Girls’ Education: Issues and Impact

Value of Educating Girls:
Is it possible to put a price on girl’s education? The answer is yes. It is estimated that the economic cost to 65 low and middle income countries of failing to educate girls to the same standard as boys is US $92 billion per year. There investment in girl’s education delivers real returns – not just for individuals but for the whole society.

Economic and Social Impact:
Failure to educate girls has a direct impact both on their families and on wider society. A number of studies have shown that increasing the number of girls benefiting from education has a positive effect on a country’s per capita economic growth. This is true for both primary and secondary education. A World Bank study examined the effect of girls’ education in 100 countries. It found: “An exogenous increase in girls’ access to education creates a better environment for economic growth…the result is particularly strong for middle income countries. Thus, societies that prefer not to invest in girls pay a high price for it in terms of slower growth and reduced income”.
Cross-country studies examining the impact of female education on GDP consistently demonstrate positive effects. Considering factors such as the lower fertility rates of educated women, increasing the share of women with secondary education by one percentage point increases a country’s annual per capita income growth by an average of 0.3 percentage points. Educated women are more likely to enter the formal labor market, where earnings are higher than those of informal or home-based work. Women with secondary schooling see significant results. In countries with a tradition of dowries or bride prices the perceived value of a potential bride grows with education. Educated female farmers raise productivity and their returns can exceed those of men. Hence increasing female secondary education and reducing gender disparities lead to economic growth.
The social impact of female education is profound. Most prominent is the role of mothers’ education in reducing infant and child mortality, lowering fertility, and promoting children’s education. On average, infant mortality declines 5-10% for each year of girls’ education. Results in Africa indicate a 40% in child survival for mothers with 5 years of primary education. Women with secondary education reduce their fertility by 2 or more children compared with uneducated mothers. A study of 14 countries suggest that an additional year of mothers’ education raises the likelihood of children’s enrollment by 1-6 percentage points. Greater control over family finances directly affects children, as women are more likely to spend discretionary resources on investments in human capital – health, education and food. HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects females, particularly teenage girls. Educated women are better able to reduce risky behavior by negotiating safe sex with partners. Education also empowers women to fend off domestic violence. Evidence from Bangladesh and India reveals fewer beatings among women with some education. Education leads to higher social standing, more independence, and greater autonomy in women’s lives and in the household.
With all these positive impacts on economic and social development, countries cannot afford to neglect girls’ education.

Some Statistics:
The United Nation’s Convention on the rights of the Child (1988) and the Millennium Development Goals (2000) committed the international community of governments, international organizations and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) to work to provide education for all girls and boys and to eliminate gender disparities at both primary and secondary level. to girl’s education has yielded results. In 2005, the net enrollment rates 85% for girls, up from 78% 15 years earlier. At the secondary school level, the enrollment rate went up 10% to 57% during the same time period. This global improvement is reflected at the national level. Between 1999 and 2005, 17 additional countries achieved gender parity in primary school attendance, bringing the total proportion that have done so to almost two-thirds (63 per cent). At secondary level, nineteen countries reached gender parity between 1999 and 2005. But only one out of every three countries (37 per cent) has as many girls as boys at secondary schools. But wide differences remain between different regions and countries and even within countries. Girls still account for 60 per cent of children out of school in Arab countries and 66 per cent of non-attendees in South and West Asia. By contrast, more girls than boys attend schools in many countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and Western Europe.
Countries in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the worst record on educating girls to secondary level. India alone misses out on potential economic growth worth about $33bn per annum. Other major losers include Turkey ($20bn) and Russia ($9.8bn). Nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a gap of 10 percentage points or more between the proportion of girls educated to secondary level and the proportion of boys. Yet, despite this poor record, the region’s total lost annual growth ($5.3bn) is limited by the small size of its economies. By contrast, just two countries in South and Central America fail to educate girls to the same standard as boys. Indeed, many have more girls in secondary education than boys.

