Ethnography: A Viable Tool for Research on Girl Child Education in Northern Nigeria

By Phebe Jatau.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Education in Nigeria has been a major challenge even though it is looked upon as the instrument par excellence for realizing rapid national development, for achieving social change, and for forging together a nation split by civil war (Csapo, 1983). Of the 114 million people in the country, 75% of the males as against 56% of the females are literate (can read and write) and in certain states, the female literacy, enrollment, and achievement rates are much lower. Many factors are attributed to why women (particularly the girls who would normally be between the ages of 10 and 18years and by the educational system in Nigeria, should be in secondary schools) are far behind including, poverty and economic issues, early marriage and teenage pregnancy, inadequate school infrastructure, cultural and religious biases, gender bias in content and teaching and learning processes and poorly qualified teachers (UNICEF/HQ92-0095/GIACOMO PIROZZI). Others include poor parental support for girls’ education, society’s poor attitude toward girl child education, irrelevance of the curriculum used in schools, poor females’ participation in studying the sciences, female’s poor self-concept and poor link between education and employment (Indabawa, 2004; Uduigwomen, 2004; Lafinda, 2005). The government of Nigeria and several non-governmental organizations such as UNICEF, UNESCO, and World Bank have continually expressed the desire to ensure equal opportunity, balance of access and completion of education regardless of gender, ethnic affiliation, or religion for all Nigerians (FRN, 1979 in Usman, 2006). In spite of all these efforts, female education remains a challenging problem. The situation is worse in northern Nigeria where school enrollment is particularly low and the gender gap between boys and girls is sometimes as high as three to one (UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Nesbitt). In interrogating this phenomenon in order to find out how it impacts on both the girl child’s ability to gain access to Western education, how she might be sustained in it and how she might make a career with it, notwithstanding the type of school she attends - segregated or a co-educational or even rural or urban, I suggest ethnography as a research method for understanding the perspectives that the women have and the possibility to critique those perspectives or to ask the women themselves to critique their own discourses and perspectives. If this approach is used in understudying the way these girls are reading the world, their stories will illustrate how their unique positions frame their identity and their attitude toward formal education so that their peculiar local context can then be taken into consideration before intervention programs are imposed on them whether those programs have been effective elsewhere or not.

Keywords: National Development, Ethnography, Literacy and Girls’ Education

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp.171-180. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 579.332KB).

Phebe Jatau

Postgraduate Student, Education, Curriculum and Instruction, Literacy Education, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Phebe Jatau is a Ford Foundation fellow and a Nigerian PhD student at the University of Minnesota in Education, Curriculum and Instruction: Literacy Education. She taught for many years in Federal College of Education, Zaria, Nigeria before coming to the United States. She is passionate about women’s education in her country and this passion is influenced by her personal schooling experiences. In her understanding, there are certain social, cultural, political, economic and religious forces that militate against women’s education in Nigeria and which continually keep them subjugated to patriarchy, capitalism and globalization. She has had sustained interest in advocating that the voice of these women – particularly the girls and the young women – be heard. Using her current interest in ethnography and literacy education, Phebe Jatau hopes to be able to influence policy on women’s education in such a way that their interests, values, and the way they read the world are taken into cognizance so that in the end the women can be truly engaged, fulfilled, actualized, and empowered.


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