Where Do We Go From Here?

This is my last post on this blog, and I want to end on a positive note. I am going to talk about this article on Trust.org, the charitable arm of Thompson Reuters Corporation. It discusses this report, “The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013: Towards greater accountability to Africa’s children.” The report was produced by The African Child Policy Forum, a pan-African research institute focused on children across Africa. I’ll finish by talking about where a girls’ education movement can go from where it is today.

The article is titled “Ethiopia and Angola double number of girls in school in 10 years,” but many other successes are highlighted. Only 5 African countries have school fees for primary school (though there are associated costs in many places that can exclude the poorest of the poor). Across Africa, 78% of girls and 83% of boys attend primary school, a much-narrowed gap. Child death before the age of 5 (the U5MR: Under-5 Mortality Rate) fell significantly in a number of countries, by 52% in Rwanda and 47% in Liberia, stunning achievements. Back on the topic of girls’ education, Tanzania can now boast near universal net enrollment in primary school for both girls and boys, Ethiopia’s and Angola’s percentages of girls in primary did in indeed double, and a number of countries had significant gains.

There are other facts hidden in those facts and figures. I don’t want to take away from the successes of the countries mentioned in either this post or the report itself, but there is more to the story. Firstly, the Reuters article closes with the report’s list of the 10 least child-friendly governments in Africa: Chad, Eritrea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mauritania. What does this mean?

From the report: “These countries failed to put in place appropriate legal and policy frameworks to protect children from abuse and exploitation, and did not make significant efforts to improve access to basic services and to achieve positive child-related outcomes” (xv). The ACPF took into account information like what percent of their budgets governments spent on health care, immunization programs, and education. The ACPF made efforts in the report and press statements to say that how child-friendly a country is not a matter of its wealth, but of its “political commitment.” Rwanda and Lesotho, for instance, are among the top 10, and their GDPs are among the lowest on the continent. Measuring via budget breakdowns is a strong proxy measure for such commitment, and I don’t find fault with that.

So where do we go from here? The report addresses that with two charts in my opinion. One can be found on page 180, if you’re interested. It’s titled “Primary Completion Rate.” Worryingly, Angola didn’t report this information, but Ethiopia did: 57.8%. Fortunately, that breaks down pretty evenly across the genders (60.7/54.8), but it’s pretty low on its own. That breakdown for the entire continent isn’t too bad either, but it shows that only about 2/3 of children are completing primary school.

The second chart (I’m almost done with all the numbers, I swear) lists secondary education enrollment rates, and here we’re not doing so great. Only 26% of girls and 30% of boys in Sub-Saharan Africa enroll in secondary school. Angola, doing so well in primary school, only enrolls 13% of its children in secondary school. The best number in the region comes from Cape Verde at about 65%.

So there’s been a lot of progress, particularly over the last ten years, and there is still much more to go. There are dedicated people working tirelessly in every country in the world to ensure that girls have equal access to education, that the education is of a high quality, culturally relevant, gender-sensitive, lasting an appropriate amount of time, and is free. This isn’t an issue that will ever “go away.” Governments change, conflicts occur, money dries up, etc. We – meaning, as I said before, the peoples of the world – need to help create sustainable and flexible systems and structures that can both address the problem today, and adapt to a host of different futures. If you feel motivated by anything you’ve read here, join in. The world could use your help.

 

The African Child Policy Forum. (2013). The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013: Towards greater accountability to Africa’s children. Addis Ababa: The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF).

Migiro, K. (2013, November 18). Ethiopia and Angola double number of girls in school in 10 years. Thompson Reuters Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.trust.org/item/20131117183905-ueksn

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“The Economist” Discovers Gender Inequality in Education

Please excuse the cheeky title. While it does represent my first reaction to these two articles from The Economist this week, it’s an unfair representation. Being somewhat more level-headed about it, I can view both articles as sort of primers for gender inequality in education. They’re targeting people who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs; they’re very “share-able” on Facebook and Twitter; and they’re great for increasing public awareness.

