IN the past, it was not fashionable in Igbo land to send girls to school. The kitchen was rather seen as the best place for them. Hence, they were given out early in marriage. Families preferred to send only the boys for apprenticeship or to school for the few that had interest in education. Today, the situation has glaringly changed.
Igbo girl-child now competes favourably, if not better, with the boys, in the academic field. Question is, what influenced the change; which is more profitable, investing in the education of the girl-child or the boy child?
Many parents in Igbo land were reluctant in the past to send their female children to school for the simple belief that there was no need to spend so much money educating them since they would be getting married and therefore would no longer be very useful to their maiden families. Stories were told of parents pressuring their female children to get married once they were in their teens so that their bride price would be used to pay the school fees of their male children.
It was common in the 1960s and 1970s to see more male children in school because most parents did not take female education serious. But all that has changed as females are competing with their male counterparts in school enrolment.
Although records in the Ministry of Education in Anambra State show that there are still more males than females in schools, the gap has, however, narrowed such that in few areas, the ratio of male to female will be 50:50. It was in the effort to increase female school enrolment that informed the deliberate policy of the Anambra State Government to encourage many communities to establish secondary schools for girls only in their areas. That decision paid off as many girls’ schools have excelled in competitions and external examinations where boys schools also competed.
The Regina Pacis Secondary School, Onitsha owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha is a typical example. The all-girls secondary school won the World Technovation Challenge Competition in the USA in 2019. The school also won the national competition, which qualified it to represent Nigeria at the competition in the USA. The girls that represented Nigeria at the competition were Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye. They won the competition with a mobile application called the FD-Detector which they developed to help tackle the challenge of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria and beyond.
They applied the robotics and coding insights in solving existential problem of fake drugs. There was also the case of Miss Maduaforkwa from Ihiala in Anambra State who came tops in the 2020 West African School Certificate Examination for the entire country.
Apart from doing well academically, some parents said their female children are more caring than their male counterparts after exposing them to acquire equal education. Mrs. Grace Ibeka, a retired principal said she is enjoying more benefits from her only married daughter than from her three male children.
We did not discriminate in giving our four children, three boys and one girl, education. They all attended the same primary and secondary school. After their university education, they all got married, but I must tell you that it is the girl that cares more for us than her brothers. It is the girl that would always call to ask after our health and would send money for our upkeep. So I must say that girl-child education is more important because they are more caring. It is not as if my male children are poor, far from it”, Ibeka explained.
For Mrs. Margaret Wilcox-Iwuchukwu, an Onitsha, Anambra State-based legal practitioner, the importance of girl-child education cannot be over-emphasized. Wilcox-Iwuchukwu, the vice-chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Onitsha branch, said people see girls as lesser humans but in the actual fact, they are not, even though God created a woman to be under a man.
“People have seen the benefit of training girls in school and in other fields of human endeavour; unlike the olden days when kitchen was rather seen as the best place for them.
“I even had to establish a foundation known as Wilcox Foundation in 2015 after the death of my father, Wilcox Amana, to immortalize him because he was an advocate of girl-child education, which explained why he sent me to school to graduate as a lawyer.”
In his own contribution, another lawyer, Humphrey Udechukwu noted that today, you will realise that training a girl-child in education or other trade is as important as anything one can think of because when her parents or father and mother-in-law grow old, she would be able to cater for them.
“The cradle of civilization has been there in the Western world for training the gild-child but it depends on when we in the third world countries embraced girl- child education. It will amount to living in a fool’s paradise for someone to still think that kitchen is a better place for a girl-child all through her life without first of all passing through schools to acquire education or learning a trade that will help her in life, before and after marriage.
“This time around, men even prefer marrying either graduates and working class ladies or successful businesswomen. Nowadays, nobody wants to marry idle, uneducated girls just for child-bearing as was applicable in the past”, Udechukwu noted.
According to a veteran journalist, Abuchi Anueyiagu, proper education helps the girl- child to realise her potentials and positions her to play important roles in the society. He said investing in girl-child education is more important than in male child, arguing that an educated woman with increased earning potential is more likely to give back to the community than her male counterpart. Anueyiagu said that “a girl-child needs to be educated to acquire knowledge and skills needed to advance her status for social interactions and self-improvement. Girl-child education also prepares her to face the reality in society and teaches her to be a good wife and mother.
“The world is changing and everyone is fast changing to become somebody. A female child has more compassion for her maiden family than the male who could get married and hardly take care of his parents and siblings. A female child even if she is married, tends toward her maiden family more.
“They take care of their parents and siblings more. In the primitive world, it was erroneously believed that a girl- child belongs to another who will take care of her and her own without contributing any anything to her maiden family but the circumstances of the contemporary life have proved the earlier presupposition wrong.
In many places today, it is the girl- child that is the pillar, the light and the lifeline of her maiden family. So, why should attention not be given to her?”
In the opinion of Chief Michael Ubani, the tendency of men to marry educated girls influenced girl-child education. According to him, a girl bereft of education and knowledge will likely end up marrying a truck pusher. He maintained that the trend of sending only the male child to school has changed because families have realised that an educated girl-child is more useful in the family/society than even the educated male child.
