Unrealistic Expectations

Global Citizen has called on all people to petition their governments to fund the Global Partnership for Education, what they call “the only multilateral partnership dedicated to putting primary-aged children into school for quality education.” From the article/press release found on Education International’s news section, we learn that a key way to raise awareness of this campaign was the Global Citizen Festival, a concert that promises a 3-step experience: “Watch Live/ Take Action/ See Impact.” I am going to be critical of the approach these organizations have taken to solving global educational inadequacies, and the public image they see as appropriate to raise the mentioned funds (which I will assume is not a misunderstanding of the issue, but an intentional simplification for fundraising reasons).

In the first article above, Global Citizen quotes a UNESCO figure of $26 billion as the cost to “put every child in school by 2015.” First of all, this is simply untrue: this figure refers to the funding gap UNESCO has identified in low-income countries only, as seen in this press release from UNESCO’s Media Services. This of course does not include middle- and even upper-income countries, where there are not-insignificant numbers of children out of school. To be fair, UNESCO itself is inconsistent with these figures: their page on “reaching out-of-school children” makes no mention of the distinction. Also, low-income countries, being most affected by a large number of out of school children, should be the focus of these efforts.

I have two main criticisms of these efforts, though I am leaving behind a host of nitpicky ones. Firstly, GC sees children’s education as important because it is “one of the biggest steps we can take toward ending extreme poverty.” This is echoed in EI’s press release when they provide a short list of world leaders who have “joined the call to end poverty.” Of course it is! Education is a powerful tool, and poverty is unquestionably undesirable. But I would have very much liked to see education touted as a human right, a window to the world, a central capability, or any of the other inherent aspects of a quality education. It is not just a doorway to an economically prosperous future, but to so much more. The author tempers this sentiment by saying that education is an investment that can bring about social change and allows people to reach their full potential, though still within an economic framework.

Secondly, in the next paragraph of that same article is this bewildering phrase: “We know what it takes and how much it will cost.” Forgive the sarcasm, but if Global Citizen knows the secret to global quality education for all and they are hiding it from everyone else, we need to call Tom Cruise and get him to rappel down into whatever secret vault they’re keeping it in. “We know what it takes?” No, we don’t. Definitely don’t. There are a thousand competing ideas about everything from how to train teachers, how to fund education, the subjects to be taught, and even the way classrooms should be laid out! This sort of hubris pervades these articles: we know how to fix this problem if only governments would step up and give us the money to do it.

So what is the connection to girls’ education, other than that girls are obviously affected by this? Firstly, they are disproportionately affected: in this video on UNESCO’s “reaching out-of-school children” page makes the point to mention that “poor, rural girls are most likely” to not be in school. Secondly, as quoted in the Education International article, GPE CEO Alice Albright is quoted as saying “Girls are being killed for going to school.” The most famous recent example is Malala Yousafzai, as covered by Laura here on ED4GIRLS. This is obviously an extreme example of how girls are intentionally kept out of school, but they fail to mention child marriage, girls’ home-based labor, and plain sexism as contributing, though less news-worthy, factors.

On Global Citizen’s About page, they use a phrase I have no problem with: “we need to learn and take action to change the rules that trap [those in extreme poverty] in broken systems.” Here it is – this is a supremely complex issue that requires systemic change across a broad range of issues, governments, cultures, and peoples. The fact that 57 million children are not in basic education programs is not one that can be solved by an injection of $26 billion, or any other amount. And certainly not in 2 years.

Education International. (2013, October 22). GPE launches campaign to get every child into school. Retrieved October 22, 2013 from http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/2727

Global Citizen. (2013, October 2). Call on world leaders to fully fund education world-wide. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://www.globalcitizen.org/Content/Content.aspx?id=dc404fd0-99dc-46ef-b50e-061df4b8b088

Global Citizen. (n.d.). About Global Citizen. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.globalcitizen.org/AboutUs/AboutUs.aspx?typeId=15

UNESCO. (2013, June 5). 57 Million children out of school. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft5sDJG054w

UNESCO. (2013, June 10). Reaching out-of-school children. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/reaching-oosc.aspx

UNESCO Media Services. (n.d.). Funding gap for education growing, according to new figures released by UNESCO. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/in-focus-articles/funding-gap-for-education-growing-according-to-new-figures-released-by-unesco-study-also-proposes-ways-to-close-it

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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.

Female education affects child mortality rates

According to recent reports by UNESCO, allowing females to complete secondary education could decrease the under-five mortality rates in India and Nigeria by 61 and 43 percent, respectively. Aarti Dhar, reporter for Indian newspaper The Hindu, writes that completing secondary school causes girls to marry later, creating a higher maturity of both body and mind when they have children. Not only that, but also the academic and worldly knowledge gained in school allows mothers to better care for their babies.

In terms of mothers’ well-being, the 2012 World Mothers Report ranks India 119th and Nigeria 123rd out of 165 surveyed countries. This ranking is based on mothers’ health, educational and economic statuses. The article states that there are many “simple solutions” to improve children’s health, such as mosquito nets and clean water, but that these things are only effective if women are taught to use them. Of course he is correct, but to consider clean water a simple solution is a bit ambitious. Dhar also discusses several prevalent causes of child mortality, such as pneumonia and diarrhea. These diseases are largely preventable with appropriate vitamins and nutrients, and proper hygiene. By completing school, not only would mothers know the necessary nutrients and hygiene rules but Dhar asserts that they would have a stronger voice in the home.

An article I recently read by Jane Parpart entitled Deconstructing the Development Expert discusses the vulnerability of women in third world countries. During colonization (and even before) it was challenging to attend school no matter one’s gender, but men have historically been provided with greater opportunity. This led to the subordination of women due to poverty, a lack of education, and powerlessness.

Parpart discusses Women in Development (WID), an approach to the development of third world countries that is superimposed with feminism. Parpart argues that though those in WID may mean well, the discourse associated encourages practitioners to undervalue the knowledge and expertise of impoverished, primitive people – even women – perpetuating their general powerlessness. She brings to light a new “empowerment approach” to development that calls for a new definition of the word ‘development’ itself. This approach is grounded in the expertise and knowledge of the women in developing countries, and uses the experiences from their daily lives to determine what is needed in their lives and communities.

Applying this division of post-structuralism to Dhar, people tend to see their own problems above others’. If women were consulted about their desires and necessities in the community, I would speculate many of their concerns would focus on their rights – particularly those pertaining to education and health. Imagine if this approach were applied in every developing community. How many more health clinics would there be? Schools? Universities?

In this article, Dhar merely states facts and findings from recent UNESCO studies. Taken at face value, the credibility is negligent; however, once applied to recent readings and development theory, his writing becomes a succinct summary of what the development world should aim to achieve. Education is a powerful tool. It leads to better health, better job opportunities, a better economic status, and a bigger voice for all members of society, and isn’t that the purpose of development?

Dhar, A. (2013, September 25). Female education linked to under-5 mortality rate. The Hindu. Retreived from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/female-education-linked-to-under5-mortality-rate/article5164829.ece.

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.