But let’s go over them a little more critically anyway.

In the first, “Making room for girls,” the author discusses in broad strokes the push toward universal enrollment in primary education and closing the gender gap, driven by the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. They cite the reasoning behind this push as driven by a waste of human capital: failing to educate girls limits economic growth. Definitely true, but not nearly the only reason the global community is working to get every girl and boy in primary school. Don’t forget about the agreed basic human right to education, among many other reasons.

The article makes a great point that while the primary enrollment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa has gone up significantly (though not enough to meet the relevant MDG), enrollment in secondary and tertiary education has actually fallen. Some country-specific data are also highlighted, making the point that averages hide some pretty significant differences. I’ve embedded their graph on progress toward universal education here:

The issue that the article completely skips is the issue of quality. Even if every single primary school-age child is enrolled, what does that say about the quality of the education they’re receiving? If there are 100 children in a classroom with a single teacher, or that teacher changes every other year because the pay is so low, or the curriculum they’re using is out of date, or there are inadequate study materials, how much does universal enrollment really matter?

And what does universal enrollment say about the gender equality in the classroom? Do the girls have positive role models, examples of women doctors, politicians, and businesses owners to spark their imaginations? Do they have female teachers? Do their teachers, administrators, and fellow classmates treat the girls the same as the boys? There are 1000 questions to ask about gender equality in the classroom that go beyond how many students of each gender are there.

I understand the argument that quality might come at a second stage, that once we get everyone in the classroom, we can focus on how well they’re being educated. But that is unfair to the millions of children being poorly educated right now. They might be happy that their younger siblings or even their children will be better educated. But I bet they’d also feel cheated out of a quality education because their school, community, country, and the rest of the world came together and decided that it mattered more that they were sitting at the desk than what happened on the blackboard.

Maybe I’m hard on The Economist because I think of them as above the rest – somehow superior to the usual rabble on the internet and other media. I want them to be complex, to show at least glimpses into the many sides of the story. While the first article doesn’t live up to my expectations, the second one is an improvement. It doesn’t go in too deep, but provides a look into a key difference between girls’ and boys’ education. (It might be worth noting that the first is available only on the internet, while the second was written for the print edition.)

When education dries up” redeems The Economist for me (and I know their editors are breathing easy now that they’ve regained my approval). It focuses on a lot of the same issues as the first, but raises an important note: poverty impacts girls’ and boys’ education differently. In droughts in Uganda, the article notes, girls were pulled out of school at a higher rate than boys to support the family income. The boys were kept in school because their long-term job prospects were better, and that means higher income in the future.

This ties girls’ education to not only issues of poverty, but the job market, food security, and host of others. So the second article takes a deeper look, makes the reader think, and hopefully (from my perspective) inspires a few readers to go deeper into some of the challenges facing girls’ education, all without being too technical, too boring, or too long. I guess The Economist knows what it’s doing after all.

 

R., C. (2013, November 5). Gender inequality: Making room for girls. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/11/gender-inequality

The economics of sexual inequality: When education dries up. (2013, November 2). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21588927-new-research-hints-better-method-ensure-girls-africa-stay-school-when

Greater Education Means Greater Inequality?

As reported by The Times of India, a recent survey of formally employed Indians showed something odd: the higher level of education a woman has, the greater the inequality is between her and her male counterparts. Specifically, among those with no formal education, women are paid 11.99% more on average. Completing some form of basic education means that both groups will earn more, but the pay gap switches, with men 10% ahead. The trend continues up to those with master’s degrees, where men earn 40.76% more than women. To avoid listing out all the data from the report, here’s a chart:

"Percent Difference in Salary of Females from Males"

Data from Varkkey & Korde (2013)

(If you’re not familiar with some of the categories, you don’t have to take my word for it: here’s the full report. It’s not a long read, and covers far more than just this one issue. It’s fascinating.) So with the PhD-level data outlying somewhat, we can see the pay gap becoming more pronounced the more education one receives! This is directly counter to the conventional understanding that investing in your education reduces economic inequality.

