Nigeria should be committed to the development of the girl-child  ̶  Jafaru Sani, Kaduna State Commissioner for Education

The challenges which young girls face in participating in education are generally well-known.  Some of them are rooted in religious and traditional practices, the patrilineal nature of many Nigerian societies and age-long stereotyping. To improve the level of participation of girls in its education system, the Kaduna State Government has embarked on the implementation of diverse strategies that, if sustained, will ensure that girls are not left behind in education. This will ultimately unleash the vast potential and creativity of girls and women for State and national development. The Chronicle of Education recently had another exclusive interview with Jafaru Sani, the current Kaduna State Commissioner for Education. During the interview, our reporter, Anu Oyeleye, sought to gain some insight into the strategies, their implementation, any challenges encountered and the overall potential impact on the participation of girls in education and development in the State.  The full text of the interview is presented below.

You are now quite well known to our readers.  Welcome to this exclusive interview session.

The Kaduna State Government recently extended its free education policy at the primary school level to all girls at the secondary level.  How has the new policy been received by parents, guardians, girls and other education stakeholders in the State?

The policy has been well received by the stakeholders because it furthers the desire for inclusive education at all levels and it is an opportunity for parents to deploy the funds that they would have used for tuition fees of their girl-children to other needs of the household. For other stakeholders, they are quite happy with the initiative because it would aid the retention of girls in schools. When we announced the policy, with which the schools immediately complied, the parents were jubilating and some girls expressed their appreciation to the State.

In your recent interaction with the press, you were quoted as saying that the new initiative was intended to remove hindrances to girl-child education in the State. One of these hindrances is early child marriage. How will this hindrance, which is deeply rooted in tradition and religion, be addressed?

To tackle the issue of early child marriage, the ministry has engaged in several forms of advocacy. We started by engaging the traditional leaders and what we garnered from the interactions with the people and the traditional leaders is that poverty is the major hindrance to girl-child education. Poverty is the root cause of the challenge, which is why the Government is trying to reduce pressure on parents by ensuring that uniforms and writing materials are supplied to students free of charge. We are trying to ensure that the school environment is conducive to attracting and retaining students in school. On the negative impact of child marriage, I’ll say that we have seen the disadvantages of this practice. In our hospitals, there is a large number of illnesses that arose as a result of giving girls to marriage at a tender age. The Vesico-Vagina Fistula (VVF) is an example. During our advocacy visits, we often draw the attention of the leaders to these cases and emphasize that they have to shun the practice of early child marriage. We go further by explaining that studies have confirmed that households with educated women do not suffer from avoidable diseases. Our aim as a Ministry is to promote communities that are healthy and productive.

Poverty remains a nagging problem in Africa, especially in Nigeria. Poor parents/guardians are known to insist that their daughters spend their after-school hours on non-academic chores like hawking, cooking, searching for firewood or water, and farming. How can this girl-child performance-limiting obstacle be addressed? 

Well, during our sensitization visits to parents, leaders and guardians, we try to strongly emphasis the benefits of girl-child education and secure their commitment in enrolling the girl-child in school. But beyond this, the State Government has liaised with the legislature to enact a law that will make education free and compulsory for the girl-child particularly. When this law is enacted, there would be sanctions for parents who refuse to send their girl-children to school. While waiting for the enactment of this law, the Ministry has in conjunction with the traffic and environmental law enforcement agencies initiated a programme called “EduMarshal” whereby Marshals within the agencies are tasked to apprehend girls seen hawking on the street and return them to school. The Marshals have been trained on proper handling of children and this strategy has been working.  We’ve been taking girls off the streets and returning them to their schools. That is for those that are enrolled. Those who haven’t are enrolled in schools that are near to their homes.

There is also the issue of teenage pregnancy, which arises from sexual misadventures and peer pressure. How will girls be educated to avoid this mistake? What are the arrangements to enable teenage mothers to continue their secondary school education, if they so want?

We have seen the need for sex education in schools. So under the health sciences, the curriculum has been structured to include sex education. We recognize that there is a need to expose our children to the “early safeguard” of preventing teenage pregnancy. We don’t necessarily need to have a subject on family planning but there are topics included in health sciences. We also have initiatives aimed to prevent girls from teenage pregnancy. We have recruited a number of guardians and counseling personnel in our schools. We have also been collaborating with many non-governmental organizations in this regard. We now have a Director in the Ministry that is responsible for girl-child education and there are some programmes initiated under the Department. We have introduced pilot programmes on sex education in five local government areas and aim to expand the scope to all local government areas so that there would be increased awareness on the subject. Presently, with the measures taken, we are beginning to see the impact of our programmes on the conduct of the female students.

