15 March, 2011

Girls & Education

UNICEF estimates that 93 million children do not currently attend school.

Of that 93 million, 80% are girls.

The highest areas for this are sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia.

Overall, of children of the appropriate age, only 60% attend secondary school. In sub-Sahara Africa that number is 25% (link).

"(I)t is a fundamental human right enshrined in international commitments. From the Millennium Development Goals to the Dakar Declaration, countries have repeatedly committed themselves to achieving universal primary education and eliminating gender disparities at all levels of education by 2015 (link)."

The 26th Article of the UN Declaration of Human Rights reads (emphasis added):

(1) Everyone (including women and the poor) has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. (link

While having adequate supplies and teachers are vital, the first step is getting kids in school. It took years in this country for education to be free (and compulsory) for children. We had to shift our focus from being a human-propelled agriculture society to developing tools and systems that allowed families to be able to send their kids to school and still make a living.Nothing happens in isolation, microfinance, HIV/AIDS education/prevention/treatment. anti-trafficking measures, clean water, etc. all have to be at work also or, for too many children, education will continue to be a dream.

There are other challenges - cultural stigmas against girls (seeing them as less than boys, viewing/treating them as baby-makers and nothing more, etc), providing quality education (a challenge in the U.S. too!),  access to education for all. It is proven that once a girl is educated changes happen in a society.

"Better-educated girls make better decisions at home, at work, and are better prepared as mothers to protect their children’s health from chronic illnesses like HIV AIDS. Long-term, inequalities between girls and boys have significant negative impacts on societies and progress. Girls’ education is fundamental to economic and social development of individuals, families, and nations." ~The UN

It is an scary reality for some, but one that should be encouraging and exciting. Cultural shifts must be made, behavioral and mental changes too. Girls (and therefore women) must be seen as equals in society. They can contribute, grow, govern and impact their communities, countries and world the same as everyone else.

UNICEF outlines five elements for schools:

1. What students bring to learning. What experiences does the learner bring to school, and what particular challenges does she face? Has she been affected by emergencies, abuse, daily labour or AIDS? Has she had a positive, gender-sensitive early childhood experience within her family, her community and her preschool? How different is the language of her home from the language of her school? Has she been sufficiently oriented to the rhythm of schooling?

2. Environment. Is the learning environment healthy, safe, protective, stimulating and gender-sensitive?

3. Content of education. Are the curriculum and materials relevant? Do they impart basic skills, especially in literacy and numeracy? Do they promote life skills and knowledge areas such as gender, health, nutrition, AIDS prevention, peace, or other national and local priorities? How does the content of curriculum and learning materials include or exclude girls?

4. Processes. Are teachers using child-centred teaching approaches? Do their assessments facilitate learning and reduce disparities? Are classrooms and schools well-managed? Are the methods of teaching, learning and support – whether from supervisors, teachers, parents or communities – enhancing or undermining girls’ achievement?

5. Outcomes. What outcomes of basic education do we expect for girls? How can we document how well girls are learning and how well the curriculum furthers their future growth? Learning outcomes should be linked to national goals for education and should promote positive participation in society. (link)

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