Maryam Bello, 19, beamed with a smile as she sat inside a classroom at Sultan Ward Model Primary School, Sabon Birni Area in Sokoto, venue of the extramural classes organised for secondary school students to boost their chances of gaining admission into 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 subject’s question paper and an answer sheet — which were an assessment as part of the extramural class activities.
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.
One after another, each one of them huddled around her and congratulated her on the news of her recent admission into 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 organises 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 into tertiary institutions.”
Bello and his colleagues at the foundation felicitated Maryam’s achievement because she is also a practical success of what the foundation set out to do. Last year in 2021, four other students from the extramural classes gained admission into the School of Nursing, 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 — including 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-only 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 into 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 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 North-Western States of Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto.
According to the report, with 23.6 million girls who marry before the age of 18, Nigeria leads as 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 tallies with UNICEF’s; that was the reason the group envisioned Sokoto as the leading state in quality and functional education where its youths are inspired by a competitive pursuit for learning by 2050.
“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 a 2006 National Policy on Gender in Basic Education that aims at eliminating “gender disparities in primary and secondary education and ensuring full and equal access of quality education for all children,” the policy reads in part.
The policy also noted that development in developing countries, including Nigeria, is a gendered exercise, impacting differently on women and men, girls and boys.
Specifically, in Northern states, the policy reveals the disparities 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, a 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 of the candidates were male while the remaining 748,595 were female.
In Sokoto state, out of the 26,084 students who sat for the exam in 2018, only 8,689 were female.
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, in the execution of the National Policy on Gender in Basic Education.
WESTERN EDUCATION AT THE CENTRE OF ISLAMIC LEARNING
Kanwurin Daku, the name of the foundation, bears the same name as an ancient community in the Sokoto metropolis. Popular as the centre for Islamic learning since the era of Usman bn Fodio, the founder and the 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 deny their female children to attend 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, the Chief United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Field Office, Bauchi state, consistent attacks on secondary schools which led to several kidnapping of school girls have discouraged some parents from sending their children to schools.
While these challenges linger, most secondary school students who try often fail to get admission into tertiary institutions of their choice, creating excuses for parents who would prefer to end the child’s further 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% of the 10 million candidates who sought admission into tertiary institutions in Nigeria eventually got admitted.
In response, UNICEF’s Chief said the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom has funded interventions that have 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 a secondary school student into a tertiary institution, 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 are sent back. And in every recruitment cycle, the organisation recruits 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 8am to 1pm 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. Above all else, he was aware of the dwindling quality of education in the schools, and the organisation is committed to helping the students at the receiving end who couldn’t get admission into tertiary institutions.
While the teachers are volunteers and the organisation runs 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.
The report was sponsored by I-79 Media Consults’ Campus Solutions project which is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) as part of the 2022 LEDE Fellowship.