Written by Maria Popova.
Niger, a nation at the crossroads of West Africa, has recently commanded global attention for its intricate political climate. While the headlines often focus on the country’s political struggles, this article aims to delve into a critical issue that silently shapes the lives of its citizens—educational challenges. With a population nearing 27 million and a GDP largely dependent on agriculture, Niger faces a complex confluence of factors contributing to a dire state of education.
The World Bank’s stark revelation that over 10 million Nigeriens live in extreme poverty sets the stage for understanding the multifaceted hurdles obstructing the educational journey for its youth. From a fluctuating political climate and economic fragility to the struggles of child labor, early marriages, and pervasive poverty, the country grapples with a daunting array of obstacles.
Despite commendable governmental efforts, including free primary education and mandatory schooling, the persistently low literacy rates underscore a deeper, systemic crisis. This article navigates through the intricacies of Niger’s educational challenges, shedding light on the interplay of socio-economic dynamics, gender inequality, and regional violence that collectively form a barrier to the realization of quality education for the nation’s youth.
Niger is a country in Western Africa with a population reaching almost 27 million people in 2023, with the largest number of citizens located in its capital Niamey.[i] Niger’s GDP is estimated to 15 billion USD, which is largely due to poor diversification of its economy, with agriculture taking up 40%.[ii] According to the World Bank, more than 10 million people in Niger live in extreme poverty.[iii] Fluctuating political climate, poverty, bad economy, child labour and early marriages are all factors contributing to the educational challenges in the country.[iv] As a result, Niger is a country rating dangerously low with regards to quality of education with a literacy rate of 37.34% in 2021.[v]
Low school attendance
The poor state of the educational system in Niger is not evidence of lack of efforts by the government which has tried to pursue educational development throughout the years. For example, in the 2000s Niger made primary education free for students to encourage the number of children enrolling in educational institutions.[vi] Furthermore, schooling for children is mandatory until age 15, which is the end of the first cycle of secondary education.[vii] However, over 50% of children between the ages of 7 and 16 are not enrolled in schools.[viii] Pre-school enrolment rate marks only 7%, while secondary school enrolment rate is below 60%.[ix] Even for the children enrolled in educational facilities, there is a high chance of dropping out due to lack of retention stemming from poor quality of teaching, poverty, lack of infrastructure.[x]
Niger ranks at 189th out of 191 countries in United Nation’s Human Development reports and continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world according to UN’s Multidimensional Poverty Index.[xi] Violence and political instability also pose further difficulties when it comes to income opportunities.
The United Nations Food program estimates roughly 2 million people in Niger are food insecure with that number continuing to rise during lean season.[xii] Hunger poses a significant challenge to educational development. When children are not sure where their next meal will come from, their priority is not set on furthering their education, but rather on their survival. Children cannot be expected to retain focus on school when they are dealing with malnutrition. Furthermore, many parents make the decision to pull their children from school in order for them to work as for most families in rural areas, this is the only way to ensure the family’s survival.[xiii]
Since 2018 the region of Tillabéri has suffered massive attacks on civilian population as violence has overspilled from neighbouring conflicts in Mali and Burkina Faso.[xiv] The attacks led to civilian deaths as well as displacement of the population in the region.[xv] The uncertainty of the situation and the spread of violence has had negative impact on education in Niger.
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council 900 educational facilities have been closed due to the attacks.[xvi] Closed schools and displacement are not the only educational challenges stemming from the widespread violence. Due to the displacement many children have no access to essential documentation required for them to start school, such as birth certificates or other identification documents.[xvii] The violence also causes severe mental trauma to children, which can then affect their ability to learn and their focus in school.
While access to education is a problem for most children in Niger, minority groups face disproportionate disadvantages when it comes to their education. Young girls, especially ones living in rural areas and ones with lower socio-economic status often face disproportionate challenges due to gender inequality. Only 4 out of 10 girls reach sixth grade in Niger, before being forced to drop out of school as a result of financial difficulties.
Another prominent issue which consequently leads to educational challenges among girls is child marriage. In Niger, marrying very young is often interpreted as a way to increase one’s economic and financial status and to secure inheritance.[xviii] Due to poverty, many families marry off their girls to wealthy men as a form of survival mechanism.[xix]
While child marriage is a problem for both young girls and boys, it is an issue more prevalent among girls. While only 6 percent of Nigerien boys are married before the age of 18, for girls that percentage is vastly higher at 76%.[xx] 28% percent of girls in Niger are married before the age of 15.[xxi] The issue is often exacerbated by gender norms, which perpetuate that women and girls’ role is to be mothers and wives.[xxii] Therefore, the focus for young girls in Niger is not on education, but rather on creating a family. Child marriages are not only the cause for challenges in education, but are also linked to slow economic growth.[xxiii]
Students in physics class. Niger, 2017. Photo by: GPE/Kelley Lynch via Flickr
According to the World Bank, high fertility, which is defined to be five or more births for a woman, not only poses health risks for both the mother and the children, but is also linked to economic decline. For example, due to rapid population increase, the number of poor people within the state rises and consequently the state cannot deal with the higher demand for investments in education and health services.[xxiv]
Niger, however, has made significant efforts to deal with the problem. For example, they have vowed to abolish child marriages and have created campaigns promoting education for young girls.[xxv] In 2017, the Government passed a decree to keep young girls in schools. The decree allows for pregnant and/or married students to stay in school and for adolescent mothers to return to school after giving birth.[xxvi]
Child labour is a prevalent issue in Niger, one that also contributes to educational challenges in the country. Many children are pulled from school and forced to work due to extreme poverty in the country. Child labour is common in villages where children are employed in family farms. They often perform agricultural tasks such as herding of livestock, production of vegetables and grain and fishing. Child labour is also common in the mining industry as well as in public services. According to UNESCO 42% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in Niger. However, only 22% combine work and school. It is reported that even children at the age of 6 are forced to work.
