The Puggle: August 2018 Edition

Before we get to our usual Puggle updates, we have a favor to ask. Please stop and think: do you know any leaders passionate about girls’ education? Encourage them to apply here to be an Echidna Global Scholar at the Brookings Institution. Applications are due October 1st. In this month’s Puggle we report on three books we enjoyed this summer and what we learned in relation to our work on girls’ education.

In Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World, Snigdha Poonam weaves a compelling narrative about six young Indians chasing their dreams. The stories are captivating and telling. They illustrate the urgent need to capitalize on India's youth bulge, which is made up primarily of youth who are uneducated, unemployed, and/or unemployable. We were struck by the growing gap between options and aspirations: “A twenty-year-old in Indore has the same access to information as someone his age in Iowa—and could very well have the same desires. They see no connection between where they live and what they want from their lives.”

There are gendered dimensions that shape and limit these dreamers. Of the six youth Poonam followed, five were men. She hints at why—men are under more pressure to take charge of their family and society. And women with high aspirations are beset by many obstacles, as evidenced by the one story about a woman, which chronicles Richa Singh’s successful bid to become the first female student body president at Allahabad University (excerpt here). Poonam observes: “my wide-ranging forays into the madness of modern India boiled down to the same thing: the anxieties of young men who no longer know their place in the world. What they find hardest to deal with are women who do.”

Chip and Dan Heath—the same all-star brothers who wrote Switch, Made to Stick, and Decisive—most recently bring us insights on The Power of Moments. The book contends that there are certain moments of our lives that are more memorable than others and that we can intentionally create more of these powerful moments. How? By curating some combination of the four elements that typically characterize defining moments: elevation, insight, pride, and connection.

The book is packed with concrete examples and insights that had us thinking about everything from how we celebrate progress to how we engage with loved ones to how we build stronger connections with our grantees. Here are few specific questions the book prompted us to think about:

  • How can education systems create more defining moments (that aren’t high stakes exams)? The book describes how in the U.S. the most memorable moments in high school are sporting events and prom. It gives the example of Hillsdale High School creating a classroom learning moment equally memorable. How can we create more?
  • How can we set girls up for moments of pride? Moments of courage spark moments of pride, and courage is a lot easier to display if you’ve a chance to practice. For example, civil rights activists practiced sit-ins with white allies pretending to be harassing customers. We often ask girls to do very courageous things (stand up against early marriage, study STEM); do we give them enough practice?
  • How do we design more memorable meetings? We’d do well to “break the script” and create more opportunities for connection. A conference without any panel sessions or slides, a one-on-one in the park, a team meeting focused on doing not talking.

Psychologist Christina Spears Brown writes about Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes. She argues that our society is gender obsessed and, because of this, kids learn to believe that gender is a really important and defining characteristic. That makes them (and everyone else in their lives) act in ways that reinforce existing gender stereotypes and limit their capabilities, despite the fact that gender isn't all that important, at least not innately. The way to fight gender stereotypes is to stop labeling everything and everybody with gender, to introduce kids to a range of toys and experiences no matter their gender, to directly name and counter stereotypes when they occur, and to encourage more co-ed grouping.

The book is written for a western parent audience drawing on research conducted in western society. But we were struck that getting towards greater gender equality requires intervening in early childhood so that the skills children practice are not limited by gendered assumptions. It has also made us ask a new question: is there such a thing as over focusing on gender? The author argues that programs only for girls could reiterate for girls that their gender is deterministic of certain characteristics and reinforce, rather than counter, stereotypes.


What did you read this summer? Tell us in the comments below!

The Puggle: July 2018 Edition

Welcome to Echidna Giving’s “Puggle,” where we share monthly updates on news and research related to girls’ education. We’re at the peak of vacation season in the Northern Hemisphere. As photos of happy holiday-ing fill your social media streams, you might feel a twinge of FOMO—the fear of missing out on a joyful vacation. We can’t do much to help with that, but if you’re just coming back from vacation and afraid you’ve missed out on the latest and greatest in girls’ education, we’re here to help! Here’s what happened in July:

The World Bank (in collaboration with the Malala Fund, the Global Partnership for Education, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation) showed that what we should really fear missing out on are the benefits of girls’ education. In Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls, researchers estimate that the global economy is losing out on tens of trillions of dollars because of the large number of girls who do not finish secondary education. The report catalogues how girls’ education could impact earnings, early marriage, population growth, well-being, decision-making, and social capital.

