School or No School? That is the Question
One of the major barriers to girls getting an education is poverty, of which they are of 2 kinds: Financial poverty and Poverty of the mind- where education on a girl is a waste of time and resources. In today’s society where more and more commitments are being seen by governments to provide free basic education for children in rural and urban communities, we still find that most children, especially girl, still lack access to these facilities, little that they may be. 1 in 3 female children are not in school, not because they do not want to learn, but because the concept of an education for girls has become a fantasy that most are sure will never come to pass. In Nigeria, and much of the developing world, access to education for girls is as difficult as moving a mountain with one’s bare hands. The society they grew up in, their families, availability of facilities and safe environment pose barriers to young girls having access to an education.
About 6 months back during a girls program I was running, I had the privilege of speaking to a number of young girls, both in and out of school. They shared their fears about not being able to get the kind of education they wanted, security in school and support from home. A young 15 year old girl shared that she had been brought from the village to the city to work for a family friend because they were 6 in her family and very little money. Most of the money she made as a house girl was sent back to the village and used to send her brothers to school. She had given up hope of getting an education and was already looking forward to marriage and starting her own family so she could stop being a servant. We had been able to encourage her to reconsider going to school and speaking with those that she lived with to support her education.
A lot of girls face this kind of situation which prevents them from getting an education. When families who are poor have to make a choice in who gets an education, the girl is automatically sidetracked and sent into the kitchen, the farm, or the streets to hawk and support the family. An arm of my organization that works on child rights reported a case where the girl had been promised an education if she agreed to marry a man older than her father; the child was in her pre-teens. Another case involved a young girl who dropped out of school because she was being sexually harassed by a teacher. Rather than having to face this humiliation every day, she dropped out of school and supported her mother in selling cooking ingredients in the market.
Education for girls is not just about providing schools that are ‘free’, but about ensuring that girls can access these schools which have been provided. This includes making sure that they have responsible people in schools for them to turn to when they have issues (an experienced counselor who would not take advantage of the girls), ensuring that their parents are educated on the immense benefits educating a girl will bring. We can all help in putting more girls in school by providing the support they need.