Nigeria: Keeping boys and girls in school and learning

Sumayya Ado, 13 (second from right), and other girls sit on the floor at Janbulo Islamiyya Primary School, Roni, Jigawa State, Nigeria.  Asked if she could change one thing about the school, she says, “I would add more classrooms. Our classes are too congested.” Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
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Story highlights

  • Nigeria has a large number of out-of-school children and children who attend only religious schools, especially in the northwestern states.
  • With a $100 million grant, GPE has supported integrated religious schools and trained teachers in five states to ensure more children attend and stay in school, particularly girls who are most at risk of missing out on an education.
  • The GPE approach of working in partnership has helped all education stakeholders in the country contribute meaningfully to the planning and implementation cycle.
Map of Nigeria

Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and, with about 200 million people, the most populous country on the continent. The country is composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

Over the past five years, GPE has supported education in five states in the northwestern region of Nigeria: Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa and Sokoto, with the largest proportions of out-of-school children in the country (for example 65% of children are out of school in Sokoto and 61% in Jigawa).

One of the largest groups of out-of-school children in this region are children who attend Islamiyya (Koranic) schools, which are religious schools that focus on the study of the Koran and do not teach formal core subjects.

This group of children accounts for approximately 18% of out-of-school boys and 27% of out-of-school girls in Nigeria.

  • Two girls take care of their younger siblings.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

  • After school Nasiba Alhassan (in pink hijab), 12, hawks food along with other girls at a central location in town. She earns 500-600 Naira a day hawking—working for about three hours a day. She gives the money to her mother to help the family make ends meet. Miga, Jigawa State, Nigeria.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

  • Boys sit on the floor at during lessons at Janbulo Islamiyya Primary School, Roni, Jigawa State, Nigeria.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

GPE’s support to integrated religious schools

A common thread in the five states that received GPE grants is the importance attached to Islamic education.

While some Islamiyya schools teach only Islamic religious education, there are also integrated Islamiyya schools: government-funded community-based schools that provide a broader Islamic education alongside a government basic education curriculum that includes literacy and numeracy as well as core subjects of English, mathematics, social studies and science.

Starting in 2015, the GPE-supported program, the Nigeria Partnership for Education Project (NIPEP), funded by a US$100 million grant, aimed to improve basic education access, retention and learning in both public schools and integrated Islamiyya schools overseen by the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB).

The program aimed to directly benefit children, particularly girls, who attended integrated Islamiyya schools in the five states.

Unlike regular education funding, the GPE grant was channeled directly to school bank accounts—jointly managed by the headteacher and community representatives through the school management committees—for the procurement of materials in support of improved student retention and learning.

A total of 46,366 pre-primary and primary schools were awarded the NIPEP school grants, of which more than 35% are integrated Islamiyya schools. A further 150 nomadic schools in Sokoto also received grants.

“We really enjoy this support from GPE. Unlike before, children are coming to school every day. No absenteeism!”
AbdulRazaq Hussein
Chairman, School-based Management Committee, Ajawa Primary School, Jigawa

Recipient schools decided how to use the grants, under the guidance of the school management committees; school development plans were created based on the belief that school communities are best suited to understand the needs of their school.

Community use of the funds varied from repair of school furniture or building latrines to mending of school fences. In most cases, the communities provided free labor for the projects.

Increasing girls' enrollment and retaining them in school

  • Bilky Wada [center], 15, is in 6th grade at Miga Central Primary School. She is Fulani, a nomadic/formerly nomadic group that is found in a number of countries in West Africa including Nigeria.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

  • Mariam Isah, 8, from Tsamiya Goma Village.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Mariam Isah is an 8-year-old old girl from Jigawa State and is in 2nd grade.

Her grandfather, who is the Chief of Goma Village, wants his granddaughter to finish school and become a doctor or nurse who can help uplift the health of her community. But Mariam has a different plan: “I want to be a teacher so I can help other children learn”, she says.

