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

“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

Achieving the MDGs through Human Capital

As Laura’s post previously mentioned, 2015 is approaching and that means the supposed end of the Millennium Development Goals. As the end closes in and the prospects of achieving the goals gets gloomier, people are scrambling to find solutions. This week The Economist put out an article taking a human capitalist approach to discovering why gender disparity lingers in Africa based off of a study done in Uganda (not all of Africa).  Currently, according to the article, agencies like the UN are funneling money into girls’ education with little results; girls are still underrepresented in schools. The solution, determined by comparing the amount of rainfall to girls’ attendance rates in schools in Uganda, is to boost the household income because when there is less rainfall there is less income and girls are taken out of school to supplement the family’s income. Stated differently, we need to end sexual inequality. Since boys’ education is deemed more important on the basis of future rewards, they stay in school while the girls are removed.  If inclined to do so, you can find the original research study by Martina Bjorkman-Nqvist here.

This article really resonates with me because of the practicality that comes with using human capital theory in the field of development.  Human capital necessitates that we invest in the future of children through education (in this case girls) in order for a nation to subsequently develop. While it makes sense to adopt an economic viewpoint when creating development plans, initiatives for financing schools have not been enough and we will not meet the goal of ending gender disparity in education.  Therefore, new innovative ideas about how to close the gender gap need to be formed and researched, and that is exactly what Bjorkman-Nqvist is doing.  She suggests that we find ways to boost family income so there is no reason to take girls out of school. While this may prove to not be the answer, it is a step in the right direction. After all, we cannot do the same thing over and over expecting different results.

With that being said, I have to take issue with one aspect of the article.  While speaking about how the Millennium Development Goals are failing, the article says, “Although places like China, Bangladesh and Indonesia look likely to achieve the target, Africa, in particular, will not.” This article uses a study conducted in Uganda to justify plans for the rest of Africa. Africa is not a country like China, Bangladesh, or Indonesia, and therefore, cannot be compared to a country.  It is a continent with 54 countries, all of which are rooted in different cultures and histories.  While this may be very un-human capitalist of me, we need to take into consideration these differences when developing plans aimed at economic development.  What works for one country may not work for another and, similarly, what is true about one may not be true about the other.  While girls are taken out of school to supplement the family incomes in a time of drought in Uganda, the situation may be different in Togo or Eritrea.

Considering the source, a newspaper that predominantly focuses on economics, as the name The Economist suggests, it is unsurprising that culture was forgotten about.  But that does not excuse Africa being compared with countries.  It is a mistake too often made, and one that frankly needs to end for progress to be made. These economically based plans will only be useful if applied to each economy in a way that makes sense for that country. A plan cannot be made for an entire continent.  I am not suggesting that the study is useless; as I stated above, I like it. I am just warning that it cannot be applied  blindly and expect results.

Sources used:

The Economics of Sexual Inequality: When Education Dries Up. (2013, November 2). The Economist. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21588927-new-research-hints-better-method-ensure-girls-africa-stay-school-when