It is like schools the world over: ebullient children hurtle up and down the stairway as teachers try to keep some semblance of order. There are satchels and lunch boxes, colorful art, rows of wooden desks carved with graffiti by pupils. There is also a school motto: "Knowledge for success." This is Maitama Sule Girls Academy in hot and humid Kano, northern Nigeria, where the simple act of learning has become a show of courage and defiance.

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram killed 185 people in Kano on a single day in 2012 — its deadliest single attack. The school is now on alert in case of any attempts to repeat the audacious kidnapping of more than 200 girls in the city of Chibok.

"Almost all the girls, we are of the same age," said pupil Rabia Nura, 16, pulling at her pristine white hijab repeatedly but showing no nerves. "It was devastating because you just feel like you are the one — in your school you were abducted, you cannot see your parents. It is really alarming."