Championing Girl-Child education for out of school children

Helen Okechukwu

In the heart of Africa lies Nigeria, a nation where the promise of a brighter future begins with education, especially for children between the ages of 6 and 15. Yet, despite its position as the third-largest country globally, with 15% out of school children after India and Pakistan, Nigeria faces a staggering education crisis, as reported by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

The statistics are alarming. One in three children is out of school. Among them, 10.2 million are at the primary level, and 8.1 million are at the junior secondary school (JSS) level. Shockingly, 12.4 million children have never had the chance to attend school, while an additional 5.9 million have been forced to leave prematurely.

Regional Statistics of Out of School Children in Nigeria- Data Obtained from Premium Times

The face of this crisis is predominantly rural and female. Girls, especially those in rural communities, bear the brunt of barriers such as poverty, early marriage, insecurity, cultural norms, underfunding, teenage pregnancy, and social and gender biases.

For these children, the consequences are dire. Without access to education, they face a future marred by poverty and inequality, perpetuating a cycle that affects generations.

Among the out-of-school children in Nigeria, a staggering 47% are girls. In 2018, a report revealed Akwa Ibom State had the highest number of out-of-school female children in the southern part of Nigeria, with 298,161.

Source Digest from Education Statistics in 2018, Yusuf Akinpelu- Data Obtained from Premium Times

Yet, amidst the darkness, there is a glimmer of hope. Organizations like Forher are working tirelessly to break the chains of ignorance that bind Nigeria’s children. Through initiatives like the Person and Community-Centred Design Approach (PCCD), they are reaching out to communities, providing not just education but also mentorship, opportunities, and hope.

Activist who championed the New Narrative for Girl Child Education

Activists like Remarkable-Mary Akpan and her team have also taken up the cause, fighting for the rights of underrepresented girls in communities and in government positions. Their efforts have sparked hope in the hearts of many, showing that change is possible, one child at a time.

In the rural communities in Akwa Ibiom State, where the sun rises over fields of green and dreams hang in the balance, Mary Akpan and her organisation ForHer is on a mission. A graduate of politics, a writer, public speaker, and social entrepreneur, Mary’s passion lies in the empowerment and development of others.

Children Trained for Art Creativity- Photo Credit: Forher

For Mary, education is not just a goal; it’s a calling. Inspired by the words of Michelle Obama, “when a girl child is educated, a society is educated,” Mary founded ForHer, a community non-governmental organization dedicated to empowering girls who lack access to education and exposure.

“Education is the key to unlocking a brighter future,” Mary explains, her voice filled with determination. “But for too many girls in Nigeria, that key remains out of reach. That’s why we founded Forher—to give every girl the chance to learn, grow, and succeed.”

ForHer’s journey began in 2021 in Akwa Ibom State, one of Nigeria’s southern states, where over 3000 girls in rural communities were reached since the birth of Forher. But Mary’s vision goes beyond just providing education; it’s about eradicating poverty and inequality for generations to come.

“We need more girls in positions of power,” Mary says, her eyes shining with conviction. “But to get there, we need to start by giving them access to education. That’s why we’re focusing on rural communities, where girls are often denied the chance to learn.”

Creative Art Class- Photo Credit: Forher

In places like Eastern Obolo, in the Isotoyo community, where 90% of female teenagers become pregnant before the age of 18, the need for education is greater than ever. But for too long, these girls have been left behind, their dreams stifled by poverty and inequality.

“For too long, these girls have been told that education is not for them,” Mary explains. “But we’re here to change that. We’re here to tell them that they have the right to learn, to grow, and to succeed.”

Through one-on-one educational campaigns with community stakeholders, parents, and village heads, ForHer is changing the narrative for Nigeria’s forgotten girls. They are not just teaching girls how to read and write; they are giving them the tools they need to build a better future for themselves and their families.

But Mary knows that she cannot do this work alone. That’s why she is calling on government and community leaders to join her in the fight for Nigeria’s forgotten girls.

“We need to close the gap between urban and rural communities,” Mary says, her voice ringing out with passion. “Every girl, regardless of where she comes from, deserves the chance to learn and grow. And together, we can make that dream a reality.”

As the sun sets over Nigeria, casting long shadows over its vast landscape, Mary looks out at the horizon, filled with hope for the future. For her, the fight is far from over. But with the support of her community and the determination of Nigeria’s forgotten girls, she knows that anything is possible.

“We may be facing an uphill battle, but I believe that together, we can break the chains that bind us and build a brighter future for all of Nigeria’s children,” Mary says, her voice filled with conviction. “And with education as our weapon, I know that we will succeed.”

Forher Championing an Educative Initiative

In the quiet village of Isotoya, nestled deep within the heart of Akwa Ibom State, with determination and a vision for change, ForHer has embarked on an educational program titled “Education Forher” to expose female children to the power of education, and help them stand up for themselves.

Comfort Friday, Festa Godswill, and Charity Johnson expressed happiness after they emerged as winners- Photo Credit: Forher. 

