Girls Education: Gordon Brown visits Nigeria
On Thursday Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and the UN Special Envoy for Education brought two young women together in an online video exchange - Ojonwa Deborah Miachi has a BSc in Economics from Bingham University in Karu, and is Nigeria's National Youth Advocate for universal education and the Millennium Development Goals - and Malala Yousafzai, the sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban and who has also had to leave her country to be safe. Both are demanding what 57 million girls and boys like them cannot have - the right to go to school even in times of conflict and, as a result, both see themselves at the centre of a 21st-century civil rights struggle. This freedom fight - as Malala and Ojonwa show - is now being led not by familiar adult voices but by young people themselves. For Ojonwa and Malala are part of a worldwide movement of girls demanding education. From the Common Forum for Kalmal Hari Freedom in Nepal, to the Child Marriage Free Zones across Bangladesh, and including the Ugandan Child Protection Clubs, the Upper Manya Krobo Rights of the Child Club, Indonesia's Grobogan Child Empowerment Group, India's Bachao Bachpan Andolan and the Global March Against Child Labour.
As Malala says: 'innocent girls only want to empower themselves through education. Obtaining education is every man and woman's birth right and no one is allowed to take away this right from them.' Ojonwa and Malala's missions- to get girls to school - are the inspiration behind Monday's Abuja summit led by President Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria's state governors. This landmark event, which will be attended by Gordon Brown and addressed as UN Special Envoy for Global Education, will bring together cabinet ministers, state governors and state education commissioners together with global development partners to get Nigeria's ten million out-of-school children into education. On Monday they will discuss how we can allocate new financial support for school building, teacher recruitment, teacher training and for new technology with tablets, phones and online school courses; this is part of a global initiative to get every boy and girl to school by the end of 2015. The movement will build a world where for the first time no boy or girl is denied their right to education. Leaders will assemble from USAID, Qatar's Educate a Child, led brilliantly by Sheikha Moza, from the Global Partnership for Education whose head is Alice Albright, and from the global business community led by the Global Business Coalition for Education. Each will pledge additional support. The UK is also ready to boost its help this year with a visit from the Permanent head of DFID coming soon. All want to applaud the President's initiative and give practical support to the Nigerian government and states in their renewed drive to expand education opportunity for all children. Ojonwa, who spoke to Malala on the video link about her fight for education for girls in Nigeria, emphasised the scale of the uphill struggle the country has to face. This is to move from the country with the world's largest population of out-of-school children in the world to universal education. 10 million children are yet to go to school because there is a teacher shortage of nearly 1.3 million, and we are missing 1.2 million classrooms. Child labour, child marriage and child trafficking prevent thousands getting to school. And for those that do find ways to get their children into school, there is doubt as to the effectiveness of the courses. Approximately 52 percent of young women who complete primary education remain illiterate. Indeed the large amount of illiteracy is now an economic problem as well as a social disaster, with the number of adults who cannot read or write up to 35 million. Illiteracy is standing between Nigeria and its deserved success as an economic powerhouse of the world. But in the midst of the education crisis, President Jonathan is prepared to take unprecedented action. He realises that getting every child into school and learning is feasible and achievable, and the key to Nigerian prosperity. Learning from what works best, financial incentives must be fine-tuned to help state governments deliver; teacher training and professional development must be effectively taken to scale by leveraging technology. The curriculum of all schools must be strengthened to develop literacy and numeracy skills and families must be supported in their demand for education through conditional cash transfers. These transfers - now being pioneered in some states - can be taken up in all states and encourage enrolment and attendance particularly of girls. The delegation of business, educational and political leaders is working to present financing options and concrete proposals to support the implementation of state plans for education. We will look at what more can be done to incentivize the education, and leveraging up resources, including the use of the Universal Basic Education Fund to provide central ministry incentives alongside investments from UK, US, Educate a Child, the Global Partnership for Education, and specific offers from the business community through the Global Business Coalition for Education. Nigeria itself is calling for the education it needs for the future. Despite the violence and attacks on education from extremist groups, in addition to the peaceful civil society movements that have occurred over the past few months, Nigerians are signing the petition to support President Jonathan's commitment to education, and are calling for safe schools for all of Nigeria's children and for state level implementation of plans for universal education. But the greatest hope for the future is the demand of young people yearning for their right to be educated. Nigeria will succeed not just because of the commitment of the Federal government, the organisation of the state governors, and the support of the international community, but because Nigeria's young like Ojonwa will not take 'No' to her education for an answer. The surest sign we will succeed is that boys and girls are demanding it. You can sign the petition on www.aworldatschool.org/petitionnigeria