As we read again and again, educating young girls is supposed to solve these problems later in life. So why hasn’t it worked in this case? The report offers some theories:

  • There is a perception that a woman’s primary responsibility is unpaid care work
  • Women exit the work force earlier in life than men (for marriage or motherhood)
  • Women take breaks in their careers
  • Women opt for part-time jobs to care for children
  • Women “are categorized as potential mothers”

So here we get to the truth of the matter. Women should only work as long as they are single and without children, while men should work regardless of their marital or parental status. This is obviously not a story isolated to India.

It’s easy to discuss the obvious sexism inherent in these assumptions: women’s intense labor in the home and with children is economically undervalued; women should be the primary caregivers of children; all women will get pregnant and leave work; married women should not work, etc.

Consider also what messages these pay gaps are sending to the young girls currently in school: I should not worry too much about getting an advanced degree, because I will eventually leave work to care for my husband and children; I am best suited to work involving household chores and child-rearing; because I am always seen as a potential mother, I should feel incomplete as a woman until I have a child.

So how can these disparities be remedied? If education is not the panacea we imagine it to be, then what is the answer? Well if I knew that, I wouldn’t be in school studying this, but here’s my stab at it: more education.

Educating the young girls themselves is one thing, and the most important. On the whole, a quality education opens doors economically, socially, personally, psychologically, and you get the idea. But what about their parents, neighbors, male classmates, political and community leaders, and the rest of the nation?

Just as important for India to teach young girls letters and numbers, history and economics, physics and anthropology, is for India to teach itself that the women these girls will become can be valuable contributors to every aspect of India’s future success. Limiting their potential contributions by insisting that a woman’s value is derived from her husband and children hurts not only that woman and her community, but India as a whole. To deny half the population the ability to fully exercise their capabilities is to deny them the chance to flourish as individuals.

(And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every other country could stand to learn the same lessons. Just look at the gender gap in the US.)

Unnithan, C. (2013, November 3). For women, more education means salary discrimination at work. The Times of India. Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/For-women-more-education-means-salary-discrimination-at-work/articleshow/25148884.cms

Varkkey, B. & Korde, R. (2013). WageIndicator. Gender pay gap in the formal sector: 2006 – 2013: Preliminary evidences from Paycheck India data. Retrieved from http://www.wageindicator.org/documents/publicationslist/publications-2013/Gender%20Pay%20Gap%20in%20India%202006-%202013.pdf

Unrealistic Expectations

Global Citizen has called on all people to petition their governments to fund the Global Partnership for Education, what they call “the only multilateral partnership dedicated to putting primary-aged children into school for quality education.” From the article/press release found on Education International’s news section, we learn that a key way to raise awareness of this campaign was the Global Citizen Festival, a concert that promises a 3-step experience: “Watch Live/ Take Action/ See Impact.” I am going to be critical of the approach these organizations have taken to solving global educational inadequacies, and the public image they see as appropriate to raise the mentioned funds (which I will assume is not a misunderstanding of the issue, but an intentional simplification for fundraising reasons).

In the first article above, Global Citizen quotes a UNESCO figure of $26 billion as the cost to “put every child in school by 2015.” First of all, this is simply untrue: this figure refers to the funding gap UNESCO has identified in low-income countries only, as seen in this press release from UNESCO’s Media Services. This of course does not include middle- and even upper-income countries, where there are not-insignificant numbers of children out of school. To be fair, UNESCO itself is inconsistent with these figures: their page on “reaching out-of-school children” makes no mention of the distinction. Also, low-income countries, being most affected by a large number of out of school children, should be the focus of these efforts.

I have two main criticisms of these efforts, though I am leaving behind a host of nitpicky ones. Firstly, GC sees children’s education as important because it is “one of the biggest steps we can take toward ending extreme poverty.” This is echoed in EI’s press release when they provide a short list of world leaders who have “joined the call to end poverty.” Of course it is! Education is a powerful tool, and poverty is unquestionably undesirable. But I would have very much liked to see education touted as a human right, a window to the world, a central capability, or any of the other inherent aspects of a quality education. It is not just a doorway to an economically prosperous future, but to so much more. The author tempers this sentiment by saying that education is an investment that can bring about social change and allows people to reach their full potential, though still within an economic framework.

