Improving women's education in Nigeria

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

As Nigeria struggles to educate and keep girls in schools, religious sisters have taken matters into their own hands, working to improve access to education in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s Education Struggles


Nigeria is the most populated country and one of the largest economies in Africa. In 2016, it overtook South Africa as the largest economy in Africa. Nigeria’s largest export of oil earned them a spot in the global economy, but from 2014-2016 the price of crude oil dropped drastically. According to World Education News + Reviews, this launched Nigeria into a recession that only worsened their pre-existing problems of:

  • the violent Boko Haram insurgency
  • endemic corruption
  • low-life expectancy
  • inadequacies in public health
  • income inequalities
  • high illiteracy rates

Through the lens of the African Sister Education Collaborative (ASEC) , there are several issues related to education in Nigeria. A major issue is Nigeria invests less in education than almost any other country in Africa.

Governance of public education

Education is overseen by the Ministry of Education but there is no country-wide standard for schools. Local authorities take responsibility for implementing state-controlled policy regarding public education leading to differences in quality, curriculum and funding. Cuts in spending affected public education with an increase in tuition costs and deterioration of basic infrastructure.

44% of Nigeria’s population in 2015 was under the age of 15. With the large population and lack of funding, the education system is not well-equipped to handle so many students.

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A breakdown of education in Nigeria.

A breakdown of education in Nigeria.

6-3-3-4 system of education in Nigeria

Nigeria has a 6-3-3-4 system of education. Nigerian students spend

  • six years in primary school
  • three years in secondary school
  • three years in senior secondary school
  • four years in tertiary/university education

In 2010, 8.73 million elementary school-aged children did not participate in education at all.

This secured Nigeria as the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.

To address this problem, the Nigerian government wanted to make basic education free and accessible. They built thousands of new schools to gain more students.

The national enrollment rate grew to 63.8% after the government’s involvement.

Yet, there currently exists a large difference between the education systems in the oil-rich South states and the impoverished North states. Northern states’ enrollment rates were below 25% in 2010.

In an ASEC presentation by regional director of West Africa, Sr. Clementina Obembe, OSF and programs coordinator of Nigeria, Sr. Clare Adelakun, DHS, they commented that education is “tuned to the advantage of wealthier city people who have better chances of converting it into real jobs .

In primary school, children study:

  • Biblical and Islamic studies
  • English Language
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Ethnic Language according to their location

For primary schools in cities, they may also study:

  • Computer Science
  • French
  • Art

Lack of Enrollment, Lack of Literacy

States in south Nigeria like Lagos had 60%-70% primary school enrollment in 2013 , compared to northern states like Yobe that had 10%-20% primary school enrollment.

According to World Bank in 2015, the youth literacy rate was 72.8% and the adult literacy rate was 59.6% compared to the global rates of 90.6% and 85.3% respectively.

Education for Nigerian Girls and Women

An issue that plagues the whole nation’s education system is how Nigeria handles women in education.

Despite Nigeria growing socioeconomically which encourages many women to have high-profile careers , female students face sex-based stereotyping and other issues in their education.

Stereotyping against Nigeiran women in certain fields of study

There are biases against female involvement in certain academic disciplines, creating less participation in STEM classes and a higher dropout rate.

Because girls do not have access to adequate education past a certain age, the current female adult literacy rate of Nigeria is 59.4%, compared to the male adult literacy rate of 74.4%

Dangers that girls in Nigeria face when receiving an education

In recent years, militant groups like Boko Haram have especially created problems for girls receiving an education.

In 2014, 276 girls were abducted from their secondary school in the primarily Christian town of Chibok, Borno State, by Islamist group Boko Haram.

 This group’s name loosely translates to “western education is sin”. Over 100 girls are still missing.

Religious & Cultural values preventing Nigerian girls from getting an education

For girls in the Muslim majority north states many parents send them to work instead of school.

According to The Guardian , “a lack of education vastly reduces a child’s chances of escaping poverty and has led to many girls becoming wives before their 16th birthday”.

Some religious leaders preach that educating girls is un-Islamic .

This belief is not specific to north Nigeria.

A prominent cultural view is that it is better for women to stay home and tend to her family instead of attending school.

Nigerian tradition attaches higher value to men more than women which harms female students by imposing ideas of male superiority.

Fighting for women's education in Nigeria

Anti-poverty charities have been working towards recruitment of female teachers, better facilities and more funding to get more parents and students interested in education.

But the government has shut several schools down due to growing panic over Boko Haram .

Nigerian SLDI Alumna, Sr. Immaculate, in the science lab with students.

Nigerian SLDI Alumna, Sr. Immaculate, in the science lab with students.

The Power of Religious Sisters in Nigeria

ASEC is helping end the gender gap by educating religious sisters to open and run their own schools and facilities.

Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) alumnae are taking those pivotal steps towards change.

SLDI has been working in Nigeria since 2007 – they have served 350 Catholic Sisters and work with 75 registered congregations.

In 2017, education was the third-largest ministry among SLDI participants at 13.7%.

In 2014, ASEC’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program began working in Nigeria and has supported 98 Catholic Sisters to study for their degrees and diplomas.

Education is the most popular area of study for HESA students at 57%.

Through these programs ASEC participants get taught skills to secure funding, lead organizations and help their communities.

In a 2018 report published by ASEC , the majority of funding that SLDI participants receive goes towards creating and maintaining quality education in Nigeria.

Sisters are creating safe, growing schools in Nigeria

Sr. Celina Adegun, SSMA and SLDI Alumna, began the Mary Queen of Angels Catholic Girls’ Secondary School (MQA) in Ondo, Nigeria eleven years ago.

Here, girls have boarding facilities to create a safe learning environment.

This helps students by keeping them focused on their academic progress.

One of MQA’s focuses is keeping girls safe from harm as they are often unprotected in their day to day lives. For example, students learn how to defend themselves in dangerous situations.

On top of their studies - girls also learn how to farm fish, cultivate crops and make textile colorations.

Sr. Maryann Mowobi, SSMA and current principal, said the school began with 23 students and since 2011 has had an average of 140 students enrolled in each academic session.

Six sets of students have graduated since the beginning of MQA and they have all moved onto university studies in Nigeria or overseas.

Sisters are improving the quality of education in Nigeria

Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (EHJ) located in Lagos, Nigeria have created several facilities to assist with the education of young women.

Sr. Immaculata Njoku, SLDI alumna, secured funding to create a library and science laboratory in EHJ’s Nursery and Primary School in Kubwa, Nigeria benefitting over 3,000 pupils and staff.

“I got the information on their [World Bank Family Network and Parents Teacher Association] willingness to assist our school with reading materials. I consider myself lucky because only three schools in our area benefitted from this initiative. I attribute the success to get funding from the skills I gained in SLDI training… I am happy our children have reading materials,” she says.

These additions help encourage the students to study well and gain knowledge, which has won them awards at competitions on local, diocesan and state levels.

Sr. Florence Emurayeveya , SLDI alumna, secured funding and created the EHJ Postulate House in Ikenne, Nigeria to provide holistic formation for young girls coming into the religious life.

After the facility was completed in 2016, the house has gained 6 employees and ministers over 300 people in the community and parish.

ASEC participants are putting their skills to good use and understand the difference they can make.

Sisters raising funds so children can access education in Nigeria

SLDI participants in northern Nigeria believe there is a great importance and purpose in grant-writing, especially in adverse times.

“We are an indigenous congregation […] that has so many challenges. The frequent religious crisis has so much affected the socio-economic life of our people in that they look up to us for relief. Grant writing will open the avenue for collaboration with kind and generous people to make an impact in the lives of our people,” says a participant of the SLDI Administration Track.

With the work done by these religious sisters, more children go to school today to learn to read and write than in previous decades.

Now, Nigerian younger people are more likely to be literate than older people.

Shown in a survey by International Education Statistics, persons aged 15 to 19 years are 70% literate. Persons 80 years or older are only 13% literate.

Why Educate Nigerian Girls?

Education literally saves lives

According to UNESCO , it is extremely important that girls have access to education - “for every additional year girls go to school, they receive 20 percent higher wages and suffer 10 percent fewer child deaths”.

Formal education helps women make better decisions about medical care, child care and sanitization practices.

Education results in less child marriages

According to The International Center for Research on Women, the education a girl receives is the largest predictor of the age she will get married .

Girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry as children.

Girls in secondary education are six times less likely to marry as children compared to girls who have little to no education.

Education promotes gender equality

As the 2015 Millennium Development Goal to “promote gender equality and empower women” faced hardships in Nigeria, UNICEF stated that it is essential for the country to achieve this goal.

“Until equal numbers of girls and boys are in school, it will be impossible to build the knowledge necessary to eradicate poverty and hunger, combat disease and ensure environmental sustainability.”

Education for all

Education disparities create a barrier for educated women that can help Nigeria's society. Religious sisters are changing societies’ rules for Nigerian women and girls. Be a part of that change by donating to ASEC today.

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This article is addressing the following UN Sustainable Development Goal(s):

Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Reduce inequality within and among countries
Zoe Laporte

Zoe Laporte
ASEC Web Content Intern, 2018 - USA  

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