Now In School, But Not Learning: Taking the Next Step on Girls’ Education
by Erin Kelly, Women Thrive Worldwide
Around the world, more girls than ever before have access to an education, thanks partly to the Millennium Development Goals' focus on universal access to education. That's the good news. But though girls now have access to school at record levels, there are many differences from one region to the next and many are not receiving a quality education once they're in school. This ‘silent crisis' affects millions of girls around the world and is preventing them from pulling themselves -- and their families -- out of poverty.
Women Thrive is working with our partner organizations worldwide to improve learning for both girls and boys so that they have increased economic opportunity and can reduce poverty in their communities. We're advocating to ensure that when the Millennium Development Goals are renewed in 2015, there is a goal dedicated to learning, not just accessing school. Most importantly, we're working to ensure that the women from every region of the world can influence the process of developing these goals, so that the post-2015 development agenda reflects the experiences and the aspirations of women and the communities they represent. The grassroots organizations in our Global Partnerships Network work in communities around the world, and we help facilitate their involvement in global processes: in education, for example, by helping them participate in the online UN thematic consultation on education.
From what we're hearing from our partners, the problem is clear. Increased access to school has not been accompanied by an increase in educational quality and relevance. Therefore, many children are now going to school but not gaining the basic skills they need to thrive in their communities. But we also know there's no one size fits all solution. Many of our global partners have reiterated that education must have a purpose beyond sitting in a classroom and it must lead to opportunities for a better life: the education children receive should actually be useful. That means, for example, that if it's a rural school, agricultural skills and farming techniques should be a core part of the curriculum. These literacy, numeracy, and basic life skills will encourage life-long learning, enable boys and girls to be productive members of society, and increase economic opportunity for all.
And while curricula, skills and literacy are vitally important, we're also hearing that teacher quality and parental involvement are paramount to making sure that children -- especially girls -- learn in schools. For some groups in our network, the focus is getting parents and society at large to understand the importance of girls' education so they can facilitate an environment where girls can learn. Barriers such as cultural attitudes towards girls, families' access to childcare, girls' work in the home, and extremely limited household income all contribute to making it more difficult for girls to learn. The goal is to create a generation of educated parents who are more likely to invest in own their children's education, creating a life-long cycle of learning that benefits all.
Lack of education has long-term consequences for entire communities. The Papua New Guinea Education Advocacy Network (PEAN), one of our partners, says one of the biggest issues is that "lack of education continues to make women vulnerable to violence." Gender-based violence can often keep girls out of school, but lack of education can also make women and girls more susceptible to gender-based violence, affecting entire families and communities.
By investing in solutions that help girls and boys learn in an equitable manner and by bringing the voices of women around the world to the table, we hope to level the playing field and give all children the tools that they will need as adults: to advance, to fulfill their potential, to earn a sustainable livelihood and to raise healthy children.
Erin Kelly is the Manager of Communications and Outreach at Women Thrive Worldwide.