All of these factors pose significant educational challenges for young people in Niger. The conflicting political climate and violence spills from surrounding countries pose significant hurdles to children trying to attend schools. Physical and mental trauma from displacement and violent climate have severe negative impacts on focus in school and attendance. Attendance is further hindered by extreme poverty in the region, forcing children to drop out and work to keep their families afloat or ensure their own survival. Child labour continues to be a common practice due to the poverty levels in the country as children from all ages are pulled out of schools and forced to work. From 5 years old, roughly half of the children between ages 5 and 14 work in Niger.
Alongside all of these hurdles, certain more vulnerable groups face additional challenges when it comes to their education. Young girls face disproportionate challenges due to gender inequality. They are often pushed into child marriages as survival mechanism, meant to ensure escape from poverty. The focus of young girls is then directed towards finding a husband and creating a family, instead of receiving quality education or any education at all. It is clear that children in Niger face a lot of challenges in their daily lives which are interconnected and combined in a vicious cycle. This cycle also affects their education and can lead to detrimental impacts on their further development and adult life.
In conclusion, Niger grapples with a complex web of challenges that severely impact the educational landscape for its citizens. Despite commendable efforts by the government, exemplified by initiatives such as free primary education, mandatory schooling until age 15, and campaigns to combat child marriages, the reality on the ground remains harsh. Addressing these interconnected issues is crucial not only for the immediate well-being of the younger generation but also for the long-term socio-economic development of the nation. It demands comprehensive and sustained efforts, both domestically and internationally, to break the vicious cycle and provide the children of Niger with a meaningful chance at a brighter future.
- [i] Worldometer. (2019). Niger Population (2019) – Worldometers. Worldometers.info. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/niger-population/
- [ii] Niger | Data. (2018). Worldbank.org. https://data.worldbank.org/country/niger
- [iii] Ibid.
- [iv] Shashank. (2022, December 15). 10 countries with Worst Education System. GoBookMart. https://gobookmart.com/10-countries-with-worst-education-system/?utm_content=cmp-true
- [v] Niger Literacy Rate 2001-2020. (n.d.).
- [vi] Monitoring the quality of education in Niger: promoting dialogue and transparency. (n.d.). International Institute for Educational Planning. https://dakar.iiep.unesco.org/en/news/monitoring-quality-education-niger-promoting-dialogue-and-transparency
- [vii] Ibid.
- [viii] UNICEF. (2012). Education in Niger. Unicef.org. https://www.unicef.org/niger/education
- [ix] Ibid.
- [x] Niger Education Fact Sheet July 2023 | Fact Sheet | Niger. (2023, July 12). U.S. Agency for International Development. https://www.usaid.gov/niger/fact-sheet/jul-12-2023-niger-education-fact-sheet-july-2023
- [xi] Nations, U. (2022). Specific country data. Hdr.undp.org. https://hdr.undp.org/data-center/specific-country-data#/countries/NER
- [xii] Niger | World Food Programme. (n.d.). Www.wfp.org. https://www.wfp.org/countries/niger
- [xiii] Crombleholme, R. (2023, January 26). Why are almost half of Niger’s children not in school? NRC. https://www.nrc.no/perspectives/2023/why-are-almost-half-of-nigers-children-not-in-school/
- [xiv] Niger: Violence derails youth’s future in the world’s youngest country – Niger | ReliefWeb. (2023, January 26). Reliefweb.int. https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/niger-violence-derails-youths-future-worlds-youngest-country
- [xv] Ibid.
- [xvi] Ibid.
- [xvii] Ibid.
- [xviii] Razafimandimby, L., & Swaroop, V. (2020, January 24). Can Niger escape the demographic
- trap? Blogs.worldbank.org. https://blogs.worldbank.org/africacan/can-niger-escape-demographic-trap
- [xix] Girls Not Brides. (n.d.). Child Marriage Atlas. Girls Not Brides. https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/learningresources/child-marriage-atlas/atlas/
- [xx] Ibid.
- [xxi] Ibid.
- [xxii] Ibid.
- [xxiii] Ibid, (n 18)
- [xxiv] Ibid, (n 18)
- [xxv] Ibid, (n 18)
- [xxvi] Interview: New Niger Order Protects Girls’ Rights to Education. (2022, August 30). Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/08/30/interview-new-niger-order-protects-girls-rights-education
Cover Image by GPE/Kelley Lynch via Flickr