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.