March 5, 2009—In a speech to his fellow Ghanaians in the early 1900s, the visionary educator, Dr. J.E. Kwegyir Aggrey, declared, “The surest way to keep a people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.”
The good news today is that girls have crowded into school in record numbers over recent decades.
They have shrunk the gender gap with boys, and won significant economic, social, and development gains for themselves and their communities, says a new Bank report.
Overall primary school enrollments for girls in poor countries jumped from 87 percent in 1990 to 94 percent in 2004, with also more girls than ever before now in secondary school, according to the report, Girls’ Education in the 21st Century: Gender Equality, Empowerment, and Economic Growth.
Girls’ education is key to lasting development. The business case for continuing to invest in girls’ education is beyond question, even in the teeth of the global financial and jobless crisis, write Joy Phumaphi, World Bank vice president for human development and Danny Leipziger, World Bank vice president for poverty reduction, in the foreword of the report.
“Women’s economic empowerment is essential for economic development, growth, and poverty reduction—not only because of the income it generates, but also because it helps to break the vicious cycle of poverty,” they write.
The surge in enrollments is the result of the cardinal importance that governments and donors have attached to girls’ schooling over the last 20 years, says Mercy Tembon, country manager for Burundi, who is both a contributing author and the editor of the report.
It is also the result of the successful reach of scholarships, stipends, conditional cash transfers (CCTs), female teacher recruitment, free text books for girls, and other gender-related policies, she adds.
High School: New Gender Fault Line
While disparities are fading at primary school, fewer girls than boys are getting to high school. Secondary classrooms are the new gender fault-line where inequalities in both learning and earnings potential gather force and persist, the report says.
Especially hostage to under-achieving within the secondary system are girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, who live in small rural villages that are caught up in conflict, come from minority clans, or struggle with a disability.
“Here’s the challenge—and it goes beyond getting girls into high school and making sure they show up every day with their homework done—it’s all about helping them to master the life and job skills that will transform their lives,” says Tembon. She urges greater use of scholarships and conditional cash transfers to drive both the supply and demand sides of female education.
Education in Conflict Areas
Approximately half the world’s 70 million out-of-school children currently live in conflict-affected and fragile states.
The report offers insights into the challenges of educating children and teenagers in war-torn communities.
Professor Jackie Kirk, a gender specialist who was killed last year in Afghanistan, contributed a chapter on girls’ education in the country. The report is dedicated in memory of Professor Kirk.
Governments, development agencies, NGOs, and others cannot afford to row back on educating girls and boys under these dangerous conditions, no matter how challenging and difficult the task proves, Tembon says.
The quality of education (what students know), not educational attainment (how long students stay in school), determines the economic success of individuals and economies, according to Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, a contributor to the report. This quality affects the education and income outcomes of both girls and boys.