“There is no more valuable investment than in a girls’ education.” — Ban Ki Moon, secretary-general, United Nations.
Educating a girl is one of the best investments her family, community, and country can make. We know that a good quality education can be life-changing for girls, boys, young women, and men, helping them develop to their full potential and putting them on a path for success in their life. We also know that educating a girl in particular can kick-start a virtuous circle of development. More educated girls, for example, marry later, have healthier children, earn more money that they invest back into their families and communities, and play more active roles in leading their communities and countries.
Over the last 25 years, there have been large gains in girls’ education, and we as a global community can congratulate ourselves for the real progress that has been made. This demonstrates that with shared goals and collective action—among governments, international organizations, civil society, media, and the private sector—we can change the educational prospects for girls around the world.
Despite this progress, our research shows that there are hotspots in the world where girls are not getting a quality education. While there certainly are places where boys are behind, we have focused on understanding how and where across the world girls are behind. The message is that many countries have work to do to improve girls’ education, whether related to the gender gap in primary or secondary enrollment or learning.
There are about 80 countries where progress on girls’ education has stalled. These countries are not meeting the education Millennium Development Goals. They are stuck in an education bog—still struggling to enroll all girls and boys in primary school and close the gender gaps between boys and girls at both the primary and secondary levels.
There are an additional 30 countries that have successfully enrolled girls and boys in primary and secondary education but are trapped in low-quality learning. They are struggling to ensure that girls and boys master foundational skills such as basic literacy, numeracy, and science concepts. Quality learning is important for the future lives of girls and boys, but it is also an especially important ingredient in the virtuous circle of development that comes from girls’ education.
Finally, there are another 30 countries where children are successfully enrolled and learning. However, girls are behind boys in math. In some ways, we can think of girls in these countries bumping up against an educational glass ceiling.
• Why do we care about girls’ education?
• What progress can we build on?
• What do we face today in the effort to educate girls?
• Why are girls behind?
• What is working to address obstacles to girls’ education?
• What should we do to accelerate progress on girls education?
Seven main benefits of girls’ education to society
1. More educated girls and women aspire to become leaders and thus expand a country’s leadership and entrepreneurial talent.
2. It is the quality of schooling that really counts; economic growth is faster when girls (and boys) learn.
3. More equal education means greater economic empowerment for women through more equal work opportunities for women and men
4. More educated girls and young women are healthier—and as adults they have healthier children.
5. More educated mothers have more educated children, especially daughters.
6. More educated women are better able to protect themselves and their families from the effects of economic and environmental shocks.
7. Education is valuable for girls in and of itself. Finally, in the words of Urvashi Sahni, an Indian girls’ education activist, “even without all of the ‘developmental and economic goodies’ that come
from girls’ education, we should care about educating girls because it is inherently valuable to them and is their right” (Sahni, 2015)
What should we do: Taking action on girls’ education
Taking action on girls’ education should not be confined to the halls of government offices or multilateral institutions. Civil society networks, business leaders, media organizations, academia, social enterprises, philanthropic communities, and individual global champions all have a role to play. With this in mind, we are recommending two focused streams of action.
• Recommendation 1:
Lean in with girls and women’s leadership. Our first recommendation proposes specific initiatives that are well positioned for engaging diverse actors, including: women’s groups, technology companies, media partners, transparency and EDUCATION NGO’S and government education.
planning departments. These initiatives are envisioned as catalytic “quick wins” that, if given sufficient financial and political support, could be scaled up within a short time period. They also represent an attempt to explore relatively new approaches to tackling the decades-long girls’ education problem. They are also recommended with the notion that while not directly confronting violence and early marriage, they will certainly help empower girls to push back against these forces. It is our assessment that all countries could benefit from leaning in on girls and women’s leadership, as it is fundamental to sustainable social change not only for girls’ educational opportunities but for gender equality more broadly.
The two initiatives we recommend are:
º Recommendation 1.1: Build strong girl leaders. We propose a girls’ leadership initiative that simultaneously provides opportunities for girls to develop the soft skills so crucial for their success as well as provides roles models and networks that help shift social perceptions and norms around girls’ education and gender equality. We propose a mentorship model be used with either teachers or recent secondary school girl graduates and that the initiative be scaled up with diverse partners starting in countries where girls’ education is the most behind.