Secondly, in the next paragraph of that same article is this bewildering phrase: “We know what it takes and how much it will cost.” Forgive the sarcasm, but if Global Citizen knows the secret to global quality education for all and they are hiding it from everyone else, we need to call Tom Cruise and get him to rappel down into whatever secret vault they’re keeping it in. “We know what it takes?” No, we don’t. Definitely don’t. There are a thousand competing ideas about everything from how to train teachers, how to fund education, the subjects to be taught, and even the way classrooms should be laid out! This sort of hubris pervades these articles: we know how to fix this problem if only governments would step up and give us the money to do it.

So what is the connection to girls’ education, other than that girls are obviously affected by this? Firstly, they are disproportionately affected: in this video on UNESCO’s “reaching out-of-school children” page makes the point to mention that “poor, rural girls are most likely” to not be in school. Secondly, as quoted in the Education International article, GPE CEO Alice Albright is quoted as saying “Girls are being killed for going to school.” The most famous recent example is Malala Yousafzai, as covered by Laura here on ED4GIRLS. This is obviously an extreme example of how girls are intentionally kept out of school, but they fail to mention child marriage, girls’ home-based labor, and plain sexism as contributing, though less news-worthy, factors.

On Global Citizen’s About page, they use a phrase I have no problem with: “we need to learn and take action to change the rules that trap [those in extreme poverty] in broken systems.” Here it is – this is a supremely complex issue that requires systemic change across a broad range of issues, governments, cultures, and peoples. The fact that 57 million children are not in basic education programs is not one that can be solved by an injection of $26 billion, or any other amount. And certainly not in 2 years.

Education International. (2013, October 22). GPE launches campaign to get every child into school. Retrieved October 22, 2013 from http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/2727

Global Citizen. (2013, October 2). Call on world leaders to fully fund education world-wide. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://www.globalcitizen.org/Content/Content.aspx?id=dc404fd0-99dc-46ef-b50e-061df4b8b088

Global Citizen. (n.d.). About Global Citizen. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.globalcitizen.org/AboutUs/AboutUs.aspx?typeId=15

UNESCO. (2013, June 5). 57 Million children out of school. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft5sDJG054w

UNESCO. (2013, June 10). Reaching out-of-school children. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/reaching-oosc.aspx

UNESCO Media Services. (n.d.). Funding gap for education growing, according to new figures released by UNESCO. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/in-focus-articles/funding-gap-for-education-growing-according-to-new-figures-released-by-unesco-study-also-proposes-ways-to-close-it

Tanzania and Uganda Deal with Pregnancy in Very Different Ways

Sometimes, girls become pregnant. This probably isn’t a revelation.

I want to talk about two school systems in Sub-Saharan Africa that are dealing with the issue of school-age pregnancy in very different ways.

As reported by Tanzania’s Daily News16,999 girls there dropped out of primary and secondary schools between 2006 and 2009 due to pregnancy. Additionally, 30% of Tanzanian girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18 (of course not all pregnancies result from sexual violence, but the figures are obviously partly related). But how does the government respond to this problem? Did they increase sex education classes, provide counseling services, or even instruct teachers to work with the students while they were out of school giving birth?

Well, no. According to a report published by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Tanzanian officials responded to this issue by instituting mandatory pregnancy testing followed by expulsion for positive results. It is important to point out that this expulsion is not legally required, but an apparent reaction by the schools. Even after expulsion, there is a stigma attached to teenage birth, although I am not sure why, given that the report shows that 44% of adolescent girls in Tanzania have either given birth or are pregnant by the age of 19. One young woman, Tatu, has been out of school since 2010, because the school that expelled her refused to supply a transfer letter to her new school. On a positive note, the CRC published the report in order to influence leaders who are currently reviewing the national constitution. They are working to get their findings considered and this practice stopped, among other things. But as Evelyn Opondo, the CRC’s Regional Director for Africa, says, this “is a practice quite prevalent throughout Africa.”