  • Mariam with her grandfather, the village chief. He wants her to be a doctor or nurse who helps her community but Mariam has a different plan: she want to be a teacher to help other children learn.
    Credit : GPE/Kelley Lynch


Unlike Mariam, a disproportionately large number of out-of-school children in Nigeria are female: 65.3% of girls in the states that GPE supported have never attended school or are enrolled in non-integrated religious schools.

Poverty has a particularly undesirable effect on girls’ enrollment, but girls face many other additional barriers inhibiting their access to education: early marriage, pregnancy, work, social norms and increasing security-related challenges.

According to the 2011 Nigeria Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 30% to 40% of girls in the northeast and northwest regions are married before the age of 15.

These factors, in combination with the fact that many students will have started their primary schooling later than the official age of 6, increase the likelihood of girls leaving school for marriage before they complete primary school.

  • Hadiza Jibrin, 14 (grade 5) and her mother, Maryam Muhammad outside their house in Miga, Jigawa State, Nigeria. Their experiences in Maiduguri with Boko Haram have impacted the family in unforeseen ways. Their resulting poverty has made it hard for Hadiza to attend school.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

The NIPEP aimed to increase girls’ access to primary education through the provision of scholarships to low-income families in poor communities.

Stipends were paid to parents or caregivers to encourage the enrollment of girls in lower primary school as such funds support the family making up for potential lost income from the girls while they are in class.

417,302 girls received scholarships from the program, which was used to buy education supplies such as textbooks, uniforms and shoes. Community mobilization campaigns also received support to raise awareness on the importance of girls' education.

“This support encouraged most of us to bring our girls to school, and more are coming.”
Alh Amadu Sule
Parent, Jigawa

As few female teachers have the required qualifications, the program also provided them scholarships to update their education and teaching skills, enabling them to serve as advocates and role models for girls.

“Female enrollment in most schools is now higher than that of the boys.”
Lami Danjani
Gender Office, GPE NIPEP, Jigawa

Ensuring teachers are well prepared to teach

  • Girls in class with teacher Tukur Yusuf, Miga Central Primary School (a secular school). Miga, Jigawa State, Nigeria.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Poor teaching quality, especially in the northern states, is underpinned by outdated and heavily theoretical pre-service training, inadequate in-service training, a lack of qualified and experienced teacher trainers, and a poor fit between the education of teachers and the curriculum taught in the classrooms.

Moreover during in-service training, teachers do not receive sufficient instruction in child-centered, gender-responsive teaching methods, and are not provided with specific techniques to improve student learning (for example, reading techniques suitable for large class sizes).

Schools in rural and remote areas generally have more difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified teachers. The northwest region has the highest percentage of unqualified primary school teachers in the country.

To support improved teaching quality, GPE supported in-service training for 132,477 early grade teachers and provided scholarships to 15,514 female teachers to upgrade and attain the National Certificate in Education (NCE) in the five states of Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa and Sokoto.

  • Suwaiba Yunusa, 29, is the only female teacher at Janbulo Islamiyya Primary School located in Roni, Jigawa State, in Nigeria.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Working in partnership for greater impact

In line with its partnership approach, GPE brings together all education partners in the local education group, enabling them to contribute at all stages of the planning cycle, from sector analysis to evaluation.

GPE supported the creation of the National Education Group in Abuja, which is led by the government and composed of development partners, civil society organizations, donors and the private sector.

The forum started with a limited notion of its role, focusing mostly on issues around the GPE grant, but it has evolved into a national body that discusses all issues related to the education sector.

The group has now become instituted as part of the education culture in the country. It is a forum for everyone working in education to come together and where each partner’s voice is heard, as well as important to GPE processes.

Since the NIPEP closed in 2020, GPE continues to support Nigeria: In June 2020, GPE approved a $15 million COVID-19 emergency grant to support the country’s response to the pandemic in 16 states.

And in August 2020, GPE approved a $20 million accelerated grant targeting Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, focusing on girls and internally displaced children, as well as host and marginalized communities who are suffering from lack of access to education.

Some of the results of GPE support to Nigeria

February 2021