º Recommendation 1.2: Girl-generated data. We propose a girl-generated big data initiative, which would combine the power of “factivists and feminists” (Drummond, 2015). Girl-generated data has the potential to radically change the power dynamics, with girls themselves generating regular information about their circumstances, needs, and achievements that is translated into digestible and timely insight for policymakers, civil society actors, community leaders, and educators. Transparency and accountability take on whole new meanings in this light and ultimately puts the girls at the center of the process.
A girl generated big data initiative also can go a long way in helping fill the data gap on girls’ education, both on basic education data that we have seen is often missing in many countries, but also more importantly on sensitive issues such as school-related gender-based violence and child marriage. We propose a model where technology firms would partner with civil society and governments to collect, analyze, and disseminate this girl-generated data to those actors who can make the changes needed to improve girls’ lives.
• Recommendation 2:
Focus on systemic reform with a gender lens. Ultimately, the best approach for helping girls get educated is to ensure governments have strong education systems, ones that enable all children to access good schools and quality learning opportunities. Good schools must be in places where girls and boys alike are given the opportunity to thrive and grow. Developing an education system where good schools are a reality, including for marginalized girls, necessitates systemic reform in many of the countries where girls are behind. In support of systemic reform we propose:
º Recommendation 2.1:
Design for education hotspots. We recommend that international donors and multilateral institutions focus increased attention on hotspot countries, in particular in countries stuck in an education bog where girls’ education progress has stalled. This includes both ensuring aid dollars flow to those countries and that the dollars go toward shoring up basic education and gender equality, including in humanitarian contexts. Governments must also do their part and employ strategies for including girls in education progress. This could include defraying costs, supporting great teachers, or improving teaching and learning materials. Teacher organizations also have a role to play. Global capacity can be deployed to help the professional development of teachers across countries where girls are farthest behind.
º Recommendation 2.2:
Focus with a gender lens. Countries themselves, and their regional and global partners, must ensure they undertake systemic reforms with a gender lens. This means all decisions around things such as policy, budgets, hiring, and monitoring must be evaluated with the understanding of their differential impacts on girls versus boys. Gender analysis tools should be systematically used in the development of education sector plans. Applying a gender lens to the process of sector plan development—including sector analysis, plan preparation, and plan appraisal—can ensure that that the key tools for national education system reform and associated policies and strategies promote effective actions that advance gender equality.
While made separately and with distinct purposes in mind, these two recommendations are also mutually reinforcing. Improved girls’ and women’s leadership, and boosting the availability of relevant data generated, can provide an important feedback loop for governments either for planning or monitoring purposes. Likewise, government reforms can open up space for girls’ and women’s leadership, serving to both help such leadership flourish and reap its outcomes in terms of improved girls’ education opportunities. Ultimately, we hope that these two recommendations, and the specific initiatives made within each, are translated into action and together with the wide range of other strategies actors are pursuing can make a difference to girls, their learning opportunities, and ultimately their ability to be successful in their lives and livelihoods.
Education and gender indicators: Bogs, traps and ceilings EDUCATION INDICATORS
Gender parity education not reached in Africa
CAMEROON, GHANA, KENYA, MORROCCO, MOZAMBIQUE, ZAMBIA*
Countries below the enrollment mean in Africa: ANGOLA, BENIN REPUBLIC, BURKINA FASO, BURUNDI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, CHAD, COTE d’IVOIRE, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO*, DJIBOUTI, ETHIOPIA, GUINEA, GUINEA-BISSAU, LIBERIA, MALAWI, MALI, NIGER,**NIGERIA**, SIERRA LEONE, SOUTH SUDAN, TOGO, UGANDA, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritania.
Gender parity in net enrollment rates in Africa
Botswana, Namibia, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Tanzania, Zimbabwe
Countries below the enrollment mean:
Gender inequality in math achievement
Algeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tunisia.
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