In Uganda, there has been a very different response. New Vision, a Ugandan newspaper, reports that the government plans to give every woman of reproductive age condoms and birth control pills. This obviously includes girls in school, specifically aged 14 to 18. While this doesn’t respond to issues of girls having sex younger than 14, it is a major step to even discuss the point. Whether this actually happens remains to be seen (it would be a political battle in any country, and not inexpensive) is less relevant to my point. Uganda’s problems in this area are not inconsequential, though they are of a smaller scale than in Tanzania. Uganda isn’t tackling this problem from the perspective that pregnant girls get pulled from school and likely do not finish their secondary education, but to tackle the problem that 16 women die of pregnancy-related complications every day in Uganda, and 15 times that number develop complications. The article notes that this puts them significantly behind on the 5th Millennium Development Goal.

But whatever their reasons, Uganda is taking a radical step forward, while the Tanzanian system (however unofficially) is taking a significant step backward. Contraception supply and education, sexual education, and pre- and post-natal support are essential to not only reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, but to care for the girls and their children when they do happen. Try as anyone might, sometimes, girls become pregnant.

Why Girls’ Education?

Welcome to ED4GIRLS!

We’re going to be drawing your attention to global news about girls’ education, a necessary and vital component of the broader international development effort. We’re all students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, in the International Educational Development Program,* and quite passionate about equalizing and improving educational opportunities around the world, particularly among marginalized groups. Part of the reason we’re focusing on girls’ education is that they are a unique sort of minority group — they’re actually a majority in many countries (!) — and are marginalized to an extreme degree. We’ll be explaining further over the coming weeks what we’re about and how we see these issues.

To start us off, I’m going to talk about a recent article by Pauline Rose, director of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, who laid out a few great reasons to focus global efforts on educating young girls, though I think she glossed over a really important one. She covers very well the various effects that educating young girls have on society as a whole, focusing on poverty reduction. Education is linked to raising the age at which young girls marry, reducing the number of births per mother, social empowerment, better health outcomes, and a host of others.

These are important issues, and absolutely merit the attention that Rose gives them. Also, her point that many of the negative effects she describes are mitigated by educating young girls is valid and vital. Reducing or even eradicating poverty will not happen without an adequately educated population, and that obviously includes the female half! But in her very first sentence, she glosses over something that is equally important: “Educating girls and young women is not only one of the biggest moral challenges of our generation, it is also a necessary investment for a peaceful and poverty-free world.”

Wrapped up in that “moral challenge” is the idea of education as a human right: all of the positive effects that come out of educating the world’s young women are secondary. They’re wonderful, necessary, urgently needed effects, but they are indeed secondary, at least in my view. Part of the idea of seeing a person’s education as an investment in society comes from the expectation that they will use this education to somehow better their communities and even nations. Part of it comes from the links between education and things like lower crime rates, lower youth pregnancy rates, higher rates of civic engagement — all the incidental benefits of education. Again, these are incredibly important, but come second to the recognition that education is a fundamental human right.

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about a formal classroom education in a state-run school district with all the usual trappings — the method is somewhat less important than the outcome. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights say this about education:

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Now that’s what I’m talking about.

It doesn’t say anything in there about Thomas Hardy, mitochondria, or algebra, but it provides for a broad range of culturally sensitive educational possibilities that aren’t necessarily directed at any specific society-building outcomes. Before that subsection, the simple phrase “Everyone has the right to education” sticks out.

We, meaning all the people of the world, should make sure that all girls get an education. We should do it because it will — no joke — make the world a better place. We should do it because they aren’t getting an equal education right now, and equality is important. We should do it because those educated girls turn into educated women, and we all know what educated women can do. But we should also do it because education is a fundamental human right — girls and young women around the world deserve it.

*Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not represent the University of Pennsylvania, the GSE, or the IED Program.