In sub-Saharan Africa, low educational attainment for girls leads not only to earnings losses, but also to child marriage and early childbearing, lack of decision-making ability in the household, higher risks of intimate partner violence, and higher risks for children to be stunted or die before age five. These effects are pervasive, as illustrated in recent reports for Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Chad-Mali-Niger-Guinea.
Equality must start at school
Yet, education for all matters, too. Higher levels of educational attainment for boys as well as for girls tend to be associated with lower levels of violence in adult life. But in addition, how boys are taught in school is essential to change social norms that are detrimental to women.
As gender-based violence remains widespread in schools, it may be reproduced in adult life. Violence in school is sometimes perceived by boys as an expression of their masculinity. Instead, schools should be safe. They should promote a culture of mutual respect between all learners.
Governments play a leading role in efforts to improve educational opportunities for boys and girls alike, but civil society can help too, including by testing innovative approaches that can later be scaled up by governments, and by holding schools accountable to parents and students at the local level.
Women-led initiatives to improve education
This was a key message of the event organized on March 6 ahead of International Women’s Day by GPE and Rotary International at the World Bank on the theme “Equality for Education.” Apart from Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, speakers included Keiko Miwa of the World Bank, and Geeta Manek, Carolyn Johnson and Brenda Erickson from Rotary. The purpose of the event was to share successful initiatives led by women to improve literacy.
- Alice Albright announced that gender inequality would be at the core of the new GPE strategy being prepared. Together with Geeta Manek, she also announced a new partnership with Rotary International to improve education and school accountability with a focus on Kenya.
- Carolyn Johnson talked about an innovative project in Guatemala to improve literacy among indigenous populations through teacher training, a low-cost textbook rental program, literacy materials, and computer labs. Together with intensive teacher training, the textbook program has helped decrease the middle school dropout rate by almost half, and more than 80% of graduates use their computer skills to further their education or get higher-paying jobs.
- Brenda Erickson talked about Souns – a Montessori-minded, early literacy program through which educators and parents acquire tools to help children build their literacy skills by introducing a concrete letter in association with its most common sound in the child’s language. The child first learns individual letter sounds, then how to build words by listening to spoken sounds, and finally how to read words by sounding out the letters. Souns is easy to implement, does not require extensive training, and utilizes durable materials. Sustainability has been the key to progress as experienced teachers train new teachers.
The event demonstrated how all of us, whether though our professional or volunteer work, can make a difference towards achieving SDG 4, namely to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Watch a recording of the event
Watch interviews with Brenda, Carolyn and Geeta
If you are interested in learning more or would like to contribute, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the Rotary Club of Washington Global that we just create with a core group of professionals based in Washington DC, as well as members from other locations in the US and abroad. Our aim is to share knowledge on best practices with nonprofits and other organizations on how to implement great service projects, including for girls’ education.