Deceptions in Educational Statistics

As 2015 quickly approaches, nations are seriously examining their progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Cameroon has been highlighted for their success in increasing primary school enrollment to 88%, though further investigations indicate that this figure does not accurately capture the gaps between male and female enrollment rates. The article, “Cameroon’s girl-child education efforts limping” sheds light on the challenges facing young girls in Cameroon.

Currently, a large imbalance in enrollment persists. 94% of boys aged 6-14 are enrolled in school, compared to 80% of girls. This inequality increases in rural areas of Cameroon, specifically the Far North Region where only 17 in 100 girls are enrolled in primary school. These glaring inequalities pose a great challenge for Cameroon to overcome before they can meet the Millennium Development Goal for universal primary school. These statistics indicate that Cameroon may not be on track for meeting the Millennium Development Goals and the Education For All goals, both of which emphasize universal enrollment.

Many cultural factors impact girls’ access to education. In cases of extreme poverty, where family resources are limited, parents often will choose to educate sons over daughters. Many young girls in the region marry early and the belief that girls do not need schooling exists in many rural villages in the Far North Region. In order to increase girls’ access to primary schools, the government of Cameroon has partnered with the government of Japan and UNICEF to build “female-friendly” primary schools. While it is important to create educational environments where girls can thrive, simply providing girls with a schooling facility does not address the underlying cultural beliefs that prevent girls from attending school.

MTN Cameroon, one of the largest telecommunications companies in Africa, has launched an initiative in the Far North Region to address lagging female enrollment in primary schools. Through a series of fundraisers, the company plans to sponsor 2,100 girls age 6-15 for the next six years. By sponsoring their education, the company seeks to ease the financial burdens that prevent families from enrolling in school.

While the intentions behind this project might be good, it is critical to examine how development projects are implemented, rather than simply thinking about why they are implemented in communities. If development projects are not implemented well, they can cause unintended harm to communities.

The MTN project, while it provides a short-term solution, is not sustainable in the long run. After the six-year sponsorship ends, how will these girls (and future girls in these communities) access education? By simply providing funding, the program is not building local capacity to ensure that the project continues after the outside organization departs. After six years, these communities may not be better off, as girls many drop out causing enrollment rates to plummet. We must work with local communities to build projects that will thrive and continue without building dependency on outsiders.

Sources:

BizzCommunity (2013, October 30). MTN Cameroon sponsors over 2000 girls’ education. Retrieved from http://www.bizzcommunity.com/Article/38/98/102630.html.

Voice of America (2013, October 29). Cameroon’s girl-child education efforts limping. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/content/cameroons-girl-child-education-efforts-limping/1779044.html.


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Beyond Access to Education

Despite recent gains in girls’ enrollment in Afghan schools, much needs to done to ensure that girls not only have access to education, but more importantly, access to a quality education.

In the article, “Despite gains, future of Afghan girls’ education remains uncertain,” UNICEF highlights the success of the Zarghona Girls School in Kabul. During Taliban rule, school founder Shaima Alkozai secretly taught girls in her home. Following the fall of the regime, she founded the school to provide females with an education. Currently, her school serves 8,000 female students ranging from first to twelfth grade. Many of the girls show high levels of commitment, enthusiasm and dedication to their schooling, but their experience in not the norm in Afghanistan. While Alkozai’s school is a picture of success in Afghanistan, UNICEF reports that many girls in Afghanistan lack access to an education, especially girls from marginalized populations, such as the homeless or disabled. While there is much to learn from successful programs like the Zarghona Girls School, we must continue to push policy makers to ensure that quality is an aspect of all schools, rather than a select few.

Similarly, NPR published a piece, “Are Afghanistan’s schools doing as well as touted?” to critically examine education across the country. The story highlights the challenges facing education in Afghanistan, specifically challenges facing Afghan girls. Cultural barriers, such as early marriages, continue to prevent girls from attending school, but even for girls who are enrolled, there are severe limitations to the quality of their education. Many schools lack female teachers as well as trained and qualified teachers, making it impossible for older girls in all-female classes to learn. Schools lack permanent structures and resources and some schools continue to face security threats and challenges. In order for the Afghan education system to have lasting effects, the system must ensure both access and quality for all students.

The push in the past decade to meet the MDGs and the Education For All targets have placed emphasis on school enrollment, and specifically increasing enrollment for girls. While getting girls to attend school is the first step, it is imperative that we shift the focus towards ensuring quality. Often times, schools are viewed like a black box, with little regard for what takes place in schools. Policy makers operate with the mindset that as long as students attend schools, individuals and society will reap the benefits of education. This mind-set is unacceptable because it essentially gambles educational outcomes and children’s futures.

In order to ensure that Education For All does not simply mean universal enrollment, we must make sure that students have access to high quality programs. Curriculum must reflect the local cultural context, schools must prepare students for future success in their communities and education must be equitable for all children. As the articles suggest, the work towards improving Afghan girl’s education is far from complete. Simply attending school is not sufficient. Until all girls, in both rural and urban areas, have access to high quality, equitable and fair educational opportunities, we must continue to examine, evaluate and improve on what is taking place in classrooms.

