Equal Access To Education A Challenge In Nigeria – By MEP Barbara Matera

Education is one of the fundamental human rights as described by the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Nevertheless, despite the fact that more than half a century has passed since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, access to education especially for young girls and women has become of the most challenging issues for developing countries. Nigeria, being the largest nation in the sub-Saharan Africa has reasonably attracted the attention of the international community, becoming the forefront in efforts to fight illiteracy among girls and women.
According to UNICEF the global figure for out-of-school children is estimated at 121 million, 65 million of those schoolchildren being girls. Over 80 percent of these girls live in Sub Saharan Africa with one out of four living in Nigeria. In Nigeria, girls’ access to basic education, especially in the northern states, has remained low. Only 20 percent of women in the North West and Northeastern parts of the country are literate and have attended school. According to reports there is a net enrollment ratio (NER) of 80.6 percent suggesting that a substantial proportion (19%) of primary school age population (6-11 years) is not enrolled in primary schools nationwide. This represents about 5 million Nigerian children aged 6-11 years old that do not have access to primary education.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which was adopted by the UN in 2000, set a 2015 deadline to achieve the goals described among which primary position hold universal access to primary education, gender equality and women empowerment. However, according to the 2012 Gender in Nigeria Report, data suggests that Nigeria ranks 118 out of 134 countries in the Gender Equality Index. This means that Nigeria is still far from achieving those goals. At every educational level women earn less than their male counterparts and in some cases men with less education earn more than better educated female peers. Also, Nigerian girls drop-out of school earlier than their male counterparts. Evidence further shows that more than two thirds of 15-19 year old girls in Northern Nigeria are unable to read a sentence.
In achieving greater access to education for women it is crucial that we first understand the factors that contribute in the present situation. Tradition, customs, socio cultural values, ethics, motherhood instincts are some of the factors influencing gender bias in the education sector. Cultural and social beliefs, attitudes and practices prevent girls from benefiting from educational opportunities to the same extent as boys. The achievement of girls’ right to education can address some of society’s deeply rooted inequalities, which condemn millions of girls to a life without quality education – and, therefore, also all too often to a life of missed opportunities.
Another important factor is poverty. Poor families tend to consider education something of a luxury and in most cases do not have the means to assist their children in pursuing a higher education. Even if they do have the means to support their children, they tend to give an advantage to boys compared to girls since they believe that boys have a better chance to achieve success in society.
The focus on poverty reduction enables the right to education to be a powerful tool in making a change in the lives of girls and women. Educating girls and women is an important step in overcoming poverty, eliminating female genital mutilation and ensuring economic development. An educated woman is an empowered woman and more marketable in terms of employment. Better employment in turn implies more earnings for the family as a whole, as well as improved children’s well-being. All of which contribute to poverty reduction and economic growth.
We need to invest in girls worldwide. Until equal numbers of girls and boys are in school, it will be impossible to build the knowledge necessary to eradicate poverty and hunger, combat disease and ensure environmental sustainability. Millions of children and women will continue to die needlessly, placing the rest of the development agenda at risk. It is extremely important that girls have access to an education. According to UNESCO for every additional year girls go to school, they receive 20 percent higher wages and suffer 10 percent fewer child deaths.
Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care, ensure their children are immunized, be better informed about their children’s nutritional requirements, and adopt improved sanitation practices. As a result, their infants and children have higher survival rates and tend to be healthier and better nourished.
According to The International Center for Research on Women, the education that a girl receives is the strongest predictor of the age she will marry and is a critical factor in reducing the prevalence of child marriage. The World Bank estimates that an additional year of schooling for 1,000 women helps prevent two maternal deaths. Also, each additional year of formal education that a mother completes translates to her children staying in school an additional one-third to one-half of a year.
UNESCO estimates that about $11 billion per year is necessary to reach the 2015 Education For All (EFA) goals, while at the moment only $3-4 billion are being made available. As it is apparent more funds need to be provided for this cause so that the commitments that the international community has pledged to promote education especially for girls and women will eventually be transformed into real world policies.
The European Union needs to realize that in order to reach stability and socio-economic development in Africa, so that wars, poverty, epidemics and human rights violation will no more constitute the norm, a more active involvement needs to be adopted.
Education is the way out of the present situation and the EU institutions need to provide the necessary support to the local governments and civil society organizations so that the adopted policies will eventually materialize to greater and equal access of education for all.

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