Maryam Bello, 19, beamed with a smile as she sat inside a classroom at Sultan Ward Model Primary School, Sabon Birni area of Sokoto, venue of the extramural classes organised for secondary school students to boost their chances of gaining admission to tertiary institutions.
In the classroom with her were 20 other female students from different secondary schools in Sokoto, who had converged for the same purpose. Each student had in front of her an English Language question paper and an answer sheet.
A few minutes later, Maryam dashed to the front of the class and submitted the assessment. “Alhamdulillah,” she muttered as she stepped outside the classroom where her mates were loitering, waiting for her.
They huddled around her and congratulated her on the news of her recent admission to a state-owned nursing school located in Mabera, Sokoto State.
Maryam’s new achievement was not just her own, noted Muhammad Bello, the founder and executive director of Kanwurin Daku Education Support Foundation, which organised the extramural classes.
“We are all happy that she gained admission into the nursing school because she has always wanted to study nursing. The feeling is just like making a dream become a reality,” said Bello, smiling, the type that protrudes from the faces of achievers. “Part of our mission is to ensure efficient mobilisation and actualisation of human and material resources toward the provision of qualitative education for women and youths in Sokoto State. And it is important to start by making sure our girls do not drop out of school because they could not gain admission to tertiary institutions.”
Bello and his colleagues at the foundation felicitated Maryam because she was a dream come true for the organisation. In 2021, four other students from the extramural classes gained admission into the nursing school, and the same thing the year before. Maryam was the first this year. Two other students wrote entrance exams for admission at a school of health technology in the state, and many others are still preparing for their upcoming entrance exams.
In the past three years, Kanwurin Dadu has taught more than 100 students (over 70 percent females) basic subjects like Mathematics, English Language, Chemistry, Physics, Government and Economics. The huge turnout of girls is a product of the foundation’s strategy to prioritise female students by sending the application forms for its classes to girls secondary schools.
With over 20 mentored students who are studying in tertiary institutions in the state, its popularity continues to grow among the final year students of secondary schools in the Sokoto metropolis as a place that teaches and prepares students to be eligible for admission to tertiary institutions.
BREAKING THE GENDER BIAS
The group’s mission was a response to the low level of girl child education in Sokoto and most of the northern states of Nigeria. The latest report by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, revealed that girl child marriage, which contributes to low level of girl child education in the country, is prevalent in the northwestern States of Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto.
The report revealed that with 23.6 million girls who marry before the age of 18, Nigeria is the country with the highest number of girl child marriages in west and central Africa.
“Experience has shown that key interventions [should] include investments in girls’ access to quality education at scale and social and behaviour change in favour of girls and women’s full and active participation in social and economic life,” noted Marrie-Poirier, the UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, while proffering solution to the low level of girl child education in the region.
Bello’s conviction and that of his colleagues at the foundation tally with UNICEF’s. That was the reason the group envisioned Sokoto as the leading state in quality and functional education.
“There are a lot of things we need to do for female children,” said Bello. “One of them is to ensure quality education is accessible to them.”
The organisation’s programme forms part of the 2006 National Policy on Gender in Basic Education targeted at eliminating “gender disparities in primary and secondary education and ensuring full and equal access to quality education for all children”.
According to the policy, development in developing countries, including Nigeria, is a gendered exercise, impacting differently on women and men, girls and boys.
Specifically, the policy reveals the disparities in northern states are in favour of boys, and could be found “in enrollment, retention and completion at all levels – primary, secondary, and tertiary”.
Unfortunately, more than one decade after the policy came into force, statistics released by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) revealed that out of the 1.57 million secondary school students who sat for the exams in 2018, 822,941 were males while the remaining 748,595 were females.
In Sokoto State, out of the 26,084 students who sat for the exam in 2018, only 8,689 were females.
According to a research published in the International Journal of Development and Public Policy in 2021, the lingering disparity is a result of challenges like inadequate funding, poor governance and management, among others.
WESTERN EDUCATION AT THE CENTRE OF ISLAMIC LEARNING
The foundation shares the name of an ancient community in the Sokoto metropolis. Popular as a centre for Islamic learning since the era of Usman bin Fodio, the founder and first ruler of Sokoto caliphate, the community retains the legacy of excellence in Islamic education.
Bello, born and bred in the community, succeeded in pursuing western education up to the tertiary institution. But most children born in the area, especially females, according to him, are not presented with the same opportunity.
One of the reasons is that western education is not given more importance in the areas that are still conservative, noted Mubarak Idris, the campaign manager at Bridge Connect Africa, an organisation that engages young people towards amplifying a voice around women’s rights and girl child education. He noted further that being “overly protective of girls in these communities makes parents prevent their female children from attending schools not close to their homes. So, even if these children finish secondary school, they are likely not going to go further because most of these institutions are far from their homes”.
The situation has become worsened since insecurity started ravaging the northeastern and northwestern regions. According to Dr Tushar Rane of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Field Office, Bauchi State, consistent attacks on secondary schools, which led to several kidnappings of school girls, have discouraged some parents from sending their children to school.
While these challenges linger, most secondary school students who try often fail to get admission to tertiary institutions of their choice, creating excuses for parents who would prefer to end the child’s education. For instance, the latest statistics by Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) revealed that between 2010 and 2015, only 26 percent of the 10 million candidates who sought admission to tertiary institutions in Nigeria were admitted.
In response, UNICEF’s chief said the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom had funded interventions that had facilitated access to education for no fewer than 1.4 million girls in northern Nigeria.
EDUCATED YOUTHS GIVING BACK TO COMMUNITY
After graduating from Usmanu Danfodiyo University in 2017, Bello teamed up with some of his colleagues to form “a group of patriotic youths committed to the promotion of quality education for the sustainable development of Sokoto State”, having in their minds the aim of pushing secondary school students to tertiary institutions, one at a time.
They started recruiting students by sending registration forms to nearby government-owned secondary schools. Signed commitment forms from the students’ parents and the schools were sent back. And in every recruitment cycle, the organisation recruited up to 25 pupils into its extramural classes.
“This is very important,” said Bello. “Since we are not collecting any fees from them, the least they could do is to give us their full cooperation in allowing the students to participate in the extramural classes. Our classes are held every Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 1 pm because we could not allow it to clash with their formal school time.”
The foundation targets final-year students in government-owned schools to prepare them for tertiary institutions’ entrance exams.
“We focus on public schools because we intend to complement the government’s efforts in providing quality education to the people,” said Bello.
He was aware of the dwindling quality of education in the schools, and the organisation was committed to helping the students at the receiving end, who couldn’t get admission to tertiary institutions.
While the teachers are volunteers and the organisation is as a not-for-profit, the founder fears the sustainability of the initiative.
“The truth is that we can’t do everything, and we have been doing all this out of our expenses. Though all is going smoothly now, we might need funds to hire teachers who would support our volunteers,” said Bello. “We have been recording success and I believe we can do more, but sustainability is the key.”
Keeping the students busy on Saturdays and Sundays, when they are supposed to be attending their Islamic schools, could be sacrilegious in a community that practises and lives by Islamic teachings. Sometimes, some students skip a day out of the two days to attend Islamic schools.
“However, we always let them know that the extramural class is temporary and for a short term. And they would be resuming at their Islamic schools when they are done with their tertiary institutions’ entrance exams,” Bello added.
This was produced in partnership with I-79 Media Consults’ Campus Solutions, with support from the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), as part of the 2022 LEDE Fellowship.
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