05/08/2014 11:39 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2014

Nigerian Schoolgirls Face Boko Haram and National Education Crisis

What schoolgirls have experienced in Nigeria's northeastern Borno State over the last few weeks is tragic and heartbreaking, and it only compounds the education and learning crisis that Nigeria already faces.

The latest news is that eight schoolgirls were kidnapped just this week in northern Nigeria. This attack comes on the heels of another on April 14, when Boko Haram gunmen stormed a boarding school in Chibok and kidnapped around 300 girls between the ages of 15 to 18. Nearly all are still missing, and are possibly being sold into "marriage" or slavery.

The captors specifically targeted teenage girls because they believe that girls should not be educated.

"Boko Haram" was established in 2002. It is an Islamic jihadist and militant terrorist organization based in northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and Niger. Its aims are to establish a pure Islamic state ruled by sharia law and end what they call "Westernization."

They have attacked about 200 Nigerian schools over the last few years. Since the beginning of this year alone, they have used bombs, guns and arson to kill an estimated 1,500 people.

Right now, Nigeria's abducted schoolgirls need every resource possible to be put toward the rescue effort.

The United States has announced it will send a team of U.S. officials from several agencies to help the Nigerian government's efforts to find and return the abducted schoolgirls. The online campaign #BringBackOurGirls is keeping the pressure up to ensure that leaders are doing all they can.

Those wanting to contribute to this online movement can add their name to a petition urging as much action by the U.S. and Nigerian governments as possible.

What's been less reported is that this latest wave of violence against schoolgirls comes on top of Nigeria's existing crisis in education.

Of the 57 million out-of-school children globally, 10.5 million --almost 20 percent-- are Nigerian. Unfortunately, even more parents in northern Nigeria may keep their daughters away from school now, for fear of further attacks. Indeed, half of out-of-school children globally live in conflict-affected countries.

Many of the children who are able to attend school in Nigeria lack qualified teachers and the resources necessary to learn at expected levels-- a problem that's evident across the African continent.

UNESCO estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone will need 902,000 new primary school teachers by 2015 to meet the demand for education.

That's how great the need is.

Schoolchildren show up every day to crowded classrooms in many parts of Nigeria. Too often, they find poorly trained and poorly paid teachers. Classrooms have too few books, if any at all.

It's a learning crisis where many of the children who are going to school are in classrooms where little learning is taking place. The impact of education can't be measured only by time spent in the classroom. It requires an understanding of whether students are mastering the knowledge and skills relevant to their lives.

Despite the efforts of many education leaders and advocates, the challenges students in northern Nigeria face are difficult for many Americans to fully comprehend. But overcoming those challenges would provide new hope for a country that wields immense political and economic power within Africa.

Education transforms lives, especially for the very poorest and most marginalized children. Their access to relevant, quality education can translate into benefits such as a strengthened democracy, better health outcomes, lower maternal and infant mortality rates, and more political and economic stability.

In the longer term, and on a global scale, we must fight every day to ensure that schoolgirls and boys can learn all they need in order to be successful, thriving adults. Improving learning outcomes globally will take tremendous effort and coordination at local, national, regional and global levels.

Because of work I am doing with colleagues around the world, I'm hopeful that the United Nations and its member states are on a path toward establishing an ambitious and sustainable development goal on equitable access to education and learning.

While a global goal by the UN would not address the problem of Boko Haram, it may help the Nigerian government and civil society organizations in Nigeria focus resources and attention on both getting the 10.5 million out-of-school children into school and on ensuring that children, youth, and adults learn the skills they need. Achieving those outcomes will go a long way to transforming Nigerian communities for the better.