The report is explicit about the shortcomings of these estimates. For instance, they are based on education attainment, which is not a perfect proxy for education given the limited amount of learning that occurs in far too many classrooms. They don’t take into consideration the fact that as more women finish secondary education, the wage returns to secondary education may decline, which would bias the figures upwards. Then again, nor do their calculations take into consideration intergenerational costs, which would bias the figures downwards. When women are not educated, their own children will finish less education and earn lower wages.

Results are out on the World’s First Development Impact Bond in Education. Educate Girls’s intervention exceeded its school enrollment and learning outcome targets. They were able to achieve these results in part by reacting to interim data—because reading and math results were lagging, Educate Girls increased the number of learning sessions and used more targeted instruction. As this blog points out, we do not know whether the same outcomes would have been achieved through traditional financing like government or grant funding.

J-PAL launched A Practical Guide to Measuring Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment in Impact Evaluations. Bottom line: off-the-shelf measures don’t always measure empowerment, but it is possible (and important!) to develop better indicators. The guide describes how an understanding of gender dynamics in the specific context can be used to develop locally relevant indicators that complement internationally standardized ones. Learn more by watching this event at the Center for Global Development or reading Pamela Jakiela’s blog about it.

Seema Jayachandran wrote for the NYTimes on research from development economics showing how “instilling optimism and hope can help lift people out of poverty.” Another example of this comes out clearly in J-PAL’s policy brief on reducing pregnancy among adolescents: “Adolescents who hold optimistic beliefs about their future opportunities may be more likely to avoid risky sexual behaviors and engage in productive economic activities.” That said, there is a fine line between raising hopes and dashing them. “[W]hile moderately high aspirations can provide crucial motivation, unrealistically high aspirations can be so discouraging that they are harmful. Repeatedly falling short can deplete motivation.”

Here’s to finding just the right level of optimism, and maybe even abandoning your FOMO in favor of JOMO (the joy of missing out) this summer.

The Puggle: June 2018 Edition

Welcome to Echidna Giving’s “Puggle,” where we share monthly updates on news and research related to girls’ education. Below we cover news from this eventful month including:

  • Joint commitments to women and girls;
  • Unique perspectives on the question “what about the boys?”;
  • New research findings, particularly on early childhood education; and
  • Events on comparative and international education

Joint commitments related to girls’ education. The G7 summit in Canada in early June catalyzed a $3 billion pledge for girls’ education and the Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education for Girls, Adolescent Girls and Women in Developing Countries commits to “increase opportunities for at least 12 years of safe and quality education for all and to dismantle the barriers to girls’ and women’s quality education, particularly in emergencies and in conflict-affected and fragile states.” It is part of the larger Charlevoix G7 Summit Communique, which recognizes the need to remove barriers to women’s participation in social, economic, and political spheres. Separately, development finance institutions in the seven countries joined together to endorse the “2X Challenge,” a “plan to mobilize $3 billion for investments in developing countries that advance women’s leadership, employment, access to capital and other support for their economic participation and inclusion.”

In addition, the Gates Foundation announced its intention to invest $68 million over four years in improving education systems and learning outcomes. Its strategy focuses on improving learning outcomes and includes a pillar on understanding barriers to girls’ participation through secondary school.

Unique perspectives on the question, “what about the boys?”. UNESCO published a policy paper on Achieving gender equality in education: don’t forget the boys. It discusses the ways in which boys are falling behind (e.g. in Cambodia), and describes how “Actively addressing boys’ disadvantage in education could be transformative in promoting gender equality.” This blog suggests how educating boys for gender justice can be part of a solution.

Research out of the U.S. shows that gender differences are nuanced and show up differently in different contexts. For example, in wealthy neighborhoods girls are more disadvantaged in math—perhaps because there are more opportunities for families to reinforce gender norms.

New research findings, particularly on early childhood education. Save the Children put out a new report collating findings from 20,000 children in 38 countries where the International Development and Early Learning Assessment has been administered. The findings show that most students come to primary school ready in some ways and unprepared in others, and teachers must contend with a wide range of capabilities across their classes. In general, boys and girls have similar outcomes. Where there are differences, girls tend to perform better than boys. But despite this strong performance by girls in the early years, girls are disadvantaged later in education. So there are unanswered questions about what drives these later gaps—and whether anything more can be done in early childhood to mitigate them.

In a new book and accompanying blog, President of Malawi Joyce Banda argues that “by the time African girls turn 10, it is often too late to undo the damage that has already been done.”

