Nigeria has just experienced its third mass kidnapping of school children since December 2020. As someone who grew up in Southwestern Nigeria, but now studies in the UK, I remember being in my secondary school the very first time this happened to the Chibok girls in 2014.
We hoped and prayed for their return and that more would be done to protect those most at risk, so that it never happened again. Unfortunately, seven years later, things seem to be getting worse. I cannot imagine the fear these girls felt and still feel, the intensity of living that reality may very well stop them from ever going within the walls of a classroom again.
Last week, I shared some of these thoughts with Helen Grant MP – the Trade Envoy for Nigeria who was recently appointed the additional role of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education. Together with five other GPE youth leaders from Kenya, Nigeria, and the UK, we raised our concerns, expectations, and motivations.
Our conversation spanned our drive for becoming education activists, our views on the effects of a lack of education on girls prior to COVID, and the impact of COVID itself. We also spoke about climate change and its effects on education, as well as the digital divide.
As someone who grew up in Nigeria, it was very interesting to hear from the Kenyan Youth Leaders as they spoke about the importance of education for girls, but also about the reality and impact of the lack of it. One of the youth leaders spoke about the consequences of climate change, with many schools being submerged in water. She shared that schools are not able to function due to COVID, which caused an increase in many issues such as period poverty, teenage pregnancies and so on.
We highlighted how the problems were even worse for girls with disabilities as the intersectionality of the two parts of their identities (being a girl, and being disabled), made it harder than it was for others.
We also told Helen the importance of quality education rather than the quantity. It is no use if students cannot read or write at the age of 12. The need for focus on quality also presented itself more during the pandemic. As some children were able to move online, many more were not afforded this privilege and education came to a total standstill.
Coupled up with economies being hit hard and poverty rising, schools that in one form or the other served as a protection for many girls were simply not there, and many of them were being married off. Those that saw a glimpse of a dream that they wanted for themselves, had that taken away.