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The Academic Performance of Married Women Students in Nigerian Higher Education

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The Academic Performance of Married Women Students in Nigerian Higher Education


My aim in this study was to understand and explain the academic performance of married women students in higher education. The study was conducted on married women students who are studying at higher institutions in Nigeria. A mixed research method was used. The study population was drawn from two higher education institutions – a university and a college of education. Focus group conversations and interview protocol were used to gather qualitative data, while a questionnaire and the academic results of participants were used to gather quantitative data. Data were analysed using constant comparative approach – the reported stories that emanated from the conversations with the research participants; the deduced meanings from the interview protocol; and the statistical testing of the generated hypothesis via t-test statistics and Pearson product moment correlation. The findings include the readiness of women students to narrate their experiences, and the hindrances cultural practices impose on their academic performance, amongst other things. This study uniquely reveals that the academic performance of women students in higher education in Nigeria differs between married women students and single women students. However, some women students in this study were satisfied with their academic performance while others were not. They blamed their academic performance on several factors including cultural practices, marital status, financial constraint and so forth. Apart from women students in higher education who were not satisfied with their academic performance, all women students who formed the sample, including those who considered their academic performance to be satisfactory, complained about cultural practices and their effect on academic performance. Despite their complaints, however, the majority of the women student participants in this study, both married and single, continue to support cultural practices. They said that cultural practices, including the ones that are considered harmful to higher education for women and their academic performance, should not be eradicated or changed, as they maintain that these practices make women truly responsible.

KEY TERMS: Married women students, higher education, academic performance, cultural practices, single women students, gender, and feminism.



1.1 Introduction

Education is one of the major linchpins for both the economic and political wellbeing of a society. This study focuses on the education of women in Nigeria and is premised on the belief that women‟s education and national development are fundamental to development in the 21st century. The study seeks to describe and explain the performance of married women students in Nigeria higher education. Bolarin (2005) argues that measures should be put in place to combat barriers to women‟s access to higher education in Nigeria. She believes that this will help to increase their enrollment rate and participation, and improve their academic achievement in higher education.

The Nigerian Policy on Education (2004) refers to higher education as education offered at the tertiary level. In this study, higher education in Nigeria refers to institutions that are post secondary and offer qualifications such as diplomas, bachelor‟s degrees and postgraduate degrees such as masters and doctorates. From a global perspective, economic, social and political development is increasingly being driven by the advancement and application of knowledge, which is anchored, powered, propelled and determined largely by the type of higher education found in a country. Higher education in particular is fundamental to the construction of a knowledge economy and society in all nations (World Bank, 1999; 2000). On account of this, higher education for women should be a critical aspect of national interest, especially in the context of accessibility, enrollment and academic performance. This study assumes that we cannot restrict women from participating in or benefiting from higher education because of their tasks and roles at home and in the larger society. Furthermore, higher education for women should not be merely optional if they are expected to make a positive and meaningful input and impact on society. According to the Nigerian National Policy on Education (2004), higher education for women will help to foster and cement national unity, given their roles and contributions at home which will reflect in them, their husbands and children.

In recent years, there has been a global endeavour to prioritise women’s education as a foundation for further development. Lips (1999) reveals that women‟s access to university-level education has increased in New Zealand and the United States of America, as well as most of the other countries in the world. In this context, most of the women in her study regard higher education as a major route for getting to the top or holding key, sensitive and powerful positions in a country.

In countries like Nigeria and other developing countries, there is still cause for concern as the percentage of female participation in higher education is still very low compared with developed countries (Osisanya-Olumuyiwa, 1998; Lips, 1999; Bolarin, 2001; 2005). In this regard, remarkable efforts have been made by government and other stakeholders to help improve the situation. Such efforts are a response to a variety of complex social issues and economic trends. They include, but are not limited to, societal changes resulting from industrialisation, globalisation, the population explosion, political instability, democracy, women‟s emancipation and liberation strategies. These efforts, especially as they concern women‟s education in tertiary institutions, are greatly determined, influenced and constrained by tradition and cultural practices.