What We Can Learn From Ghana's Obsession With Preschool and an accompanying episode of the Rough Translation podcast provides insights about and improving preschool outcomes—and how parents stand in the way. (This is part of a larger set of content from NPR on How to Raise a Human with a lot of great content, including this story: Why Grandmothers May Hold The Key To Human Evolution.)

Events on comparative and international education. The Oxford Symposium for Comparative and International Education, convened by the University of Oxford, the Aga Khan Foundation, and the Global Centre for Pluralism, explored big questions about the future of education under the theme  “Uncertainty, Society and Education.” The event fostered rich dialogue on the role of teachers, the promise of early childhood development, and the importance of social and emotional learning. Read winning essays on these topics here.

Later the same week was the annual, research-focused RISE conference. RISE is “a large scale, multi-country research program developed to answer the question: ‘How can education systems be reformed to deliver better learning for all?’.” The conference explored the latest research related to major elements of education systems including curriculum design, teacher training, assessments, and financing. The meeting concluded with a reminder that making a difference requires linking the nitty-gritty of research with bigger picture lessons for policy. Check out this summary or watch the entire conference stream here.

The Puggle: May 2018 Edition

Welcome to Echidna Giving’s “Puggle,” where we share monthly updates on news and research related to girls’ education. This month we’re diving deep on a topic related to one of the areas in our new strategy: what are the skills and mindsets that adolescent girls need in order to thrive in school and beyond?

It turns out that experts in many different fields have stumbled on the importance of a set of skills that aren’t typical school subjects (reading, math, science), but are enablers of success in education and beyond. Economists talk about the importance of non-cognitive skills. Psychologists talk about personality traits and socioemotional learning. Development scientists stress the importance of self-regulation and executive function. Practitioners use a mix of terminology like soft skills, transferable skills, life skills, and 21st century learning.

The fact that so many disciplines are stressing the importance of learning skills of this nature suggests that we are onto something. But can we define what “something” is? When it comes to adolescent girls in the developing world, what “somethings” are most important? These were the questions that a cross-disciplinary group of researchers came together to grapple with in early May at a workshop hosted by UC Berkeley’s Innovations for Youth (and funded by Echidna Giving).

 From a report by the Chr Michelsen Inst and the Brookings Inst. Click on image to go to source.

From a report by the Chr Michelsen Inst and the Brookings Inst. Click on image to go to source.

Based on the meeting, it’s clear that we have a lot to learn across disciplines on this subject. It’s also clear that our ability to do so is hampered by all the Jingle-Jangle—people talk about the same concepts using different language and use the same language to refer to different concepts. For example, “life skills” can embody everything from financial planning to sexual and reproductive health to social and emotional skills like self and social awareness or some combination thereof, depending on who you talk to. And Prevention Scientists don’t even realize that their research on social and emotional learning is relevant to the life skills conversation, because they don’t use the same language. One potential solution to this problem may come through the Taxonomy Project out of Harvard, which is creating the Rosetta Stone of social and emotional learning frameworks.

In the future, we may get even farther, faster thanks to this work. But even in the present, there were several strong themes and takeaways we reaped from the conversation:

  1. RELATIONSHIPS are an input to building skills and an important outcome in and of themselves. Participants discussed the fact that many soft skills are “caught” more than they are “taught,” and are learned implicitly through relationships from the time a child is born. Much as our relationships teach us skills, relationships themselves are an external asset. And it may be an asset that we undervalue. For example, this paper “argues that education and employment programs are commonly built on an economically-focused “dominant discourse” that...overlooks self-identity and social connectedness factors that are crucial to youth." As one participant put it, “it’s not just cognitive domains we care about, but also affective domains.” Adolescents need to feel relevant, valued, and connected. A single, stable, committed relationship with an adult is predictive of child success.

  2. EARLY & OFTEN is the best time to intervene. The Adolescent Brain: A second window of opportunity builds from a workshop hosted by UNICEF exactly two years before this meeting. It argues that adolescence is a critical time period to establish healthy patterns of behavior and social and emotional learning that can increase positive development trajectories. The report places particular emphasis on the window of early adolescence—ages 9-14 years. Development scientists at the UC Berkeley meeting also stressed the importance of intervening early and often. They shared about key inflection points and salient events for girls, around which interventions can be especially helpful. For instance, nutritional supplements in adolescence can help overcome early nutrition deficits. There is also a window of time when girls have higher levels of testosterone than boys and are willing to take more risk—is there a way to exploit this for good, for example by encouraging academic risks to take on subjects they might otherwise shy away from? The meeting felt like the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can gain from Understanding the Adolescent Brain.

