Increasing our Focus on Girls’ Education
by Alan Bobbett, Building Tomorrow
A few months ago I met a grandmother.
That’s not so remarkable, until I tell you that she is only 25.
No matter how you calculate the math and circumstances that result in a young lady becoming a grandmother at age 25, it is horrific. There is no instant panacea that will make instances like this history. In this particular case, I can point to a long civil war, with its attendant atrocities, as well as child marriage, poverty, and other factors as contributory, but I really started the story this way to make the point that in our drive for accurate statistics with which to make decisions, we must never lose sight of the fact that those statistics point to real people, with real stories, and with very real barriers to overcome.
One of the most effective known buffers against children having children is education for girls.
There is a lot of discussion about gender inequality around education, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 75 percent of girls begin school, but only 8 percent finish. Worldwide, the poorest women in rural areas spend less than three years in school, in both low and lower-middle-income countries. I spoke with an African educator who stated of his country, “Here one can find children who have less education than their grandparents. This is one of the only parts of the world where this is true.” Of course, we also want to see that boys have access to schooling, which they do not in many parts of this globe, but we know that improving access for girls will also improve access for them.
We cannot forget that in parts of the world girls’ lives may be in danger if they attend school. Well known incidences, such as the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan or the abduction of the 300 Chibok girls in Nigeria have drawn some attention to this, but much more needs to be done to insure girls’ rights to an education and to safety while doing so.
As the new millennium dawned in 2000, governments, civil society, UN agencies and others committed to achieving the six Education For All (EFA) goals set out in the Dakar Framework for Action. In the same year, UN member states committed to the Millennium Development Goals, two of which pledged to ensure that every child would receive a full primary education by 2015, and that there would be parity in access to education for girls and boys.
We’ve not yet reached those milestones, but progress has been made. As we move from the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the next 15 year effort will require all out participation to increase girls’ access to education. The 4th and 5th stated goals for 2030 are ambitious: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” and “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
The results of educating young women are phenomenal. Case studies show improvements in a nation’s productivity, agriculturally and elsewhere, and sustained economic growth, when girls attend and complete school. Other studies point to reduced infant and maternal mortality; checked population growth; healthier and better-educated children; reduced rates of HIV and Malaria and reduced rates of Child Marriage. Many of these impact other SDGs, yet, with all these attendant benefits, since a small peak in 2009, education spending has steadily diminished as a percentage of GDP in many countries. Reports released in 2013 showed that while total Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) from mega-funders such as America’s USAID and the UK’s DFID rose by 11 percent, aid to basic education declined by 7 percent.
Our Chief Dreamer, George Srour, repeatedly talks of whether or not we at Building Tomorrow are going to be satisfied with simply making an impact, or, if we are going to solve a problem. We are directly involved with evidence based strategies that are proven to increase girls’ school attendance, such as making schools affordable; improving access to clean water, providing sanitation and hygiene improvements; reducing the time and distance to schools; improving the quality of education and increasing community engagement.
I am not new to development work, having spent decades working both domestically and internationally on projects across multiple sectors. I can tell you without reservation that much of development work ceases as soon as outside inputs and funding stop. The interventions are simply not sustainable, as they consistently rely on external funding. Work such as Building Tomorrow does, empowering communities to “own” their schools by requiring community labor and land contributions, training them to manage the schools and adding accountability pieces for teachers and students while partnering with government to insure the placement and pay of qualified teachers makes it unique among educational development institutions. Our model is scalable, and effective.
Remember, these are not just statistics, these are proven interventions that can limit the presence of 25 year old grandmothers, and impact countless generations to follow. In the West, we often take our access to education for granted, while much of the world does not have the same opportunity. Let’s not stop until we reach the goal of inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all, and all of our daughters, sisters, mothers and grandmothers truly have gender equality and are empowered. It is one of the most important efforts in the world.
Alan Bobbett is the Director of Operations at Building Tomorrow
About Building Tomorrow
Building Tomorrow envisions a world where every child with a desire to learn has a safe, permanent and local place to do so. Building Tomorrow catalyzes communities and individuals in support of access to quality education for students in East Africa. We do this by empowering young people to invest their time, talents and resources in support of new educational opportunities; facilitating the construction of community-built, locally-sustained primary schools; and building the human capacity and leadership of locally-based school management teams.
 Winthrop, Rebecca and Eileen McGivney. 2014a. “Raising the Global Ambition for Girls Education.” Global Views Policy Paper 2014-5. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution
 Clinton Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Economist Intelligence Unit, and World Policy Analysis Center, 2015. The Full Participation Report: No Ceilings. Full Participation Project. New York: Clinton Foundation
 The Education for All (EFA) goals are six internationally agreed education goals which aimed to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015. An overview of the goals is available here: www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/education-for-all/efa-goals/.
school by 2015; more information is available here: www.un.org/millenniumgoals/
 Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, United Nations, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld
 Sperling, Gene B., Winthrop, Rebecca & Kwauk, Christina. 2016 “What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution
 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TOTL.GD.ZS
 Steer, Lisbet & Smith, Katie. 2015 “Education plus Development: It’s Time to Reverse Declining ODA to Education”. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution