KATSINA STATE, Nigeria (August 21, 2012) — The first thing that strikes you is their sense of confidence. Women with faces framed by colorful headscarves hold dynamic discussions in a packed classroom at the Isa Kaita College of Education. They consider themselves to be “village girls” but there’s nothing ordinary about them.
These women are agents of change in an extremely conservative society. While most of their friends from the village are married and uneducated, these girls are slowly breaking old traditions through education.
They are recruits of the Female Teacher Training Scholarship Scheme (FTTSSS) in Katsina State, and they will be the new generation of teachers in rural schools in Nigeria. The Scholarship Scheme, initiated by UNICEF, is now funded by British development assistance and the Nigerian State government.
21-year-old Maimunatu Abdulrazet is in her second year of training. She says if she hadn’t been selected for the course, she would probably have had three or four children by now. Early marriage is common in this part of Nigeria and continues to be a barrier to female education.
“I want to be a role model for my community and teach them things they did not know,” says Maimunatu, as she clutches her school books under her arm and is clearly comfortable in the college environment. “People look at us and they know we are educated, even from the way we dress,” she says.
In Katsina State, the job of being a teacher extends way beyond the classroom. Maimunatu hasn’t qualified yet, but she is already talking to street hawkers about the importance of sending their daughters to school. “Some girls who don’t go to school are getting married as young as 14. They don’t know how to look after their children, and they have problems when trying to deliver their babies,” she says.
After three years, these young teaching recruits will be dispatched to primary schools across the state for two years. The college has recruited more than a thousand young women from rural areas since the course was established in 2008. The first 114 recruits graduated earlier this year and are poised to be sent to teach in primary schools in the coming weeks. And the cost of training each teacher is 150,000 Naira (just under $1,000) a year.
Zeinab Kaita runs the program and explains how the recruits are selected. “All the girls come from peasant families. They have at least five credits from school including English and mathematics, but they can’t study further because their parents are too poor,” she says. The Female Teacher Training Scholarship Scheme has offered such a sense of motivation to the wider community that some of the village elders have come forward to offer additional assistance in kind—computers, books and furniture. This is the same generation that might have shuddered at the prospect of sending girls to school beyond the age of puberty a few years ago.
Although Nigeria is one of the continent’s most resource-rich countries, nearly 35% of the girls remain uneducated. However, Zeinab Kaita believes the attitudes are slowly changing. “Parents have now woken up to the importance of girls’ education, and early marriage is in decline. We say, if a girl gets married she can still continue with her education.”