BY BB ZAKARI
Commitments toward formally educating girls in northern Nigeria dates back to almost seventy years. And from the mid–eighties to date, there have been more than 10 government policies, mandates, and programs, made to improve and encourage girl child education. Yet, recent statistics indicate that in most of the states in northern Nigeria, literacy level is (on the average) less than 35%; in the best performing states, the average is around 43%. Overall, the average female literacy level in the region is less than 40%. This simply means that only 2 out of 5 women can read and write.
Interestingly, with the current rate of widowhood due to many conflicts and related issues, and the unprecedented divorce rate which has become a social quandary; a new trend has emerged. The new and increasingly popular trend is that of widows and divorced women going back to school – picking up from where they left. This likely indicates either of two things: 1. that they have always wanted to further their education but wasn’t possible, so now that they are relatively more matured and independent they went for it; or 2. realities of life has taught them that it is indeed a virtue for a woman to learn and be able to take care of herself and her kids, with or without support, if there be a need.
Considering the state of affairs in today’s life, the benefits of women education cannot be overemphasized. It is simply a way of training her to be able to handle life on her own if situation warrants. Besides, we don’t need any statistics to see that a woman’s education have direct effect on the physical, moral, and psychological wellbeing of her family – like improved family health & general welfare, and socio-economic aspect. Although it is not in all cases that an additional income from a woman can significantly alter a family’s welfare, it is always a safe haven to know that she can step-in and do what needs to be done, in case of eventualities of life. Life can turn out in many unpredictable ways – husband’s illness or losing source of income, natural disasters, husband’s death, etc. Mayhap, educating the wife may turn out to be the greatest favour a man can do to his children. This is because when a father, isn’t there or is incapable of taking care of his kids, the wife is the one who (if capable) will embrace that responsibility as her greatest priority in life. Likewise, it will be comforting for any dad to know that if challenges of life requires his daughter to personally shoulder her responsibilities (and her kids’), she can face it with dignity. That no matter the situation, his daughter can and will respectfully cater for her needs without bringing a bad name and a negative image to herself and the family.
As it is right now, there are virtually two options for a woman to go for further education: she either tackles the formidable task of being married and getting educated simultaneously; or decide to delay getting married until she reaches her target level of education. In most cases neither of these is an easy option, and hardly entirely a woman’s decision to make – although the consequences of the choice is (almost) entirely hers to bear. Providentially, marriage and motherhood do not stop a woman from getting to any level of education she sets her mind to reach. But will indisputably, make the endeavour a lot more stressful, multiples her challenges and risks, and increases her chances of losing out or giving up along the way. In short, it requires incredible strength, absolute resolve and unflinching commitment from a woman to be a wife, a mother and still go on with academic training. The bedrock and necessary foundation for her to do that successfully is the trust, support, & encouragement from her father (or guardian); and constant support, patience and tremendous understanding from her husband. Unfortunately, these are not always easy to come by, perhaps due to the perceived conflict between the system of education and our way of life, especially as related to marital life.
Perchance, more dads will be at ease to support their daughters in school knowing that they can comfortably marry them off at any stage, without the efforts made hitherto becoming a fruitless endeavour. Likewise, more husbands could accept the idea of their wives education if the process has minimal effect on her responsibilities as a wife and a mother. They may not likely oppose the idea of their wives becoming educated and enlightened to be better mothers and wives, while making a useful contribution to the society, as long as it does not negate the wives domestic responsibilities. They may not find it objectionable for a wife to be like: a midwife helping other women; a doctor or a nurse specialised in women and children cases; a community health worker teaching women about hygiene; or teaching school children from a mother’s perspective (especially in this time of repulsive sexual assaults on children); or teaching women on special skills acquisition; etc. etc.
Opting to remain wilfully blind towards the repercussions of this poor situation on the society, will not help the obvious ramifications that we see all around us. It is in our best interest as a society, to find ways of changing the status quo. For many decades, the approach has been to make people amend their ways of life so it can be fitted into the system of education. It could be beneficial to consider turning the table around by making the systems (or at least a part of it) flexible enough to fit into the people’s established way life.
It can be beneficial to the society if some amendments will be considered when and where possible. Potential examples may include: enhancing part time studies (and payment of fees accordingly) across all institutions, so that a woman may only need to be attending school fewer times, but over a longer period; acknowledging pregnancy and childbirth as part of a woman’s marital life, and thus granting her leave (if and when she needs it) at all levels of education; upgrading adult education and related programmes to be more attuned with conventional schools, so it can be a viable route for those who only have access to that; incorporating more training in women related entrepreneurial-mindset in education, so that a woman can make sense (and make use) of whatever she learns, if she happens to stop schooling at any level; adjusting religious studies to reflect what parents expect their children to learn at appropriate ages, so there can be a balance between the formal and religious education (as done in many private schools, including government owned); etc etc.
Rather than holding on to the system which has been working (not so well) for decades, shouldn’t we try improving the efficacy of education instead?
Perhaps it is time for educationist, social scientist, religious leaders, traditional rulers, policy makers, and parents who have been actively involved in their children’s educational training to get together, look critically and figure out how to make the system serve our people better. We should be over and beyond waiting for people who do not understand our life to be telling us what is wrong with it and how we can fix. After all, the best way for people to change their lives is for them to have control of doing things the way they feel is best for them, not by making them do what someone else decides is right for them.