In many ways, girls’ education is a success story in global development. Relatively simple changes in national policies – like making primary schooling free and compulsory – have led to dramatic increases in school enrollment around the world. In Uganda, for example, enrollment increased by over 60 percent following the elimination of primary school fees.
As more young people have enrolled in school, gaps in educational attainment between boys and girls have closed. According to UNESCO, by 2014, “gender parity (meaning an equal amount of men and women) was achieved globally, on average, in primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary education.”
Yet, more than 250 million children are not in school. Many more drop out before completing primary school. And many young people who attend school do not gain basic literacy skills. These challenges remain particularly acute for poor girls.
In a new paper, published in Population and Development Review, we explore recent progress in girls’ education in 43 low- and middle-income countries. To do so, we use Demographic and Health Survey data collected at two time points, the first between 1997 and 2007 (time 1), and the second between 2008 and 2016 (time 2).
All schools are different. I’m not referring to the building, the number of students or teaching practices. I’m talking about the school’s spirit. When you walk into a good school, the building is often well-organized and clean. The students look busy and happy. You don’t see strict discipline; ideally, you see organized chaos.
When you see a well-functioning school, most likely, there is a good principal behind it. A leader who sets a vision for the school and sets clear objectives. Someone who creates the space that fosters teachers’ professional and personal development, and encourages students’ personal growth, creativity, and their own journey of discovery.
Running a school efficiently is a very difficult challenge. A principal must be a pedagogical leader to dozens of teachers: observing them in the classroom, evaluating institutional performance, and helping them get the professional development opportunities they need. Principals have to deal with hundreds of students and their personal and academic challenges. They need to respond to parents, each with their own expectations for the school. And principals also need to contend with the administrative and financial burdens imposed by the bureaucracy.
Todas las escuelas son distintas. No hablo del edificio, del número de estudiantes, ni del enfoque pedagógico que siguen. Hablo del espíritu de la escuela. Al entrar a un buen colegio, uno a veces ve que todo está bien organizado y limpio. Los estudiantes se ven ocupados, y al mismo tiempo, felices. No necesariamente se observa disciplina estricta, idealmente, uno ve un caos organizado.
Cuando una escuela funciona bien, en gran medida se debe a que existe un buen director. El buen director establece una visión y objetivos para la escuela, y puede hacer de ella un espacio efectivo de desarrollo profesional y personal para los maestros, y un espacio de crecimiento, creatividad y descubrimiento para los alumnos.
Lograr que una escuela funcione bien es una tarea extremadamente compleja. Requiere que el director se constituya en un líder pedagógico de decenas de profesores, observándolos en el aula, monitoreando permanentemente su desempeño con sus alumnos y en su contribución al trabajo institucional. Así podrá el director desplegar las capacidades de su cuerpo docente de manera efectiva y darles apoyo en lo que necesiten. Requiere lidiar con cientos de estudiantes y sus retos personales y académicos; y con los padres de familia de esos estudiantes, que tienen sus propias expectativas sobre la escuela. Además, debe lidiar con los retos burocráticos, administrativos y financieros para hacer funcionar la institución.
When we speak of gender equity in education in developing countries, and particularly in the South Asian context, we immediately think of the disadvantages girls face in access to education. The case in Sri Lanka, however, will make you think twice.
While most of South Asia still faces the gender gap challenge in favor of boys, we think that Sri Lanka’s educational gender gap favors girls. Like their counterparts in most high-income countries, Sri Lankan girls are consistently outpacing boys both in terms of educational access and achievement.
The last 15 years have witnessed the largest global expansion of tertiary education in recent history due to a 60 percent growth in student enrollment. India’s performance is even more dramatic—tertiary education expanded almost a spectacular threefold, from 8.4 million students in 2000-01 to 23.8 million in 2013-14. The number of tertiary education institutions has also increased significantly.
Globally, more than 700 million women alive today married before the age of 18. Each year, 15 million additional girls are married as children, the vast majority of them in developing countries. Child marriage is widely considered a violation of human rights, and it is also a major impediment to gender equality. It profoundly affects the opportunities not only of child brides, but also of their children. And, as a study we issued this week concludes, it has significant economic implications as well.
Parents love their children.
Farming is hard work.
The child is reading a book.
Children work hard at school.
These are the sentences that women ages 25-34— who reported their highest level of education as being primary school or less — were asked to read as part of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Woman’s Questionnaire.
See if you can spot the pattern:
- “Although the quantity of schooling has expanded rapidly, quality is often abysmal.” (Kremer et al.)
- “Between 1999 and 2009, an extra 52 million children enrolled in primary school…Yet the quality of education in many schools is unacceptably poor.” (Krishnaratne et al.)
- “Progress over the last decade in regards to school access and enrollment has been promising.” But “current learning levels for primary as well as secondary school students are extremely low in much of Sub-Saharan Africa” (Conn)
- “The most consistent focus of investment has been on increasing primary and secondary school enrollment rates… More recently, however, attention has begun to swing toward the quality of schools and the achievement of students—and here the evidence on outcomes is decidedly more mixed.” (Glewwe et al.)
- “Over the past decade, low- and middle-income countries have made considerable progress in increasing the number of children and youth who enroll in school and stay long enough to learn basic skills… Learning in many low- and middle-income countries remains appallingly low.” (Murnane & Ganimian)
Again and again, we hear the refrain: access is improving, but learning lags. Thankfully, an increasing number of studies reveal interventions that work – and those that don’t – to improve learning around the world.
One of the biggest economic benefits of schooling are labor market earnings. For many people, education and experience are their only assets. This is why I believe that it’s very important to know the economic benefits of investments in schooling.