Today, parents and children all over Niger are registering for school in preparation for the next school year. Getting an education through high school is the foundation of what we later become as adults. According to Impact(ed) International’s Discovery Learning Alliance based in Maryland, USA every $1 invested in education and skills generates $10 of economic growth. Additionally, they note that 12% of the population of developing nations, a whopping 171 million, could be lifted out of poverty if all students had basic reading skills. While I will focus on the importance for girls to attend school, these statistics demonstrate that it is critically important for all school age kids to attend school.
No girl or woman should ever be denied an opportunity because of her gender. That is especially true for access to education. This is so important because women and girls make up slightly more than half the population of the country, and contributions from women who receive education as girls can assist in building a secure and prosperous Niger. Indeed, a world in which girls are educated can be healthier, wealthier, and more harmonious. As evidence of this, the Discovery Learning Alliance states a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of 5, one additional school year can increase a woman’s earnings by 20%, and equality in education could increase a country’s per capita income by 23% over 40 years!
The United States is deeply committed to supporting women and girls in education throughout the world. In Niger, education is one of the priority areas in which the U.S. Agency for International Development invests in Niger. USAID encourages girls’ literacy by persuading parents to make schooling a priority for their daughters. USAID also works to delay early marriage among adolescent girls so that they may stay in school and continue their education. USAID also works with young women who have left formal school by supporting their vocational education so that they may enter the workforce.
Since 2018, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, a $437 million, five-year partnership with Niger, has been working to improve lives through better irrigation practices and expanded market access. Recognizing the important role education plays in a country’s economic development, MCC also supports increasing literacy for women and girls, enabling them to establish or better manage their small enterprises, gain access to credit, improve their irrigation and farming techniques, and help their children learn. Since 2019, MCC’s literacy program has trained more than 2,300 women in basic literacy, numeracy, and nutrition.
The Embassy’s Public Diplomacy Section emphasizes the importance of education too. It manages and overseas cultural and information centers in Agadez, Maradi, Zinder, and Niamey, which provide access to information about studying in the United States. We have an Education USA advisor on staff who can help students research and apply for U.S. Universities. We also engage with English language clubs throughout the country. We fund literacy programs for girls, most notably last year through our “Pay It Forward” program in which Embassy exchange alumni worked with 40 school-age girls in Niamey to improve their literacy. Our sports diplomacy programming encourages students to stay in school.
Collectively, we can help create a more secure and prosperous Niger simply by increasing literacy and school enrollment overall, and for girls specifically. When it comes to girls’ schooling, we should celebrate women’s and girls’ achievements, raise awareness against bias, and work towards action for equality. Individually, you can play a role, too. You can help by encouraging women and girls to stay in school. This goes for sports and extracurricular activities as well. Ultimately, you can choose to challenge stereotypes, broaden perceptions, and improve situations.
Education opens many doors and equips people to better address the complex challenges we face today and the increasingly complex challenges of tomorrow. So, let’s work together to ensure as many students as possible – both boys and girls – are enrolled in the upcoming school year. After all, educating children now can affect a lifetime of positive outcomes for each child individually as well as for the future of Niger.
As more Nigerien students, and especially girls, become more educated and empowered, Niger will become more prosperous and secure. As I travel around the country and see more and more students staying in school, it will affirm my belief that “Le Niger se lève.”