Nigeria, like most African countries, is vastly culturally endowed and is multicultural. This explains and determines to a large extent the knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, laws, customs and habits acquired by the people of a society (Owolabi & Olatunde, 2004). Culture is a package, which draws from the beliefs, taboos, superstitions, customs and traditions of a society or nation. Culture in Africa is knowledge-based and includes and influences what we teach, how we learn, and our history and values in all spheres of our environment, be it at home, in the workplace or at school. Evidence abounds (Aikenhead, 1999; Owolabi & Olatunde, 2004) that indigenous groups have their own knowledge – African knowledge – which could mirror significantly the attitudes of women themselves towards higher education. For married women, the pressure to conform to traditional and cultural practices is powerful and has a profound effect on how they live their lives. As such, the study aims to document and understand the influence these cultural factors may have on the performance of women students, with particular reference to married women in Nigeria.

1.2 Background to the study

The population of the world is estimated to be 6.8 billion (Population Reference Bureau, 2009). Women constitute more than half of this number and more than 70 per cent of them are illiterate and poor (Haese & Kirsten, 2006). The ones who are receiving schooling at various levels, especially at the tertiary level, are constrained or handicapped in various ways, making successful academic performance far from the reach of many. Many experience a life that is a complex web of many roles and many tasks, which require the average women to perform “different roles” at different times in a bid to fulfill her family‟s needs. These roles have been theoretically characterised as reproductive, productive and community roles (Bakare-Yusuf, 2003:10; Haese & Kirsten, 2006). Bakare-Yusuf, like many other feminist scholars, argues that women, both now and in the past, play pivotal reproductive and productive roles that facilitate patriarchal economic and productive dominance.

The role of women across the world is changing but not always to their advantage. The most visible example of this is their contribution to economic development, but owing to the limitations arising from stagnancy or little progress being made in women‟s education, that is, enrollment rate and academic performance in tertiary institutions of learning, women and, in particular, married women have yet to reach self-fulfillment and to achieve in all aspects of life. In this regards, Ossat (2005) views higher education for women as an achievement and a task.

In May 2002, the federal government of Nigeria, in a joint venture with UNICEF, published the findings on an analysis of the situation of women and children in Nigeria. Education and women‟s development were key issues on which the searchlight was focused and these were discussed intensively. Both are regarded as being inseparable and complementary. In a different study conducted in South Africa, a further assessment shows that higher education – any type, not excluding women – has come under considerable pressure to be more responsive to the marketplace and to produce new kinds of knowledge workers (Jansen, 2001).

Women are workers at home, although most of them are not remunerated for the services they render there. In addition, poorly remunerated in their various places of work, women in Nigeria are among the poorest in Africa and the developing world. Also, they are less empowered, thereby making it difficult for them to perform their tasks and roles at home (Potokri, 2010), in the workplace and in the larger society efficiently and effectively because of the improperly connected variables: women, education and development. To be precise, higher education for a married woman cannot be neglected, quantified or overemphasized.

Arguably, there is no African country that does not want to increase the educational participation of woman at tertiary institutions of learning, or, better still, enhance their academic performance, given its importance as highlighted above. Higher education for women is worth prioritizing, hence it cannot be overemphasized. Although most countries consider higher education for women a desirable instrument for development, its current under provision is a major stumbling block to economic, social, mental and political development. On account of this, the low participation and low enrollment of women in higher education has been viewed as being synonymous with low economic productivity, the prevalence of preventable diseases, malnutrition, the population explosion and mass poverty (Bolarin, 2005). Similarly, Dike (2002) reveals that higher education for women gives them a greater sense of how to reduce risks in life and change their behaviour.

The barriers to women‟s participation, enrollment and academic performance, as well as to completing their education are numerous and have been documented by several studies (Howard, 2001; Jamil, 2003). These barriers are related to policy, infrastructure, household and family resources and community beliefs and practices. Jamil (2003) articulates that many notable barriers to women‟s education are not by law within the limits or responsibility of the government or the education sector. Household circumstances and community beliefs and practices are examples of the types of barrier that may not be affected by government leadership and action, but that seriously affect women‟s education. He further states that the relationship is indirect and subject more to influence than control. On the other hand, while policy, school-related infrastructure, and schooling and instruction may be difficult to change, they are within government‟s mandate and organisational control (Jamil, 2003; USAID, 2000).