Your question on fostering the education of teenage mothers is apt because in October this year, we were able to return about one hundred married young women back to school. To achieve this, we had to collaborate with UNFPA (The United Nations Fund for Population Activities). Currently, we are working to ensure that another 500 identified young women are returned back to school. At the moment, we have specialized centres that cater for this group of students. Some of them, because they are already married, find it difficult to return to normal classroom setting. So, we enroll them in centres under the UNFPA for mass literacy. However, this Ministry now has a department that oversees the affairs of these centres. The centres are designed to equip the young women with all the knowledge and skill set they require in their desired endeavours.

Since when we began this initiative, about 23 of them have sat for WAEC and NECO and had very good grades. They are now processing their admission into tertiary institutions. Also, because some of them have dropped out of school at an early stage, we decided to classify the centres into different stages. So, I would say we have been addressing this challenge and the solution devised is not a temporary measure. We have designed the framework of the centres and have a robust monitoring and evaluation team in charge of the programme. In areas where there have been shortfalls, we try to evaluate and re-strategize to develop better approaches. I am sure by January, February 2019, the numbers would have increased and we would have recorded more successes in this area.

Does the State have any plans for assisting girls who drop out from school to continue their education by non-formal means such as online courses, extramural classes and vocational education?

If you are trying to get this category of students back to school, it is important to leverage on vocational education so that they would use the skills learned to improve the economy of their families. To promote vocational education of students, we have been working in collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism as they are currently in charge of running the vocational centres across the state. The Department for International Development (DFID) also supports us by providing technology and personnel for our vocational programmes. For online courses, poor network has been a challenge especially for rural areas. We have been able to take advantage of online courses to a minimal extent in the urban centres but in the rural areas, we are still trying to find a way for that to work.

What are the key resource (human and material) implications of free education for all primary school children and secondary school girls in Kaduna State? What percentage of its budget does Kaduna State allocate annually to education?

Right from 2015, the education sector in Kaduna has witnessed tremendous increase in funding. The budget for education in 2016 was 27.5% which is above the UNESCO benchmark. For 2017, it was 32% and because of the downturn of the economy, the budget for 2018 was 28%. On expenditure, there has been a remarkable improvement in releases from the Ministry of Finance. And, I would like to state that it is only in this administration that Government pronouncement (i.e. the fund allocated to education) aligns with the expenditure made.

I mentioned the budgetary allocation and expenditure for you to know that we have envisaged these implications. Also with policies on free tuition, materials, it is expected that there would be increased enrolments in schools. To address the population growth, we have been embarking on the construction and rehabilitation of schools in Kaduna state. We have been massively supplying furniture to ensure that students do not sit on the floor. When you go to the local government areas, you would see that classrooms have been rehabilitated and structured to accommodate more students. For the laboratories, because there has been much emphasis on STEM, we have witnessed an increase in the number of science students. To improve the ratio of students to facilities, we have conducted a condition survey for laboratories in schools in order to determine their suitability and ascertain the adequacy of the equipment. The survey indicated that about 30% of the laboratories do not have equipment and the remaining 65% are in good shape but needs some form of improvement. With these findings, we submitted a report to the Governor and the Governor approved our estimations. Right now, we have received new supplies of equipment, about 75% of the equipment have arrived but are still in our stores. We are waiting for arrival of the 25% before they are distributed and we are equally waiting for furniture which are being constructed for the laboratories to be completed. Still on implications, we have found that students in private schools are now enrolling in public schools, hence the need for more teachers. We have also discovered that there are fewer teachers in the sciences, so we recommended recruitment on a 60-40 basis: 60% consideration for the sciences and 40% for both commercial and arts. The Government has approved that 7,600 teachers should be recruited to meet these needs and we have undertaken the task. Also, in the recruitment, we have ensured that we place a premium on female teachers.

Early childhood education is a cardinal prerequisite for primary and secondary school education. One of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4)) is to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education. How is Kaduna State trying to achieve this target?

We have an elaborate programme on early childhood education. We have just returned from a six day trip in Kano where we developed our strategic plan and a timeframe to meet our target of enhancing enrolment of children between ages 3, 4 and 5. We are encouraging parents to bring their wards to our facilities, so that they can help their children have quality and fast education. Initially, most of our facilities are domiciled in a few local government areas but we have extended them to the 22 local government areas in Kaduna. We have drawn a special curriculum that would suit the children of that age. However, we have discovered that in some urban areas, some working mothers just see the facilities as an avenue to dump their children so they can do other things. To enhance their interest, we sensitize them on the benefit of early child education. For those mothers who are not working, we make additional efforts towards changing their perception about early childhood education.