Forher representative presented a Scholarship Offer to Comfort Friday, after emerged as the winner, standing beside her is her parent and community representative- Photo Credit: Forher. 

In a community where access to education is limited, Forher program is a ray of hope for girls like Comfort Friday, Festa Godswill, and Charity Johnson. After a rigorous selection process, these three girls emerged as winners, earning scholarships that would change their lives forever.

Representative of Forher presented a scholarship Offer to Festa Godswill after emerged as 1st runner-up, standing beside her was her parents, Photo Credit: Forher. 

But the journey was not without its challenges. For Comfort and Festa, the biggest hurdle was transportation. Living in a rural area where boat transportation was the only means of getting around, attending school was a daily struggle. But thanks to ForHer, they were able to move to an area where transportation was more accessible, allowing them to complete their secondary down to tertiary education.

For Charity, however, the journey took an unexpected turn. Due to unforeseen life challenges, she was unable to join her friends on their life-changing journey. But Mary and her team have not given up on her. The scholarship remains open to her, and when she is ready, she will join her friends in school.

Forher Representative Paid Visit to Comfort Friday and Festa Godswill at a school where they are enrolled – Photo Credit: Forher. 

For Mary, these success stories are more than just a testament to Forher’s work—they are a reminder of the power of education to change lives.

“It’s not just a learning procedure for the girls,” Mary explains. “It’s also a learning procedure for the parents, to understand their children better and how best to support them in their academic progress.”

Challenges faced by ForHer

But the journey has not been without its challenges. Recounting the difficulties faced in driving this program, Mary shares the obstacles they have had to overcome.

“Lack of access to infrastructure like computers and basic amenities has slowed us down,” Mary explains. “But we refuse to be deterred. We are committed to giving these girls the tools they need to succeed.”

Building a tech foundation for female children- Photo Credit: Forher

And it’s not just about education. ForHer is also working to raise awareness about gender-based violence and provide educational workshops for female children, in alignment with the goals of UNICEF.

“We are not just teaching girls how to read and write,” Mary says. “We are giving them the tools they need to build a better future for themselves and their families.”

As the sun sets over Isotoya, casting long shadows over its fields and forests, Mary looks out at the horizon, filled with hope for the future. Forher, the journey is far from over. But with the support of her community and the determination of Nigeria’s girls, she knows that anything is possible.

“We may be facing challenges,” Mary says, her voice filled with conviction. “But with education as our weapon, I know that we will succeed.”

Responses from Beneficiaries of Forher Digital and Well-Being Programme

In the heart of Methodist Girls Secondary School in Utu Ikpe, Ikot Ekpene, something remarkable is happening. Among several initiative of community NGO, Forher’s Digital Literacy Project is transforming the lives of young girls, equipping them with the skills they need to thrive in today’s digital world.

Exploring the world of Digital Skill at the Methodist Girls Secondary School in Utu Ikpe, Ikot Ekpene, Photo Credit: Forher

Victoria Emanuella dreams of becoming a petrochemical engineer. For her, the Digital Literacy Project is a gateway to a brighter future. “I’m grateful for this opportunity,” she says. “The teachers are amazing, and I’m learning so much.”

Utobe-Abasi Martins has her sights set on becoming a pediatrician. Thanks to Forher, she’s learning essential digital skills like Microsoft Word and email etiquette.

 “I’m excited about the possibilities this program has opened up for me,” she says.

But it’s not just about technical skills.

Female Children at Methodist Girls Secondary School in Utu Ikpe, Ikot Ekpene Being Engaged with Digital Literacy Skills. 

For Mercy Okon, the mental health program has been life-changing, “I’ve learned so much about cyber security,” she says, “And the mental health program has helped me understand how to take care of myself better.”

ForHer’s Digital Literacy Project is about more than just teaching girls how to use computers. It’s about giving them the tools they need to succeed in today’s digital world, while also promoting their overall well-being. 

Government response to tackle out of School Student

At the 67th National Council on Education (NCE) meeting, the Minister of Education, Tahir Mamman, made a powerful declaration: every Nigerian child has the right to basic education. With this in mind, the federal government has unveiled plans to reduce the number of out-of-school children by 7% by the year 2034.

“It is a right for every Nigerian child to have access to basic education,” Minister Mamman emphasized. “And part of our responsibility is to ensure that every child of school age attends basic education.”

“Education is the key to unlocking a brighter future,” Mary says. “But for too many girls in Nigeria, that key remains out of reach.”

With the government and organizations like Forher working together, the future is looking brighter than ever for Nigeria’s girls. 

As Minister Mamman explained, “we must identify our challenges and adopt global best practices to make our education system relevant, effective, and responsive to the needs of individuals and the nation.”

With the support of the government and organizations like ForHer, there is hope that every Nigerian child will have access to the education they deserve. 

As Victoria, Utobe-Abasi, and Mercy continue on their educational journey, one thing is clear: with the right support and resources, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

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