Being a role model is key motivator for female educators in Nigeria

By Natalie Lovenburg and Michael Zamba

April 24, 2018

Female educators working in non-formal learning centers in Northeastern Nigeria are more motivated than men to teach at-risk students out of a sense of being role models, though the women are more frequently discouraged from teaching because of family pressures, a new study found.

Researchers from the SAIS Women Lead practicum program and American University School of Nigeria (AUN) found that 100 percent of women felt that being a role model was their main motivation, compared to 88.7 percent of men, for their work as learning facilitators. Creative Associates International partnered with the two universities on the project.

Unfortunately, nearly 30 percent of women were discouraged from teaching by their families or communities, compared to only 8.3 percent of men.

These are two of the key research findings released April 17 during a presentation by SAIS and AUN called “Enabling and Empowering Female Learning Facilitators in Northeast Nigeria.”

Learning facilitators are adults who have been selected by communities to educate children, particularly at-risk students such as internally displaced Nigerians. During five days of intense training, facilitators are taught how to create a friendly and welcoming learning environment for the often-traumatized children, incorporating group activities and recreation, a break from the usually more formal lecture-type settings of most Nigerian classrooms.

The facilitators are shown techniques that create a student-centered environment, instead of relying on lectures, notes on the chalkboard and memorization.

Three SAIS researchers Georgia Jewett, Emily Weiss and Shuting Yow focused on examining girls’ education, specifically looking at how to increase the impact during the short- and long-term by assessing the barriers to entry that females face in becoming educators. They also developed recommendations on how to overcome these barriers for Creative to replicate on a larger scale.

With a goal of identifying effective approaches to ensure the inclusion of women in the classroom, the team of SAIS graduate students worked closely with Creative and AUN on a nine-month research project. The research was led by Kent Davis-Packard, Ph.D., SAIS Women Lead Coordinator and SAIS Adjunct Professor of Middle East Studies and Global Theory and History.

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SAIS researchers Emily Weiss, Georgia Jewett and Shuting Yow presented their findings from a nine-month research project that assessed the barriers that females in Nigeria face in becoming educators.

Recruitment and resources: two key elements

When presenting their findings at Creative, the SAIS researchers highlighted that ensuring quality education in Northeastern Nigeria is a significant challenge. Resources are spread more thinly and learning facilitators and teachers are not properly equipped to handle the learning crisis – especially for female educators.

When recruiting learning facilitators or teachers in the country, qualified female candidates are often quite small. Retaining female teachers is Nigeria is fraught with access barriers. Cultural norms, early marriage, poor infrastructure, lack of transportation and resistance from male colleagues keep female educators out of the educational system, said the researchers.

When discussing specific interventions to bridge the gender gap, Emily Weiss, one of the graduate students, said, “while the existing education projects effectively rely on bottom-up community initiatives to recruit teachers, rural women often lack access to professional and social networks. As a result, they miss important opportunities to connect with recruiters.”

To solve this bottleneck, the three researchers suggested decentralizing the recruitment process and employing more women in recruitment drives to better identify qualified female candidates with a personal stake in improving access to education for girls in their community.

Along with decentralizing the recruitment process, the researchers recommended establishing relationships with local colleges, fostering women in leadership positions and peer support networks, and increasing school security as approaches to ensure women’s participation in education.

Despite the array of challenges, the researchers found that “being a female learning facilitator gave women a sense of purpose” and Creative’s non-formal learning center approach was having positive results in communities. They noted that cultural attitudes are shifting toward women working outside of the home.

“There is a lot of optimism from both men and women around more women in Nigeria entering the workforce to contribute to the household income and boost the country’s economic growth,” said Weiss.

The researchers noted that Creative’s existing programming has increased female learning facilitator participation, particularly in rural areas, and can continue to enable and empower women in Nigeria with ongoing analysis and evidence-based interventions.

Surveys and interviews provide details

To address this gender gap in Northeastern Nigeria, the SAIS and AUN researchers traveled to Northeastern Nigeria in January 2018 to gather qualitative and quantitative data on both the barriers and incentives the female learning facilitators face day-to-day.

Led by Professor Chiedo Nwankor, Visiting Research Associate and Adjunct Lecturer of African Studies at SAIS and advisor of the graduate students in Nigeria, the team surveyed 114 teachers, led focus group discussions with over 147 participants, and conducted 24 key-informant interviews with traditional and religious leaders, government officials and education specialists.

Nwankwor said that by including local AUN students in the data collection activities, local capacity has grown and increased the chances of programmatic success and sustainability. The Nigerian students were able to develop practical research skills including rigorous interview techniques and data analytic methods.

Bridging the education gap

Of the 57 million out-of-school children in the world, more than 10.5 million of them are in Nigeria. In Northeastern Nigeria, the attendance rate at the primary level is 43 percent for girls and 46 percent for boys. Comparatively, 85 percent of girls and boys equally attend school in the Southern region of the country.

Based on the disparity of education in the two regions, the research focused on the USAID-funded and Creative-implemented Education Crisis Response and Northern Education Initiative Plus project in the Nigerian states of Adamawa and Bauchi. These programs are part of Creative’s expertise in education in conflict.

The research findings will help shape effective program approaches and help tackle Nigeria’s gender divide. Out of 144 countries, Nigeria is ranked 122 in addressing gender-based disparities across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics, according to the Global Gender Gap Report by World Economic Forum.

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Professor Chiedo Nwankor, Visiting Research Associate and Adjunct Lecturer of African Studies at SAIS and advisor of the studetns, shared the importance of the research findings and how to improve education programming in Nigeria.

During the research presentation, Professor Nwankwor said, “Women and gender issues should not be put last. By the turn of the century, our hope is that gender equality is normalized in Nigeria and around the world.”

Joining the discussion, Charito Kruvant, Founder and Chairperson of the Board at Creative, said, “To address the most complex global issues like gender inequality, it is critical to collaborate with academic institutions that have the tools and knowledge to have the most impact.”

Social Emotional Learning’s importance

The researchers highlighted the benefit of including Social Emotional Learning into education curriculum, especially in emergency environments. Respondents said it was “very important” to have Social Emotional Learning training to address sensitive subjects like gender equality, sexual trauma and female hygiene with students.

The research findings also pointed to the positive impact of establishing Community Coalitions to engage with residents. The project made deliberate efforts to include women in the Community Coalitions, especially in leadership positions, and to give them a chance to contribute to decision-making in their communities.

In their presentation at Creative, the SAIS researchers examined a range of approaches in supporting women professionally, economically and socially by refining education program models.

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