In all countries of the world, education is recognized as the cornerstone for sustainable development. It is a fulcrum around which the quick development of economic, political, sociological and human resources of any country resolves.

In fact, the (Nigeria’s) National Policy on Education (1981:6) indicates that education is the greatest investment that the nation can make for the quick development of its economic, political, having recognized education as “an instrument per-excellence for effective national development” as well as “a dynamic instrument of change,” it is also the basis for the full promotion and improvement of the status of women.

Education empowers women by improving their living standard. It is the starting point for women’s advancement in different fields of human endeavor. It is the basic tool that should be given to women in order to fulfill their role as full members of the society (Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies, 1985).

In fact, the educational empowerment of Nigerian women is the spring board to every other form of empowerment (political, social, economic etc).

It is true that women in Nigeria face various challenges in order to get access to education in Nigeria. Education is a basic human right as recognized by the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about ten million, five hundred thousand (10,500,000) of the country’s children aged five to fourteen (5-14) years are not in school.

Only sixty-one percent (61%) of six-eleven (6-11) year-olds regularly attend primary school and only thirty-five point six percent (35.6%) of children aged thirty-six to fifty-nine (36-59) months receive early childhood education.

In the north of the country, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of fifty-three percent (53%). Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge.

Gender, like geography and poverty, is an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalization. States in the north-east and north-west have female primary net attendance rates of forty seven point sven percent (47.7%) and forty seven point three percent (47.3%), respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school.

The education deprivation in northern Nigeria is driven by various factors, including economic barriers and socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education, especially for girls.

To ensure equal access to education, the national policy on education have stated that access to education is a right for all Nigerian children irrespective of gender, religion and disability.

Before 1920, primary and secondary education in Nigeria was within the scope of voluntary Christian organizations. Out of a total of twenty-five (25) secondary schools established by 1920, three (3) were girls only and the remainder were exclusively for boys. In 1920, the colonial government started giving out subvention to voluntary associations involved in education, the grant giving lasted till the early 1950s and at that point, education was placed under the control of regions.

In 1949, only eight out of a total of fifty-seven (57) secondary schools were exclusively for girls. These schools are Methodist Girls' High School, Lagos (1879), St Anne's School, Molete, Ibadan (1896), St. Theresa's College, Ibadan (1932), Queens College, Lagos, (1927) Holy Rosary College, Enugu (1935), Anglican Girls Grammar School, Lagos, (1945), Queen Amina College and Alhuda College, Kano. From 1950 up till 1960, six more notable schools were established and by 1960, there were fourteen (14) notable girl's schools, ten (10) mixed and sixty one (61) boys only.

In the 1960s, when most African states began to gain their political independence, there was considerable gender disparity in education. Girls' enrollment figures were very low throughout the continent. In May 1961, the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UNESCO's educational plans for Nigeria were announced in a conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A target was set: to achieve one hundred percent (100%) universal primary education in Nigeria by the year 1980.

The implementation in the 1970s of the free and compulsory Universal Primary Education (UPE) was in line with this UN Plan. Ever since, UNICEF and UNESCO and many other organizations have sponsored, research and conferences within Nigeria regarding the education of girls. Up until the 1970s, considerably more boys than girls participated in education in Nigeria.

According to one Nigerian Historian Kitetu, the native traditions' philosophy was that a woman's place is at home and this kept many girls away from education.

However, with the government's intervention and public awakening, parents began to send and keep their girl children in school. Consequently, women's involvement became more visible.

It can be noted that purposeful plans of action led to an increase in females in schools after 1990. While more boys than girls were enrolled in 1991, a difference of one hundred and thirty-eight thousand (138,000), by 1998 the difference was only sixty-nine thousand, four hundred (69,400).

At the pan-African Conference held at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in March and April 1993 (three decades after the UN Declaration of the 1960s) it was observed that Nigeria was still lagging behind other regions of the world in female access to education. It was also noted that gender disparity existed in education and that there was need to identify and eliminate all policies that hindered girls' full participation in education.