Buttressing the opinion of Jamil, Administrator J Brandy at the USAID Symposium on Girls‟ Education (2000:7) stated: “It is apparent to say that these barriers affect female students‟ enrollment and completion rates; and each is related to the others, comprising parts of an interlocking social system that includes national and local, private and public, and group and individual dimensions.”

In addition, Noah (1997) rightly states that these barriers or problems could be attributed to three broad factors: the mode of introduction of Western education to most African countries, the absence of critical research and the dearth of essential political will on the part of African leaders and the elite. Lips (1999) suggests that if we are to grapple successfully with the problems of women‟s education and economic development, of preparing women to take their rightful place in society, there are a number of issues on which to focus, one of them being indispensable higher education for women. In addition, she affirms that pay equity, the “glass ceiling”, work and family balance and the feminization of poverty, among other things, must be addressed in order to promote and encourage women to pursue higher education.

1.3 Statement of the problem

Marriage is an important cultural, traditional and religious event in Nigerian society, particularly for women and young girls. Statistics in the CBN (2000) survey show that 86.6 per cent of women in Nigeria are married, while 3.7 per cent are widowed and 5.2 per cent are divorced or separated. In addition, cultural practices distance a huge number of women from higher education.

In Nigeria there is a popular saying that states “women‟s education ends in the kitchen”, implying that education is not useful to them; in other words, education is not meant for them. The situation is exacerbated when they get married. At that point the chances of women furthering their education are very slim. Women, especially married women, in Nigeria are relegated to the kitchen and their major role is childbearing (Abe, 1987; Okeke, 2001). As such, right from early childhood, the Nigerian female child is psychologically attuned to see herself as a future homemaker and mother of children. In a nutshell, married women are restricted to the home, primarily because it is believed that their husbands will provide for all their needs. Thus, higher education for women is seen as useless and a waste of time, money and resources generally. In addition, elders and traditional chiefs regard it is as a gateway for prostitution and non-submissiveness in women, and the forfeiting of their marriage prospects. Simply put, some traditional chiefs maintain that it takes women beyond the shores of tradition and culture, thereby making them behave and live contrary to existing customs, norms and beliefs. On this basis, it is largely believed that once they are married and in their husband‟s house, they have no need for more education and can cope with whatever form or type of education they had before marriage. Elders and traditional chiefs (male) maintain that primary and secondary education at most is enough for a married woman to run the affairs of her home as expected of her (Falola, 2001).

Higher education, especially university, is in theory an area of equal opportunity today. A century ago this was not the case, and anyone who argued for a university education for women, not to speak of married women, was regarded as eccentric. It was widely believed that higher education for women would lead to brain fever, sterility and even death; suggesting that they could not cope with studies at that level.

With regard to the above, most married women made little or no effort to enroll in higher education; this was made even more difficult for them as admission policies and programmes did not favour them and some universities and tertiary institutions of learning did not admit married women. For example, the Ewha Women‟s University in South Korea banned married female undergraduates from attending for 57 years until the ban was lifted recently (Breder, 2003). In Makerere University, Uganda, women were only allowed to enter in 1945 (Morley, 2004).

Equal educational opportunity at all levels is one aspect of the Millennium Development Goals that one cannot lose sight of if women are to be truly empowered. The Nigerian government has tried to move towards the attainment of this goal, but cultural practices and religion, among other things, have jeopardized their efforts immensely. At this juncture, it becomes not only necessary to take a look at the participation of married women in higher education, but also to look at how those studying are achieving academically.

Therefore, in summary, this research seeks to understand the experiences of married women students in higher education in Nigeria.

1.4 Purpose of the study

Through this study, I wish to show the experiences of women students in higher education and how their experiences influence their academic performance. The fundamental purpose of this study is to understand and explain the academic performance of married women students in higher education in Nigeria. It is my contention that there may be a relationship between cultural practices and the academic performance of women students in higher education; that there may be differences in the academic performance of married women students as they progress from one year or level of study to another; and that there is the possibility of differences in the academic performance of married women students and single women students in higher education.



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