The Issues:
Although global progress has been made in girls’ education, there a lot of issues to be resolved, and barriers to be overcome. Despite improvement, secondary school enrollment of both boys and girls is low in most regions. Bringing more girls into secondary schools require not just building and staffing more schools, but taking into account the social, geographic and financial barriers.
There are a lot of economic and social barriers when it comes to education, particularly girls’ education. I will try and list some of the main barriers in this section:
Exclusion Barrier: Social exclusion sidelines certain groups, denying them social rights and protections that should be extended to all citizens. Exclusion leads to lower parental demand for schooling and to inadequate and sub-standard public supply. Parents want to keep children home for many reasons from a general resistance to change, to a desire to retain a separate ethnic identity, to disinterest in what schools have to offer. Some parents identify discrimination and mistreatment by schools and teachers as a reason to keep their children out of school. Direct opportunity costs, lack of employment opportunities upon graduating and low returns to those who have attended school also keep excluded children out of school.
Gender Barrier: Families may have a preference for educating boys over girls, given better labor market opportunities for boys and the fact that girls in many societies are “married away”, and no longer providing for their own families. Some administrative rules specifically affect girls and erect significant barriers. Two important administrative rules that affect girls’ participation in schools are – single-sex schools (the requirement to provide single-sex schools, common in the Middle East, often restricts the supply of schools for girls), and expelling pregnant and married girls from school.
Language Barrier: In many countries the language of instruction in primary schools is a national or regional language, even though large shares of the population speak a different mother tongue. Rule regarding the language of instruction often disproportionately affect girls particularly in communities that seclude women.
Lack of Schools in Remote Communities: Most of the world’s poor people live in rural areas. And distance to school increases the opportunity cost of school attendance and the security risk to children (especially girls) walking to school, and hence remains a highly constraining factor in school participation.
Poor Quality of Schools: Given the value of child labor in household production, sending children to school can be viewed as not worth the effort when the quality of the school is poor. There is considerable evidence on the quality of schools for poor people in developing countries: the schools are poor. Teachers are less qualified and often less likely to come to work, fewer hours of instruction are offered, teaching methods emphasize rote learning more than investigation, textbooks and instructional materials are less likely to arrive on time, and the physical infrastructure of the school is more likely to lack electricity, water, sanitary facilities and other basic features. The quality of school affects learning, progress and completion.
Discrimination: Unconscious discrimination, stereotypes, and expectations affect opportunities, motivation and interpersonal behavior. These factors have particularly strong effects on student performance in heterogeneous schools and classrooms.

Conclusions and Recommendations:
Educating girls helps meet the economic growth and social development objectives. When given an opportunity, girls perform even or better than boys in school – both in rich and poor countries, But Heterogeneity matters – girls excel in more ethnically homogeneous countries.
Here are some of the strategies to addressing the exclusion of girls in schools:
Altering education policies and addressing discrimination: This can be done anti-discrimination legislation, affirmative action and preferential policies in education, and removing the administrative rules that are barriers.
Expanding Options for Schooling: increasing school supply, establishing community schools, and creating alternatives to formal schooling. Community schools are the ultimate means of giving parents voice in the running of local schools, and are particularly valuable in reaching girls by offering flexibility in timing, venue, and curriculum, which accommodate the domestic demands, safety concerns, and relevancy requirements of parents.
Improving Quality and Relevance of Schools and Classrooms: Providing basic inputs (physical facilities, writing material and textbooks), offering mother tongue based teaching and bilingual education, and strengthening curricula making them more open to diversity. Giving gender diversity training for teacher, and improving teacher accountability and quality is also very crucial for improving the quality of education.
Creating Incentives for Households to Send Girls to School: Conditional cash transfers (example – Bolsa Familia program in Brazil), scholarships for girls, and school feeding programs are some of the incentives that can be provided.
Expanding the Knowledge Base About What Works: Create a girls’ education evaluation fund that would finance evaluation of initiatives to build the knowledge base for policy.

Girls’ education is crucial for the betterment of humanity. And the challenge is not only give girls the opportunity for schooling, but to address the factors to improve their retention in school. And better understanding the nature of barriers that lead to their exclusion in various countries, is the first step.


About pritamkabe

Originally from Bombay, India. Relocated to the United States in 1997 for attending graduate school at The University of Texas. Completed my Masters in Electrical Engineering in 1999 and then worked in the Hi-Tech industry for the next 11 years in Austin, Texas. I have a passion for travelling, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures...and i've been very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to travel quite a bit. Sports and food are my other big passions in life. Some life-changing experiences in my life a years ago changed my perspective of life, after which, just have an engineering job was not meaningful to me anymore. Hence i quit my engineering career, and I'm now motivated to give back to society and make a positive impact in some way. To get started on that journey, i went back in graduate school, and recently graduated as a "Mid-Career Fellow in Foreign Service", from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, at Georgetown University, Washington DC. Currently in New Delhi, India, on a research fellowship, to learn about the educational issues in India, and brainstorm my ideas about technological interventions for resolving those issues.
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