Factors militating against girl child education in Nigeria

Culture, values and tradition

It’s true that various cultural and social values have historically contributed to gender disparity in education. There was one prominent cultural view that it is better for the woman to stay home and learn to tend to her family instead of attending school.

However, the Nigerian tradition is known as a tradition that attaches higher value to a man than a woman, whose place is believed to be the kitchen.  According to a study done by the University of Ibadan linked the imbalance in boys' and girls’ participation in schooling was to the long-held Nigerian belief in male superiority and female subordination.

And this situation was further aggravated by patriarchal practices which gave women no traditional rights to succession. And also, this same patriarchal practices encouraged preference to be given to the education of a boy rather than a girl.

Remember that the Nigerian society (both historical and contemporary) has been dotted with a peculiar cultural practices that are potently hurtful to women's emancipation,such aswife-inheritance,early/forced marriage, and widowhood practices.

So as daughters self-identify as females with their mother and sisters, and again sons as males with their father and brothers, this gender stereotyping becomes institutionalized within the family unit. And also, the dominant narratives of religion in both colonial and post-colonial Nigerian society privileges the men at the detriment of women, even in educational accessibility.

The cost of education

Since the early 1980s,the reduction in economic activities has made education a luxury to lots of Nigerians, especially those in rural areas.Although, this is because the parents are known to be investing in their children according to their sexes, birth order or natural endowments, girls and boys are not exact substitutes.

Very often, the family can only afford to send one child to school. This is because daughters have assumed responsibilities in the home, which means she is less likely to be the one to attend school.

The colonial policies

During the start of colonialism and Christianity, rigid ideals about gender perceptions were imposed on the African mind. And after this, the woman's role has come to be limited to sexual and commercial labor. Also, satisfying the sexual needs of men, carrying loads, working in the fields, tending babies and making food.

However, this disempowering colonial ideology of domesticityby the practice of house-wife provided the springboard for women's educational imbalance in parts of Africa. Because of this, the overall human development in Nigeria is being hindered by this unevenness in educational accessibility across gender categories.

Current policies of progression

In recent years, Nigerian women have begun to make many advancements within the society. Recently, three male dominated professions, the Nigerian Medical Association, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and the Nigerian Bar Association, have been led by female presidents.

Currently, more female children go to school and learn to read and write than in previous decades. And as a result, younger persons are much more likely to be literate than older persons.

The Nigerian women's access to formal education is still being constrained due to their unfair workload within their household and family division of labor. However, the realization of the MDG3's gender equality and women empowerment targets has been impeded harshly.

There are three interrelated rights that must be addressed in concert in order to provide education for all:

        A right to quality education. Meaning that education needs to be child-centered, relevant and embrace a broad curriculum, and also be appropriately resourced and monitored.

        A right of access to education. Meaning that education must be available for, accessible to and inclusive of all children irrespective of gender.

        A right to respect within the learning environment. Meaning that education must be provided in a way that is consistent with human rights, an equal respect for culture, religion and language and without any form of violence.

Here are the government policies that affect girl-child education since 1985:

In 1986: The blueprint on Women's Education. This is an outreach and awareness campaign to promote the importance of equal education.

In 1986: The nomadic Education Program. And this increased the access to education for children of Nomads without jeopardizing pastoralism.

1994: The Family Support Basic Education Programme. This is a programme to encourage families living in rural areas to send girls to school.

In 1999: The Universal Basic Education. The reduction in geographic and gender disparity in school enrolment.

In 2001: The National Policy on Women

In 2002: The Education For-all Fast Track Initiative.

In 2003: The Strategy for Acceleration of Girls Education in Nigeria.

In 2004: The National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies (NEEDS).

In 2004: The Universal Basic Education Act.

A positive correlation exists between the enrollment of young girls in primary school and the gross national product and increase of life expectancy. Because of this correlation, the enrollment in schools represents the largest component of the investment in human capital in any given society. Better education bestows on women a disposition for a lifelong acquisition of knowledge, attitudes, values, skills and competence.

Rapid socioeconomic development of a nation has been observed to depend on the calibre of women and their education in that country.