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Protecting the ones left behind: supporting learning inclusion for young women in Nigeria

by Dr Ayomide Oluseye

Portrait photo of Marguerite Muller

Portrait of Dr Ayomide Oluseye

As I review the data gathered during one of my field trips to Nigeria, where I worked with young women, I'm particularly struck by this quote:

I was asked to leave school when I got pregnant. I have tried to return but I don't know where to start. How will the teachers react? Where will I put my daughter? All these things are difficult. I should have finished secondary school and been in university, but I have no support. I'm afraid that I may never return to school.

(Pregnant at 16 years, interviewed at 19 years).

Anu's quote reflects the reality of many pregnant Nigerian teenagers and young mothers accessing education. In Nigeria, early pregnancy and motherhood are becoming common experiences within educational spaces, particularly at the secondary-school level, as statistics estimate adolescent fertility rates to be 102 births per 1000 women aged 15-19 years. Although section 15 of the Nigeria Child's Rights Act protects girls' rights to education after pregnancy, there are limited guidelines to support pregnant teenagers' continued schooling and improve school re-entry for young mothers. This lack of standard procedures and clear guidelines means that educational practices will likely vary across schools and be dictated by prevalent societal norms, which often view pregnant teenagers and young mothers in school as a moral contradiction.

Current evidence shows how pregnant teenagers and young mothers encounter stigma and discrimination from peers and staff in education. Cases of girls being expelled from school due to their pregnancies have also been documented. Within educational systems in Nigeria, there is also a lack of data to track drop-out rates and mitigate attendance issues due to pregnancy, early motherhood and the logistics associated with childcare and schooling. As such, these young people face significant challenges as learners, which makes school drop-out all the more inevitable. It is, therefore, unsurprising that adolescent girls constitute 60% of out-of-school students in Nigeria.

In recent years, many sub-Saharan African countries have started revisiting their school retention and re-entry policies to address gender inequalities and achieve universal access to education. In 2019, Malawi introduced the readmission policy to allow pregnant girls to remain in school. Likewise, Tanzania revised its Education Act to permit young mothers to return to school after giving birth. For young women like Anu living in Nigeria, similar policies and practices promoting girls' education and inclusion are needed to improve their life outcomes, reduce forced marriages, and empower them to achieve their goals.

Our team - led by myself with support from Dr Alison Buckler -  at The Open University is working on an ESRC-funded project to explore pathways to health and learning inclusion among young women in Nigeria. This project is situated within The Open University's Centre for the Study of Global Development and leverages interdisciplinary perspectives across the Centre's health, youth, and education hubs. The project aspires to maximise partnerships and generate solutions that improve the quality of life of pregnant teenagers and young mothers through:


This project will draw specific attention to the less prominent aspects of teenage pregnancy and motherhood literature by publishing research on stigma, discrimination and the structural barriers that young mothers and pregnant teenagers negotiate in their everyday lives in Nigeria. Different dissemination modalities (such as podcasts, blog posts, and articles) will also be employed to engage various audiences for broader impact.

Engagement with key stakeholders

This project will bring together key experts and stakeholders to reflect on the current educational policy discourses and practices in Nigeria and answer these questions:

  1. What are the effects of current practices on the outcomes of pregnant teenagers and young mothers? 
  2. How can we respond to these needs?

The collaboration will seek to map out opportunities for context specific intervention strategies, teacher training and education system reform. Consequently, this will contribute to existing strategies to reduce learning exclusions among young women in Nigeria.
Beyond advocating for a systemic change in the education sector, this project also brings an important focus on improving health outcomes for pregnant teenagers and young mothers. We believe that achieving positive health and educational outcomes for young women can significantly improve their lives and cushion against long-term negative impacts for both mother and child. We seek to drive a paradigm shift in these two complementing sectors by engaging key health and educational stakeholders to encourage inclusion for young women in Nigeria.

Overall, this project contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goals 1 (poverty), 3 (health), 4 (education), and 5 (gender equality). Given Nigeria's current social, political and economic instabilities, further exacerbated by the pandemic, ensuring that pregnant teenagers and young mothers like Anu are not left behind is more important and urgent today than ever. 

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