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Poverty, Culture, and Illiteracy; Main Barriers to Girl Child Education

Abuja, Nigeria. September 5th, 2017 – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) International Literacy Day is observed worldwide on September 8th each year. The day aims to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. According to UNESCO’s “Global Monitoring Report on Education”, one in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women, while also adding that millions of children are still out of school and many more irregularly attend or drop out. In light of this,UNESCO’s National Programme Advisor on Education, Dr Mohammed Alkali, during an advocacy visit to Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Kastina state in October 2015, disclosed that a survey tracking illiteracy revealed that about 65 million Nigerians are still illiterate and thatpeople can be lifted out of poverty if they are empowered with basic reading skills.[1]

In view of the 2017 Day commemoration, NOIPolls presents a throwback from its Girl Child Education poll conducted in February 2017, which gauged the level of importance attached to Girl Child Education in Nigeria, its priority and the factors militating against it as well as suggestions on how to promote it. The poll confirmed the significance of girl child education to the society, with 99 percent of respondents acknowledging its importance. However, the poll highlighted the role of poverty (28 percent), culture (20 percent), parental illiteracy (18 percent) and child marriage (15 percent) as major factors militating against girl child education in the country.

Despite the general consensus on the importance of girl child education to communities as attested to by almost all respondents (99%), the girl child still suffers deprivation of basic education, usually sacrificing her chances to the boy child. This could be attributed to the erroneous belief that boys are more resilient and thus would break the cycle of poverty and also would eventually become the head of their households as mentioned by majority of the respondents (79 percent).

More findings from the poll indicated that a substantial proportion of Nigerians (63 percent) advocated that boys and girls be given equal access to education at all levels as they both have equal rights. Although 18 percent considered educating girls ahead of boys, because they believe girls are homely, and when a girl is educated, it translates to the education of an entire community; however, 19 percent believe boys should have priority over girls in accessing education because they believe boys will grow to become the head of the household. These persistent inequalities in education cripple the lives of several women and girls in terms of deprivation, vulnerability, poverty, and exploitation. Therefore, society must not falter in educating girls to the same level as boys as an educated female population increases a country’s productivity and fuels economic growth.

Furthermore, in order to foster the girl child participation in education in Nigeria, 30 percent of the respondents suggested mass public sensitization on the dire need to educate the girl child vis-a-vis its importance. Parental literacy was also advised by 25 percent as they believe that if a parent is enlightened, there is an equal chance that the child, either a boy or a girl, would also be educated. Finally, as poverty has been cited as one of the major reason for less participation of the girl child in education, government at all levels must do more to harmonise the policies that would create more job opportunities to eradicate poverty or reduce it to the barest minimum, while also partnering with development agencies and the private sector to build more girls’ community schools and provide affordable/free education. These were some of the key findings from the Girl Child Education poll conducted in February, 2017.

Excerpts of Findings from the NOIPolls survey on Girl Child Education

The girl child needs to be educated in order to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills needed to advance her status for social interactions and self-improvement. Girl child education enables the girl utilize her full potentials, broadens her mind, prepares her for the challenges of life and teaches her how to conquer them; she is given the confidence to discover who and what she wants to be. With education, she would break the shell of ignorance and open that of self-discovery. In support of these statements, the poll revealed that almost all adult Nigerians (99 percent) surveyed, irrespective of age, sex and tribe acknowledged that girl child education is important in their community.

Furthermore, in gauging the opinions of Nigerians in terms of boys and girls accessing education, findings from the poll revealed that most Nigerians (63 percent) believed that both boys and girls should be given equal opportunity in accessing education. Residents from the South-East zone (86 percent) and South-South zone (85 percent) formed the largest proportion of Nigerians in this category. On the other hand, residents from the North-East (32 percent) and North-West (42 percent) zones had the lowest representation of respondents that agreed that both genders should have the same privilege in accessing education. According to a study by UNESCO, school children in Nigeria, particularly those in the Northern region, are at a disadvantage in their education, with 37 percent of primary-age girls in the rural North-East not attending school and 30 percent of boys not attending school.[2]

In addition, 19 percent of the respondents opined that boys should be prioritized in accessing education. There are more males (25 percent) than females (13 percent) that approved of this with the largest proportion of respondents from the North-West zone (33 percent). Also, 18 percent stated that girls should be given more priority in getting education over boys. Majority of the respondents in this category are residents from the North-East zone with 39 percent representation. During the course of the survey, most respondents disclosed that women are underrepresented in some scientific and technological disciplines especially in the area of Medicine and Surgery. A lot of them mentioned that they would rather a female doctor take child delivery at hospitals, than a male doctor or nurse.

Furthermore, the poll sought the opinion of Nigerians on the factors militating against girl child education in Nigeria and 28 percent (which formed majority in this category) mentioned poverty as the cause, which is also one of the most disturbing economic issue ravaging the entire sub-Saharan Africa. With about 67 percent of Nigerians living in poverty,[3] parents will be faced with challenges of making a choice to sacrifice the education of some of their children for the education of the one (usually the boy child) as he is perceived to have the capability to break the cycle of poverty.