Another target of SDG 4 is to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.  What is Kaduna State’s strategy for attaining this target?

The journey to providing free, equitable education in Kaduna has been smooth and I am hoping that by 2020 we would be able to meet the target.

A target of SDG 5 is to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation. How does Kaduna State try to meet this target in its primary and secondary schools?

We are working with the ministry of women affairs and social development to ensure that we eliminate cases of child molestation in our schools. Whenever we hear of such cases, we promptly deploy trained personnel to the school to investigate and submit reports on the issue. When we find any case that is genuine, the culprits are dismissed from the service and even sent to jail. Yes, there have been few cases of assault and rape in Kaduna, but we assiduously work with the Ministry of Women Affairs to secure a verdict. We also work in collaboration with non-governmental organisations and the police to obtain judgment on such issues. However, such cases are not rampant in our State.

To retain girls in school, they should have role models and champions. What is your Ministry doing to continually boost the number of female teachers in schools?

We have a number of female teachers in the system. There are female teachers that have gained scholarships for training. The Mercy Corp Foundation, World Bank and the DFID are also providing scholarships for the development of female teachers so that they can remain in the system to serve as role models. To inspire our female students, we sometimes engage the services of renowned female doctors in the state to go and address and encourage them. We have observed that female students, once they are retained in school, often aspire high and this is why we bring in professionals to speak to them.

Still speaking of female teachers, we have observed that once they are employed, they tend to remain in the system but the challenge we encounter is that many of them do not want to be deployed to rural areas because they want to remain close to their families. To address this, we have concluded arrangements with some private investors to build accommodations for teachers in the rural areas so that the State Government would pay for them much later.

There is also a need for innovation in curriculum design and delivery. For example, the history of highly successful women and their achievements is hardly taught in schools, giving the impression that this is a man’s world. What will the State do to remove this curricular defect?

Unfortunately, the curriculum is majorly designed by the Federal Ministry of Education. But, as a State Government, we ensure that through the National Council on Education meetings, we engage other Commissioners of Education and diverse stakeholders in robust discussions with the aim of facilitating changes in the directives given. Over the years, I have seen a number of textbooks that reiterate or reinforce stereotypes but I am sure with the current efforts and intervention of the non-governmental organisations, this phenomenon would be a thing of the past.

Is Kaduna State taking any steps to ensure that certain basic facilities (such as toilets, running taps and first aid clinics) are available in schools to foster female enrollment and retention?

We have found that inadequate facilities in schools pose another hindrance to girl-child education. But, we have ensured that the renovations embarked upon take this into consideration. We now have sufficient toilets in our schools. We mandate that any new application for the establishment of schools has the adequate toilet facilities. Also with the support of UNICEF, we have established a Water and Sanitation Departments in our local government areas. These departments see to the provision of water and sanitary facilities in our schools. We ensure that there are different facilities for both boys and girls. Also, there is a fund from UN that enables the provision of sanitary materials for girls to enhance their comfort in schools.

What would be your parting statement to parents/guardians, teachers and the entire nation on the relevance and importance of girl-child education?

On the relevance of girl-child education, I think every State and the country as a whole must be committed to the development of the girl-child because when you educate them you end up with well-informed managers. You would find that regions that have a high number of educated females have low infant mortality rates because they know the steps to take to prevent this and other known morbidities. Those mothers often emphasize personal hygiene and good home training, thus having a multiplier effect on the society. Generally, it is observed that street urchins, miscreants often come from homes with little education background. Therefore, my call to parents is that they should take advantage of the opportunities that we are providing for the children. They should encourage their children to concentrate on their studies and do well so that they can benefit from the State’s scholarship programme. The government, apart from the scholarship scheme, has provided an opportunity for education loans. This kind of loan will only be repaid after a child     secures an employment. The idea is for them to pay gradually from their salaries. When parents ensure that their wards are enrolled and attend school regularly, they are co-operating with the Government.

To the State Governments, I would advise that they should take advantage of the provision of the Universal Basic Education Board and pay their counterpart funds while I would appeal to the Federal government to declare a state of emergency on education just like Kaduna did in 2015. By doing this, they would be highlighting education. And, all the challenges bedeviling the sector would be at the forefront of interventions from both the Government and other stakeholders. Government should also upgrade the percentage of the funding allotted to the education sector. The Federal government should also consider massively recruiting qualified teachers in science and technology to address the shortage in schools.

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