After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic on 11th March 2020, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Lagos State on 27 February 2020. To respond to the looming possible spread of the disease, Federal Government of Nigeria took a series of steps one of which was to temporarily close down schools all over the country.
According to a report by UNESCO, 89% of children are currently out of school as a result of the COVID-19 closures. This percentage represents about 1.54 billion children and youth in primary, secondary and university. This includes nearly 743 million girls.
While recognizing the importance and necessity of initiating the closure of schools as a measure to curb the spread of the virus, this shutting down will affect populations differently and could further exacerbate the existing disparities with regards to girls' access to education. While some girls will continue with their education as soon as the pandemic is over and the gates of the schools reopen, others may never be able to return to school as a result of the effects such as parents losing sources of income and in some cases the disruption could bring suitors who may be accepted given that education is seen as an informal escape route to early marriage because ‘schooling’ is one of the major reasons given for the delay in getting the girl child married early.
Girl Child education has been an area of long-term advocacy by nongovernmental organizations and development partners in Nigeria. While there have been several attempts at improving the registration rates of girls in schools, the current pandemic can set back the progress that has been made. To mitigate this as much as possible, It became important for the education authorities to consider innovative ways of ensuring education continuity.
Globally, schools have tried to ensure continuity by switching to online learning. In Nigeria, to bridge the gap, Educational authorities are broadcasting lessons on state run television and radio stations. While this is laudable, access to these broadcasts are still a challenge for children in poor and remote households who are without electricity or cannot afford to own electronic appliances thus millions of children without remote- learning access have been left behind.
Education as a Vaccine has leveraged on these educational broadcasts to create an enabling environment for its beneficiaries in Kakuri, Tudun wada and Doka Communities of Kaduna state to have access to the virtual classes been broadcasted through disseminating information of its availability and platforms where it can be accessed , consistent updates of the airing times and schedule and providing data cost subsidies to those who have internet enabled phones to access other educational resources. Furthermore, we have pooled virtual resources that exist such as telecommunication student promo bonuses and packages and other sponsored resources to expand the available learning opportunities for AGYW in these communities. All this is done in a bid to ensure that learning continues and the post pandemic back to school transmission is smooth. In preparation for eventual re-opening of schools, arrangements are being made to support an additional 10 girls with scholarly materials in school, some supplies have been procured ahead of the school year and additional supplies will be purchased.
We have also put in place measures to respond to occurrence of Sexual and Gender Based violence (SGBV) in the communities. All over the world including Nigeria we have seen a rise in cases of SGBV due to the lockdown situation and the need to limit social interactions. Recognizing the need to ensure that Adolescent girls and young women in the communities we work in could be at risk of experiencing SGBV, to respond to this need, we have made available SGBV awareness and prevention information, including links to service providers such as the Sexual Assault and Referral centers (SARC), and also virtual counselling services. Members of the community who have also been trained to serve as custodians of the rights of women and girls have also been supported to report and refer cases of SGBV that occur in their communities. At a time when survivors could be potentially isolated from support systems and locked down with abusers, this will go a long way to provide a community based rapid response system of support for women and girls exposed to/or experiencing violence.