“Today, more boys are going into business to make money, instead of pursuing education as was the case before. The number of girls attending school at different levels of education has risen because of the tendency among the boys or men who are into business and who have made the money to marry educated girls, including graduates. The bottom line is money, and it doesn’t matter whether the boy went to school or not, the question is, does he have money? The Holy book says that money answereth everything; so, that girl who is bereft of education and knowledge will likely end up marrying a truck pusher.
“Nevertheless, some parents have found out to their chagrin, that some educated girls are useful, even more useful than some educated boys, hence the current practice of sending girls to school”, he said.
For Chief Ebenezer Ikeoha, resident of Owerri, Imo State, female children have become most cherished asset in the family if given adequate home training. Such girls, he said, often turn out to be the breadwinners of their families even after they had gotten married. He added that such training cultured them to be humane, become peace makers in every home that they find themselves in, as well as enterprising in their work.
“I have two boys and two girls. The two girls are the third and fourth. What I want to say is not as if the boys are not doing well; the point I want to make is that while the boys are busy waiting for when they will get plenty money, my daughters have equipped themselves and now have established themselves with skills. It is not just my home; you can see it in other families.
“When there is no food in the house, most times, the females are always ready to do menial jobs just to put food on the table of the family. This is the hard work you see in women.
“Just imagine when you give her proper education, there is 99 per cent assurance that she will hardly forget where she comes from and the parents that gave her that training. This is the reason why you see most men now paying more attention to their daughters. They need care and full support especially in their old age,” Ikeoha said.
Chief Peter Enemuo, erstwhile President-General of Ogulogu Olo autonomous community in Ezeagu Local Government Area, Enugu State, believes that the importance of girl-child education has dawned on parents and guardians, hence, the increase in the enrollment of girls in schools in his area. He said that parents no longer give out the girl-child in early marriage as a result, social norms have changed the narratives, especially in the South-East region. The girl-child, he said, is no longer seen as a kitchen material.
Hon. Opata Igbo of Uzo-Uwani Council Area of Enugu State said that girl-child education has improved tremendously unlike in the past when girl-child education was seen as a waste of resources.
He said that most parents in the contemporary Igbo society invest more on girl-child education for upkeep of the family. Right to education is for all irrespective of gender.
Hon. Opata noted that with the establishment of the University of Nigeria Nsukka in 1960, the tempo of girl-child education changed as most parents sent the girl-child to school. The university made education accessible for all manner of girls – the poor, needy, impaired and physically challenged ones in the society due to societal values and enlightenment.
For a mother of three, Mrs. Jenny Ebere who spoke with South-East Voice, the era of preferential treatment over sex of a child was over. According to her, female children have even proven more reliable than their male counterparts as they are now successful entrepreneurs in different fields of human endeavour and so have become keepers of their family heritage in some cases.
“The era of discrimination is over. Female children are mostly trustworthy. They have distinguished themselves. They are mostly the ones that take care of their parents in their old age. Training them is just the best. They are prudent managers of resources”, she said.
However, a Pastor and a father of two, Promise Izuogu, played down the issue of discrimination. He said the training of male children is more advantageous as they are naturally the heads of families and establishments.
“In the Bible, God confers headship on the males and so giving them the necessary training they need is very important. The females are also important and so should not be relegated to the background.”
But Chief Ozoh Anaekwe, former President-General of Onitsha Markets Amalgamated Traders Association, OMATA, maintains that male education remains more valuable.
“No matter the situation, there is no basis for comparison between the importance of male child education to that of female child. It is still important that male children be given good training by families because of the prominent roles they play in the families.”
He, however, agreed that the roles a girl-child plays as regards welfare of their parents is tremendous. “It is indisputable that girls these days are taking care of their parents more than the boys. When the girls marry and live with their husbands, whatever they get from their husbands, they prefer sending them to their parents.
Conversely, the boys prefer to spend what they have on their children and their in-laws. The girl-child transfers greater percentage of her love and care to her parents while the males lean towards taking care of their children and their in-laws more than their parents.
“It is still more profitable to train male children. If you have wealth, you should give more to your male child than the girl-child no matter what the female children are doing for their parents. If you have money to send only one person to school and you have only one option, please send the boy because he is the person to take over the house. A girl can marry and live in a very far place and if you have a bad in-law, he can take your daughter overseas and dump her there, and for 20, 30 years, you will not see them.
“Your male child must come home; his first home is your home, his children’s first home is your home. So the male represents and retains the family no matter the condition or the situation.
“Whatever the girl is contributing from her husband’s place, it is still important that your male child is trained and given a lion share. The males are more important to the family than the females because the female must leave to go and build another home for her husband.
“But it is no more fashionable to train males and leave females. Female children are no more for the kitchen; they are now doing great things for their parents and family than their husbands’ families. Any family that prefers to send only the boys to school is making a big mistake because the girls have great roles they play in their parents’ houses and families too like the boys.”
For Chief Augustine Emelobe of Oba, Idemili South Council of Anambra State, the wind of change and economic empowerment as well as exposure has influenced parents’ decision to educate both female and male children. Igbo parents, he said, are excited to educate all the children without preference.
“However, the winds of change and economic empowerment, as well as exposure, have influenced parents’ decision to educate both female and male children. In the olden days, due to high mortality rate, parents bear many children and in the process educational training of all the 12 or 14 children are prioritized in favour of male children but the story is different today due to low mortality rate. Ordinarily, Igbo parents are excited to educate all the children without preference.”