Invest in girls’ education for a better post-COVID-19 world

In some countries, millions of girls may not reenroll when schools re-open, making the poorest of them lose half of their total years of education. Here are some actions we need to take now, to make sure girls education remains at the top of the agenda of the post-COVID-19 world priorities.

June 11, 2020 by Suzanne Ehlers, Malala Fund
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3 minutes read
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A school girl draws while her teacher accompanies her. She attends the Bartolome de las Casas preschool in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
A school girl draws while her teacher accompanies her. She attends the Bartolome de las Casas preschool in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
GPE/Carolina Valenzuela

COVID-19 has disrupted education for 1.2 billion students - and Malala Fund research shows that up to 10 million secondary-school aged girls may never return to the classroom.

In some countries, the poorest girls could lose half their total years of education. Out of school, girls are vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy and pressure to take on more unpaid and paid work. When schools eventually re-open, millions of girls may not reenroll due to harmful gender norms and strains on household and government spending.

Helping education systems recover

We need action now to respond to and recover from a looming education crisis. While girls are at home, we must provide them with low-tech, universally accessible distance learning and protect them from harm. We must plan for a quick, comprehensive return to school by setting up systems to monitor reenrollment, gather gender-disaggregated data and incentivize at-risk girls to go back to the classroom.

Second, we have to do more to help education systems recover. In the face of a financial crisis, national governments should not divert funding, continuing to aim to spend 20% of domestic budgets or 6% of gross national income on education. The international community can help relieve pressure on budgets, through coordinated actions like debt relief and special drawing rights.

Recovery requires more funding

To meet unprecedented new demand for emergency support, donors should give to funds like the Global Partnership for Education. Canada is supporting UNICEF to distribute emergency education kits and the U.K. has made an early contribution to Education Cannot Wait’s COVID-19 appeal - but these are only first steps and donors must do much more.

Local activists - first responders in the education crisis - are already working to keep girls learning. Malala Fund stepped up its support for our Education Champions, leaders in 8 countries who are at the heart of our work around the world.

Haroon Yasin has translated Pakistan’s curriculum into a cartoon series, with a goal to reach one million children through a mobile app. In Nigeria, Kiki James is working with teachers to broadcast distance learning radio programs in 12 states.

For governments, recessions are daunting, and cuts to social spending may seem the only solution to dealing with falling revenues. This is short-sighted and bad business.

The return on investment in girls’ education is huge, both for the planet and our prosperity.

Research in 2018 found that if every girl around the world received 12 years of quality education, they could add up to $30 trillion to the global economy.

Another study shows that girls’ education and health are the 6th most effective solution for reducing carbon in the environment, ranking above solutions like solar energy or electric vehicles.

Leaders like Haroon and Kiki know we can build back better after COVID-19. Our education systems can be more resilient to future shocks, better financed and driven by gender equality.

Governments, both donor and recipient, can model more integrated and holistic solutions through their funding. Girls can lead the way in rebuilding thriving, green economies.

But to do so, we must be bold enough to invest - and to educate - our way out of this crisis.

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Read all the blogs in the "Financing our future" series

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