“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single teacher, or that teacher changes every other year because the pay is so low, or the curriculum they’re using is out of date, or there are inadequate study materials, how much does universal enrollment really matter?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


A Donation in the Name of the Day of the Girl

This week, according to an article found in the Khaleej Times,  Dubai Cares, a non-profit organization whose goal is to break the cycle of poverty through primary education, pledged Dh22 million (approximately 6 million USD) to girls’ education in the Philippines, South Sudan, and Mozambique. The money will go to improving school infrastructure, create new classrooms, and more teachers.  Working with Plan International Canada, the funds will be distributed over 4 years to local NGOs that work to reduce barriers to education.

This donation is given in support of the International Day of the Girl, a UN recognized day, celebrated October 11.  Though a great cause, one must question Dubai Cares’ motivation.  When speaking on the issue, CEO of Dubai Cares, Tariq Al Guru, says:

“This is one of the gifts from Dubai to the world. As future mothers and wives, who will play an integral role in nurturing and raising families, these girls hold the key to a future generation of educated and enlightened children.”

And though it is true that girls are a crucial part of the future and should be treated as such, why does he refer to the girls as future mothers and wives? Why are they not called the future scientists or political leaders? Are the intentions of the organization to educate the future mothers who will then in turn educate their sons? More emphasis should be placed on what the girls can come to be besides just mothers and wives.  Don’t get me wrong, being a mother or wife is a very important job and one that should not be looked down upon, but for these girls it is important to break cultural barriers and tell them that there is other roles open to them.  They are not restricted to the conventional, traditional role of being a mother.  If in the end they still choose to be mothers or wives, than that is great, but the choices must be out in the open.

The article goes on to name some of the common practices in countries with low literacy and poor access to schools, including: forced marriage, sexual exploitation, and gender discrimination.  NGOs must look deeply into the root causes of these injustices and what works to perpetuate them. Education cannot be seen as the panacea for these problems.  If more money is spent to improve access to girls’ education, these problems will not just disappear.  More needs to be done to make sure that as a community forced marriage, sexual exploitation, and gender discrimination are no longer acceptable.


Shabandri, M. (2013, October 9). Dh22 million pledged for girls’ education.Khaleej Times. Retrieved October 15, 2013, from http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article-display-1.asp?xfile=data/educationnation/2013/October/e.