The Relevance of an Ethnographic Approach to the Study of Issues Regarding Women and Literacy and How this Approach Relates to Research on Girl-Child Education in Northern Nigeria

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Education in Nigeria has been a major challenge even though it is looked upon as the instrument par excellence for realizing rapid national development, for achieving social change, and for forging together a nation split by civil war (Csapo, 1983). Of the 114 million people in the country, 75% of the males as against 56% of the women are literate (can read and write) and in certain states, the female literacy, enrollment, and achievement rates are much lower. Many factors are attributed to why women (particularly the girls who would normally be between the ages of 10 and 16years and by the educational system in Nigeria, should be in secondary schools) are far behind including, poverty and economic issues, early marriage and teenage pregnancy, inadequate school infrastructure, cultural and religious biases, gender bias in content and teaching and learning processes and poorly qualified teachers (UNICEF/HQ92-0095/GIACOMO PIROZZI). Others include poor parental support for girls’ education, society’s poor attitude toward girl child education, irrelevance of the curriculum used in schools, poor females’ participation in studying the sciences, female’s poor self-concept and poor link between education and employment (Indabawa, 2004; Uduigwomen, 2004; Lafinda, 2005). The government of Nigeria and several non-governmental organizations such as UNICEF, UNESCO, and World Bank have continually expressed the desire to ensure equal opportunity, balance of access and completion of education regardless of gender, ethnic affiliation, or religion for all Nigerians (FRN, 1979 in Usman, 2006). In spite of all these efforts, female education remains a challenging problem. The situation is worse in northern Nigeria where school enrollment is particularly low and the gender gap between boys and girls is sometimes as high as three to one (UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Nesbitt). By interrogating this phenomenon in order to find out how it impacts on both the girl child’s ability to gain access to western education and to make success of it whether she attends a segregated school or a co-education school, I suggest an examination of the specific school and family culture of a select group of students in order to be able to proffer a research based explanation for this phenomenon from an ethnographic perspective.


Keywords: National Development, Social Change, Female Literacy, Teaching and Learning Processes, Western Education, Ethnography, School and Family Culture
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Ethnography


Phebe Jatau

Postgraduate Student, Education
Curriculum and Instruction
Literacy Education, University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

I am Phebe Veronica Jatau, a Ford Foundation Fellow and a PhD student in College of Education and Human Development with a track in Curriculum and Instruction: Literacy Education at the University of Minnesota. I am originally from Nigeria and I am here in University of Minnesota to further my interest and develop my passion for women and literacy so that I can get back to my country and make a difference. I am in my second year and I intend to carry out an ethnographic study on the situation of girl child education in Nigeria for my dissertation beginning next year and this conference is one of the avenues I am using to build up myself in this regard.I am Gbagyi, a minority tribe in northern Nigeria and I have only been privileged to come through school up till this level through scholarships otherwise I would have been like the lots of other northern Nigerian women who have been marginalized a great deal. They are not only treated as “lesser citizens” but their predicament has grossly affected their being able to gain access to basic literacy. Certain socio-cultural, political, economic and religious forces have continually been used to keep these women in their subjugated positions to patriarchy worsened by capitalism and globalization. As a victim who has enjoyed the bitter taste of liberty, I am concerned about how to extend this liberation to others who are still in “bondage”. Since the commencement of my PhD program in August 2006, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as well as bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress have had tremendous impact on me and my perception of social justice issues as I have had to read them in my Critical Pedagogy, Curriculum in Context and Feminist Pedagogies classes.In my country before I am came, precisely in 2004, I founded an NGO – Women Literacy and Health Protection Team, which was still in its embryonic stage but which in partnership with other NGO’s and in collaboration with UNICEF undertook some projects to reach orphans of HIV/AIDS and the victims with awareness and sensitization programs. As a teacher at the Federal College of Education, Zaria in Kaduna State of Nigeria, I assisted a number of girls from my community to get into the college and to get further education against the norms perpetrated in the community which would rather have them get into early marriages or hawk on the streets thereby exposing them to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and VVF as well as other social vices. Also my Masters in Literature dissertation is entitled “An Examination of the Voice of northern Nigerian Women Using Shantu Songs”, one I undertook using participant observer approach and an analysis of the songs to reveal the women’s socio-cultural world views. At my return, after the completion of my PhD program, I intend to continue working with Women Literacy and Health Protection Team particularly in the operation of an adult literacy outfit in addition to teaching in the classroom where I hope to implement some of these radical changes in teaching as far as making my students critical thinkers is concerned. I will also be in a position to organize workshops and conferences in order to disseminate these ideas. Students will be encouraged to explore writing their dissertation using critical theory research paradigm. I am still evolving in my understanding of the pedagogy of the oppressed but I commit to its tenets and its implementation to the extent that I understand its expanse.

Ref: L08P0038