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Challenging conventional wisdom about girl’s schooling

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There are many stories about why children fail to enter, attend, or complete schooling, in places like Liberia. As a researcher with the Africa Gender Innovation Lab, I had the opportunity to examine this issue through an impact evaluation of the International Rescue Committee’s Sisters of Success (SOS) program, in Monrovia Liberia.

Our recently released baseline report depicts a different reality than many would expect. Data and findings come from households in Monrovia, Liberia, with 12-15 year old girls who registered for the SOS program.  The extent to which our study results can reasonably represent the results one would expect for other girls in Greater Monrovia depends on how similar girls and households in the study sample are to a representative sample of Greater
Monrovia. Analysis, which can be found in the full report, suggests that they are in fact quite similar.

Here are five interesting findings:                                                                    

  1. 95% of 12-15 year old girls are enrolled in school.   
  2. In this sample, the most common reason for 12-15 year old girls dropping out of school appears to be household financial constraints, but not the need for child labor. And pregnancy and early marriage are both infrequent. Of those girls already dropped out, three-quarters cite household financial constraints. And 50% of girls in school anticipate financial hardship to be the main reason they might drop out in the future. However, girls’ participation in income generating activities is fairly light. While 39% of girls had participated in income generation within the last month, they were only working on average 36 minutes a day. And less than one percent of girls had ever been pregnant, married, or lived with a man. 
  3. We looked for gender gaps in boys’ and girls’ schooling and instead found equality. In study households, there is no gender gap in school enrollment for girls and boys aged 12-15, or aged 6 to 18. And there is no gender gap in household spending on girls’ and boys’ school expenses, or how behind in school girls and boys are. 
  4. Girls and parents in this study sample highly value education. They know the economic returns to education, and are investing in it. Study households have on average 4 children under age 18, 82% of whom are in school. And study households spend on average $504 US dollars in total per year on schooling expenses –about 30% of the annual income of one working adult in Liberia. Girls report that households help them with schoolwork (78%), make girls go to school even when they don’t want to (80%), and attend parent meetings at school (97%). And when asked to guess average monthly earnings by level of schooling, girls’ and guardians’ estimates were in line with reality, and in line with substantial and attractive economic returns to schooling. 
  5. Educational aspirations are extremely high. 96% of girls ideally would like to complete university, and 64% of girls plan to complete university. And when guardians are asked up to what level each child in the household will study, for 95.3% of household girls and 95.7% of boys, the answer is university.  Note, only 2% of girls’ mothers completed university, and almost half did not complete primary.   
Given how different these findings are from some of the conventional wisdom, these findings highlight the need for further and more in-depth work. We will soon be conducting a follow-up survey, which will explore these issues in more depth. Furthermore, as the girls are now two years older, the picture may shift. Also, with the follow-up survey we hope to better understand how enrollment is so high and yet girls are so behind in their schooling – the median girl in the sample is over-age for her grade level by four years.

For more information, see the full baseline report and the executive summary.


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