The global education community is gearing up. On September 19, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will convene a unique summit to consider the state of education worldwide following the unprecedented school closures caused by COVID-19.
Heads of State will discuss actions to put the world on track for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education and to transform education for the challenges and opportunities of our time. It’s no small task.
Policymakers have long recognized the transformative power of girls’ education for development. Experts characterize it as ‘the world’s best development investment,’ pointing to a host of social and economic co-benefits that flow from giving girls more, and better education.
Political attention and increased investment in girls’ education appears to be paying off. At the global level, the number of girls out of school is inching slowly downwards. Girls are also slightly less likely than boys to experience learning poverty — defined as being unable to read and comprehend a simple text by the age of 10.
But aggregate statistics can be misleading. Girls remain almost twice as likely than boys to never set foot in school. In poorer regions and countries, they lag far behind boys on many measures. And even when they do get to the classroom, girls have to contend with gender inequality, discrimination and exploitation in school and as they transition into the world of work and adult life.
Right now, the perils associated with COVID-19, climate change and conflict are causing major setbacks for girls’ education, with girls experiencing these crises first and hardest. Harmful gender norms can also cause reversals, most visible right now in the crisis in Afghanistan.