Free school buses: a practical and transformative solution for Indian girls

As the 2015 MDG target approaches, nations are increasingly concerned with achieving universal primary education. Since the Millennium Development Goal 2 states the need for universal primary education, many states and aid agencies have focused their recent attention on young children. While primary school serves as the educational foundation, it is critical that states and organizations also focus on improving access to secondary school and beyond.

The article, “Educate girls to alleviate poverty” highlights the fact that primary school enrollment rates have improved, but girls continue to face challenges in accessing secondary school. The article further explains that gender gaps tend to increase as students age, citing estimates that women in South Asia have about half as many years of schooling as their male counterparts. Even though more girls are enrolled in primary school, it is critical for them to have opportunities to further their education in secondary school. The piece calls for greater emphasis on improving access to education, specifically post primary schooling for females.

The article, “Bringing education to girls, on buses,” focuses on a practical solution to the issue of access. Pranab Saikia explains that many girls from rural villages surrounding Gurgaon, a city near New Delhi, were forced to leave school early because lacked a safe way to travel to school. Recognizing that it is not necessarily practical or realistic to build schools in every village for teenage girls, a local resident, Rakesh Daultabad raised money to provide free buss services for the young women. To date, three buses transport approximately 350 young women from their rural homes to their school in the city. This article highlights the fact that sometimes in education, the solution can be as simple as providing a school bus in order for students to safely travel to school.

After reading this article about buses, I was first struck by how such an obvious and simple solution can have a dramatic influence on a young woman’s life. While bus services are a practical solution, I would have liked to know how the founder, Rakesh Daultabad gained the trust of parents to transport their children. I would imagine that many parents would be skeptical of permitting their daughters from traveling to the city with strangers, especially males.

Additionally, while I agree that access to education and school enrollment is important, it is only one aspect of education reform. Attending school is not enough. It is imperative that students receive a high quality education in school. Simply transporting to student to school is not enough to ensure that they develop the necessary skills to become successful adults in the future. Schools must be improved and teachers must deliver quality lessons and learning opportunities. The Azim Premji Foundation is working to address the issue of quality in India through teacher training programs, curriculum building, school leader training and examination reforms.

In order for us to truly reform global education, and specifically education for girls, we must value and implement both practical approaches, such as Daultabad’s buses, to increase access, as well as the Azim Premji Foundation’s approach to improve the quality of schools, teachers and administrators. If we can focus on both access and quality, then there will be potential for true reform.

Sources:

Chelala, Cesar (2013, October 19). Educate girls to alleviate poverty. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/19/educate-girls-to-alleviate-poverty/.

Saikia, Pranab (2013, November 10). Bringing education to girls, on buses. Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-10/gurgaon/43885288_1_20-villages-girl-students-higher-education.

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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

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

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.


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.

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.