalities. A
cross sectional (Africa, Asia and
Latin America) survey by the
World Health Organisation in
2010, showed that women with
some level of education had
healthier lives as they determine
factors that affect their health. A
woman who is educated is likely
to have less number of children,
with significant spacing between
them, much more than her
uneducated counterpart.
“Women's educational levels
(relative to those of men) have
been found to be associated
with maternal death. There is a
positive relationship between
levels of maternal education and
health service use, even in
adverse family or socioeconomic
situations. Furthermore, lack of
education is highlighted as one
of a number of stressors (along
with limited money and decision-
making power) affecting women
during pregnancy and childbirth,
creating vulnerability and
increasing the likelihood of
negative outcomes,” the report
Some Non-Governmental
Organisations (NGOs) and
development partners have taken
it upon themselves to push for
girl child education even for the
married girls in northern Nigeria.
Bixby Centre for Population,
Health and Sustainability of the
University of California has
established a research centre in
Zaria, Kaduna State to strategise
to support girls in school. As the
project commenced, they
discovered that a less number of
the girls who were doing well
academically dropped out of
school to get married. They also
discovered that when the female
children are exposed to women
with ‘decent jobs’, they aspire to
be like these women and are
therefore likely to take their
studies more seriously.
The National Commission for
Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-
Formal Education (NMEC) can
provide some succour for all
those who did not for one
reason or the other benefit from
the formal school system. A
parastatal under the Ministry of
Education with the Minister of
State, Mr. Nyesom Wike as
supervising minister, it recently
declared its intention to step up
its campaign to provide non-
formal and adult education for
those who need it as part of
efforts to eradicate illiteracy in
The Executive Secretary of the
Commission, Alhaji Jibril Yusuf
Paiko, said one of the first major
steps being undertaken by the
Commission is the upcoming
launch of an independent
National Literacy Trust Fund to be
accessed by stakeholders in the
non-formal education sector for
provision of life skills and
vocational training/equipment
for the illiterates.
Already, a committee has been
put in place to fast track the
move against illiteracy in women
and to promote the education of
the girl child especially in
northern Nigeria.
Pa iko recently embarked on
advocacy visits to various
stakeholders among who were
some state governments,
National Orientation Agency
(NOA), and National Union of
Road Transport Workers
(NURTW), religious and
traditional leaders.
During a visit to the National
Council for Women Societies
(NCWS) in Abuja recently, he
lamented the high percentage of
illiterate women on Nigeria and
appealed for partnership to use
the council as a platform to reach
out to more stakeholders and
personalities that can influence
women education. “If a woman
is educated, a nation is educated,
but if a man is educated, just a
person is educated,” he said.
He also briefed the NCWS on the
ongoing Adult and Non-Formal
Education (NFE) revitalisation
programme of which NCWS is on
the steering committee.
At the Society Against
Prostitution and Child Labour in
Nigeria (SAP-CLN) the commission
expressed its readiness to set up
alternatives to the pattern of
living and empowerment of
victims of the scourge to
enhance their sustenance
capabilities. It promised to
provide training and equipment
to the victims in fashion design,
hair dressing, tie and dye,
catering and confectionary and
in manufacture of cosmetics.
The NGO lamented that parents
and guardians of some of the
victims have solicited the help of
some unscrupulous lawyers and
they take the girls away from the
vocational/education centres
provided for them. The centre
also suffers a dearth of teachers/
facilitators and translators to
overcome communication

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