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

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.


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.