From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan

The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2021) by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates that 16.3 per cent of female children are out of senior and junior secondary school in Oyo State.

However, the introduction of a World Bank-assisted project, Better Education Services Delivery for All (BESDA), working with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and Oyo State Universal Basic Education Board, has played significant roles in returning at least 40,000 out-of-school children to school under the incumbent administration in the state

As efforts have been put in top gear to eradicate illiteracy, the focus has been mainly on the girl-child, especially by civil society organisations. Some of the factors that have been identified as being responsible for the lack of access to Western education for many girls include poverty, pregnancy, child labour, child marriage and religious beliefs.

However, a youth-focused, non-profit and non-partisan organisation, One Life Initiative, working to improve the well-being of young people through the provision of safe spaces, skills and vocational training, including information and resources to enable them make informed decisions, has also come on the scene to assist in breaking barriers limiting the girl-child in Oyo State.

Recenly, the organisation gathered girls from some secondary schools to provide intellectual empowerment that would help overcome challenges associated with girl-child education in the state.

The girls, selected from some secondary schools in the state, set agenda on girl-child education for the second term of the Governor Seyi Makinde administration that would begin on May 29, 2023.

The girls set the agenda for the state government during the screening of a 21-minute documentary, “Breaking Barriers: The Journey of Girls Education in Nigeria,” held at Filmhouse Cinema, Samonda, Ibadan, Oyo State. It was was organised by Onelife Initiative, in partnership with Youthhub Africa and with support from Malala Fund.

Executive director of Onelife Initiative, ‘Sola Fagorusi, explained that the idea behind the documentary and bringing the female secondary school students to a cinema was to give them a new learning experience.

“We also want to hear from them on what they want the government and other stakeholders to do to further improve the quality of their education, especially now that new and old political office holders will be setting new agenda at the federal and state levels on education,” Fagorusi said.

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The representative of the Ministry of Education, Mr. J.O. Oladapo, Deputy Director, Secondary School Services, explained that research had pointed to the high intelligence quotient of females all over the world. According to him, the girls were being incorporated into public affairs. But when girls are denied education, they are denied opportunities to showcase their talents and also contribute to nation-building.

Also present at the screening were representatives from the State Universal Basic Education Board of Oyo State, Nigeria Union of Teachers, National Teachers’ Institute and the Oyo State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Inclusion. Six schools were represented at the screening: Immanuel Secondary School 1 and 2, Sango; Immanuel Grammar School, Sango; Oba Akinbiyi Secondary School, Mokola; Humani Alaga Secondary School, Sango; and Eleyele Secondary School, Eleyele, Ibadan. 

The students on the panel were Omolaja Blessing, Eleyele Secondary School, and Obiakor Esther, Oba Akinbiyi Secondary School. Others were Mrs. Abiola Oluwayemisi, Oyo State Ministry of Education, and Mrs. Omotayo Adebayo, Haven Initiative. Some of the issues raised during the panel discussion were that the data showing the number of girls out of school drew tears to the eyes and the scenes from the documentary were real.

Other issues were the need to improve on the quality of prizes given to students following their participation in competitions. The need for government to also deliberately have qualified and brilliant teachers in rural community schools was also mentioned.

The issue of the school curriculum also being overly burdensome and challenging to complete was discussed. It is hoped that part of the agenda for the leadership of the Ministry of Education will also be working with teachers and relevant agencies to support teachers to make their classes lively even where the subjects are difficult ones.

It was also suggested that girls should be allowed to also support teachers in discussing with other girls on why they need to take their studies seriously. Participants agreed with Miss Omolaja when she hinted that anything that wants to stop a girl from getting educated needs to be stopped and fought as a woman who is uneducated is unlikely to make the education of her daughter(s) a priority.

Fagorusi also explained that One Life Initiative made the intervention through its Governance and Policies desk, saying: “We use in-depth research, and our knowledge networks to help young people make sense of governance processes and systems by providing simplified information and resources to them through easy-to-access channels in education, health and other development areas.”

He added that the outreach was approved by the Ministry of Education in “furtherance of our advocacy for improved quality of education for the girl-child and the consultative stakeholders meeting.

“The documentary titled — “Breaking Barriers: The Journey Of Girl-Child Education In Nigeria” was planned to generate conversations and actions among high-level stakeholders on the issue of girl-child education in Oyo State. It is also intended to have the public catch a glimpse of what the expectations of the girl-child and their guardians are for senior secondary education.

A cross-section of the female secondary school students in attendance appealed to Makinde and the state government to ensure that every girl has access to education, irrespective of location. They added that government should ensure that no parent or guardian should withhold sending their female children to school, and there should be no undue preference of male-child over girl-child.