Sources:

NPR. (2013, October 24). Are Afghanistan’s schools doing as well touted? Retrieved October 27, 2013 from http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/10/24/240482395/are-afghanistans-schools-doing-as-well-as-touted.

UNICEF. (2013, October 28). Despite gains, future of Afghan girls’ education remains uncertain. Retrieved October 28, 2013 from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/afghanistan_70759.html.

 

One generation of educated girls is a revolution

Melinda Tankard Reist, the author of this “news” article in the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper, begins her stream-of-consciousness entry by talking about slum girls in an unnamed Indian town who had been given the chance to go to school. Reist is a blogger, social commentator, and advocate for women and girls worldwide. From the start, Reist infiltrates emotional propaganda into her work, perhaps to cover up the fact that any newsworthy information is lacking in numbers and strength, but I digress.

These Indian girls had been brought up living off the waste in nearby landfills, selling cloth they found for money to buy food. In India, in many communities, girls are not given first priority. Inserting her propaganda again, Reist tells us how a Christian NGO gave them this gift of education and now they are graduating and she gets to hand out the graduation certificates. Hooray!! Happy endings for all. Sarcasm aside, yes, it was a beautiful story, but what about the other “66 million girls currently out of school”? There are far too many unhappy endings to be rejoicing just yet.

For the second half of her written celebration, Reist gives an overview of the recent documentary Girl Rising. In all seriousness, if you haven’t seen this it is worth your time. Reist highlights three of the girls portrayed in this documentary and their heart-wrenching stories of oppression and determination to be educated. In their personal fights for education, these girls faced pre-pubescent marriage, poverty, and child slavery. The documentary brings to light issues faced by millions of girls worldwide whose significance is not recognized by patriarchal societies.

Ironically, the quote Reist chooses from the film is from a child bride, saying, “Don’t tell me you are on my side; your silence has spoken for you.” If Reist had wanted to bring up the disappointing statistics pertaining to girls denied education, it is my humble opinion that she should have focused more of her article on suggested solutions or current global legislation such as EFA or the MDG. It felt as if she were saying, “There are so many poor, unfortunate girls out of school, but let’s look past them to the happy endings and all the progress being made.” This is why change is so slow. If you feel strongly enough to write an article about sending girls to school for the purpose of reduced poverty and world change, you should do something about it.

In light of a recent class on the topic of feminist perspectives of development, it is worthwhile to note that Reist, a self-proclaimed feminist, seems to fall neatly within the Women in Development (WID) viewpoint. Those who ascribe to WID, though advocates for the advancement of women in society, still view women as helpless victims. Reist ends her article saying, “‘If [these girls] get what they need incredible things will happen. Can we help them do that?’” It seems to me that these girls are heroes all on their own.

Reist, M.T. (2013, October 6). One generation of educated girls is a revolution. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/comment/one-generation-of-educated-girls-is-a-revolution-20131005-2v0qx.html.

Malala’s teacher fights for education reform

Recently, Mariam Khalique, a teacher in Pakistan and spokesperson for the Global Monitoring Report, spoke about her dedication to girl’s education in Pakistan.

In the article, “Malala was right to fight for her education,” Khalique discusses her views on education and her support for her former student and education activist, Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban.

At the start of her teaching career, Khalique explains that her school enrolled 1,000 students, of which 300 were females. While poverty and conflict contribute to low enrollment for female students, Khalique believes that many girls in her community do not attend school for cultural reasons. Khalique further explains that many families believe that a female’s place is in the home and as a result, girls do not have equal access to education.

Despite these cultural challenges, Mariam Khalique is working to change perspectives and practices in her community, stating, “These are crimes against humanity, that I have no choice but to decry.” Khalique approaches education as an innate human right. Education transforms lives and by providing all children with equal education, they will be able to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to improve their lives. By giving individuals the ability to make changes, society will experience greater long-term benefits.

While education typically refers to improving reading, writing, and mathematics, we must expand upon this tradition definition to make education more practical and valuable to communities. Education programs can also target issues such as citizenship, maternal and child health, nutrition, and sanitation.

The Global Monitoring Report states that “Education’s unique power to act as a catalyst for wider development goals can only be fully realized, however, if it is equitable…Education empowers girls and young women, in particular, by increasing their chances of getting jobs, staying healthy and participating fully in society – and it boosts their children’s chances of leading healthy lives.”

As we approach the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, it is important for us to consider the positive impacts that girls’ education can have on societies across the globe, but we must keep several points in mind: Are we creating educational programs that are culturally relevant to the specific communities they target? While Mariam Khalique explains that cultural perspectives in her community need to change, it is imperative that educational reforms and programs respect and reflect the wants and needs of a community. In order for education to have meaning and value to people, it must provide them with relevant skills and knowledge that will enable them to improve their lives. Whether it is health, nutrition or sanitation information, more job specific training, or literacy programs, we must move beyond the idea that one model of education will work across the globe and move towards increasing a community’s participation in the reform process.

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.