Earlier this month, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai visited Nigeria and met with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to discuss the changes she envisions for Nigeria’s education system. Additionally, she has declared “a state of emergency for education in Nigeria.”
While Nigeria is one of Africa’s wealthier nations, it also has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. In fact, 10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school, 60 percent of them girls, according to the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF). Many of these children live in the country’s northeast region, particularly in the Boko Haram hub of Maiduguri, in which education has been under attack for the past nine years.
Boko Haram destroyed the classrooms and schools in the area. Most notably, the group is responsible for the abduction of more than 200 girls from their school in the remote town of Chibok in April 2014. This prompted international outrage and the #BringBackOurGirls movement, for which Malala herself campaigned online. Of the abducted girls, only 106 were released, rescued or escaped after more than three years in captivity. The other 113 are still in custody of the extremist group. As a long-time advocate for girls’ education, especially in war torn areas, Malala is the perfect spokesperson for the state of emergency for education in Nigeria.
In an op-ed in The Guardian, Malala detailed her visit to Maiduguri and the girls she met there “who have faced so much violence and fear in their young lives but are still determined to go to school.”
“Studies are clear,” she says in another interview, ”educating girls grows economies, reduces conflict, and improves public health.” The percentage of Nigeria’s budget for education decreased from 9 percent to 6 percent since her last visit to Nigeria in 2014. Meanwhile, the international benchmark for education spending is 20 percent of a country’s overall budget. In her meeting with President Osinbajo, she outlined several necessary key changes including declaring a “state of emergency for education” to focus attention on the education of Nigerian children.
She also suggested that Nigeria make school funding public and triple its education budget. She emphasized that the country should implement the Child Rights Act in all states. Her main goal is to raise awareness of unenrolled children in Nigeria and to highlight the fact that if Nigeria makes education a priority, it has the material means to make vast improvements.
Nigeria is in a state of emergency for education. Across West Africa, 46 percent of primary school-aged children out of school are Nigerian. Globally, one in five children not enrolled in school is Nigerian. During the Boko Haram insurgency which began in 2009, the group killed 2,295 teachers and destroyed almost 1,400 schools, displacing over 19,000 people.
Organizations such as UNICEF work closely with the Nigerian government to decrease these worrying statistics, especially in northeastern Nigeria. More than 525,000 children enrolled in school this year alone, while the country established over 37 temporary learning spaces. Relief organizations distributed about 92,000 packs of learning materials to help children continue their educations in areas especially vulnerable to attack.
Advocates like Malala are important in creating change because they put new international spotlights and pressure on governments to reprioritize education. Time will tell if the changes she envisions for schoolchildren in Nigeria come to pass. Continued advocacy work around this issue is important to ensure that a generation of schoolchildren does not fall behind.
– Saru Duckworth