Another social problem mentioned by 20 percent is the one posed by culture and tradition. Some traditions, especially in this part of the world, espouse that a woman’s place is in her husband’s kitchen and her primary role is centred on her home. These beliefs have caused girls to remain uneducated as such families’ see investment in girl child education as a waste of resources. Even after some girls narrowly get the education, they face social and cultural barriers in obtaining leadership and management positions because they are women.

More findings revealed that parental literacy was cited by 18 percent of the respondents, with most of these responses from the North-West zone (23 percent). This is another social problem limiting the girl child’s access to education because an illiterate parent would place less value on education thus making the girl child bear the burden of deprivation. Another social issue referred to by 15 percent of the respondents is child marriage. The Child’s Rights Act of 2003 prohibits child marriages and betrothals and section 21 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria outlaws any marriage contracted by anyone less than 18 years old as it is considered invalid. Yet, in some part of the country, whenever a girl attains the ages of 12-14, she has come of a marriageable age. This is one of the reasons why basic education is very essential. Other factors mentioned to have been militating against Girl Child education are ‘gender discrimination’ (9 percent), ‘religion’ (4 percent), ‘ignorance and illiteracy’ (3 percent) among other mentions.

Lastly, the views of Nigerians were assessed on suggestions to promote girl child education in Nigeria and 30 percent advocated for a general public sensitization on its importance. Another proportion (25 percent) recommended that parents should be further enlightened on the importance of education. Owing to poverty been highlighted as one of the most important factors militating against girl child education in Nigeria, 24 percent have called upon the stakeholders to promote free education with a special focus on girls. Also, 5 percent suggested that more girls’ community schools be built and made affordable (4 percent), while 3 percent advised that poverty should be eradicated by creating more job opportunities as parents are more likely to educate their children (both boys and girls) if they can afford to, among other suggestions.

In conclusion, the poll has shown that majority of Nigerians (99 percent) believe that girl child education is important to them and their communities. Out of this fraction, 63 percent have advocated for equal proportion of boys and girls to be enrolled in school hence, stakeholders in the education sector must gear up and demand for stronger legislation and policies for protection and inclusion of the girl child in education. Equality exists when women and men have access to quality education, resources and productive work in all domains, and when they are able to share power and knowledge on this basis.

Though 18 percent stated that girls should be given priority in accessing education over boys, 19 percent also felt that boys should have more priority in accessing education as most respondents (79 percent) perceived that boys would grow to be the head of the house. Therefore, the Federal, State and Local governments must do far more for girls’ right to education in the area of legislation. This will go a long way to bolster girls’ capacities and create conditions for the fulfilment of their aspirations.

In addition, 28 percent has named poverty as one of the major reasons the girl child is deprived of quality education while 20 percent blamed it on culture and tradition. As a result, the government and other stakeholders must work harder at creating more job opportunities to eliminate poverty and also make investment in girls and women’s education a national priority. This will also assist in eliminating the historical gender gap in formal knowledge and skills acquisition and do a lot more to sensitize citizens about the importance of girl child education as suggested by 30 percent of the respondents.

Finally, educating the girl child means better health for the future generation, reduction in child illness and mortality thus triggering a snowball effect of achieving all other Sustainable Development Goals in a viable manner. Therefore, the Child’s Rights Act should be strengthened and implemented in all states to checkmate all forms of child abuse.

Survey Methods

The opinion poll was conducted in the week commencing February 27th, 2017. It involved telephone interviews of a random nationwide sample. 1,000 randomly selected phone-owning Nigerians aged 18 years and above, representing the six geo-political zones in the country, were interviewed. With a sample of this size, we can say with 95% confidence that the results obtained are statistically precise – within a range of plus or minus 3%. NOIPolls Limited is the No1 for country specific polling services in West Africa. We conduct periodic opinion polls and studies on various socio-economic and political issues in Nigeria. More information is available at, you can also download our mobile app NOIPolls on your smartphone.


This press release has been produced by NOIPolls Limited to provide information on all issues which form the subject matter of the document. Kindly note that while we are willing to share results from our polls with the general public, we only request that NOIPolls be acknowledged as author whenever and wherever our poll results are used, cited or published.

NOIPolls hereby certifies that all the views expressed in this document accurately reflect its views of respondents surveyed for the poll, and background information is based on information from various sources that it believes are reliable; however, no representation is made that it is accurate or complete. Whilst reasonable care has been taken in preparing this document, no responsibility or liability is accepted for errors or fact or for any views expressed herein by NOIPolls for actions taken as a result of information provided in this report. Any ratings, forecasts, estimates, opinions or views herein constitute a judgment as at the date of this document. If the date of this document is not current, the views and content may not reflect NOIPolls’ current findings and/or thinking.

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