  3. ADULTS mediate outcomes for adolescents. Students will not successfully learn social and emotional competencies unless their teachers model them. And yet we focus very little on the teacher training needed for adults to gain the skills they’re trying to instill in learners.

  4. POWER is part of the equation. If we expect gender equality as an outcome of education, we need to reckon with issues around gender and power. Participants talked about how the language in girls’ education has shifted from “empowerment” to “life skills,” and how taking “power” out of focus may be more palatable, but doesn’t necessarily serve girls. As one participant asked: “Are we trying to prepare girls for life or are we trying to equip them with the skills to change it?” Evidence from Nicole Haberland at the Population Council shows that gender explicit programs—those in which participants discuss issues related to gender and power—are more likely to affect health outcomes than programs silent on gender. They may also reduce violence and increase education. We know too little about the mechanisms for this effect (negotiation? critical thinking? agency?), and about how it affects education outcomes in addition to health outcomes (for example, is it a mechanism for advancing critical thinking?). These are questions worth exploring.

Coming out of the workshop we were left wondering the following: If we had to define a set of core competencies—salient across contexts—could we? What would they be? It’s something our team will be preoccupied with in implementing our strategy: ideas welcome!

Finally, a few time-sensitive opportunities for girls’ education, in case you missed them:

The Puggle: April 2018 Edition

Welcome to Echidna Giving’s “Puggle,” where we share monthly updates on news and research related to girls’ education.

April marked the first full month of a new season (spring for some, fall for others). With the shifting weather, it’s only fitting that we kick off our summary from April with a focus on climate change. In case you missed it, educating girls came up as # 6 on a list of solutions to combat climate change from Project Drawdown, which bills itself as "the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming." By their account, educating girls could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than electric vehicles, clean cookstoves, and conservation agriculture combined. (In addition to pursuing girls’ education as a route to combat climate change, it may also be a necessity to deal with the effects of climate change, from which women suffer more than men.)

It’s no wonder, then, that France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has put some weight behind girls’ education, pledging that "Gender equality is the great cause I’ve chosen for my presidency in France. This issue has no border. One of the key for a better future is girls’ education." Likewise, UK Prime Minister Theresa May pledged £212m in support of Commonwealth girls education, calling “for ‘concrete measures’ to ensure girls in Commonwealth countries spend at least 12 years in education.” And the Malala Fund announced a new cohort of Gulmakai champions: 14 individuals working to advance girl’s education in six countries.

With all this energy and investment going into girls’ education, where should it be channeled?

A recent Twitter debate about "politically-incorrect research findings” is provocative. Lant Pritchett argued that "there is too much attention to inequality within poor countries and not enough to the very low [absolute] levels” given that: (1) "on many individualized indicators of well-being (education, health, malnutrition, self-reported subjective well-being) the gaps between the sexes within poor countries are at least an order of magnitude smaller than the gaps between males in poor countries and females in rich (OECD) countries;" (2) the rich in poor countries are worse off on well-being indicators than the poor in rich countries; and (3) the highest performing students in poor countries score lower than average OECD students on exams like PISA. In the case of girls’ education, addressing the biggest problems standing in the way of most girls—arguably the learning crisis—even though it’s a problem that affects girls and boys alike, may be just as important as focusing on marginalized girls, who are the most behind relative to boys. (In our own work, Echidna hopes to improve education quality for girls and boys, with concerted efforts to ensure girls benefit at least as much as boys from the rising tide.)

And how can you channel your own energy to build a strong organization capable of catalyzing social change?

Our very own Erin Ganju has just published a book with co-author Cory Heyman on Scaling Global Change: A Social Entrepreneur's Guide to Surviving the Start-up Phase and Driving Impact. The book draws on Erin’s and Cory’s experiences growing Room to Read and offers a practical guide for developing program excellence, operational effectiveness, and strategic influence.

Also out this month is a piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by William Meehan and Kim Jonker about “Earning the Right to Scale” by mastering seven elements of nonprofit performance: a clear and well-focused mission, a rigorous strategy, regular impact evaluation, insightful and courageous leadership, talent, funding, and governance. (The piece features Pratham, one of our grantees, as an example of an organization that has brought together these seven elements.)

The Puggle: March 2018 Edition

Welcome to Echidna Giving’s “Puggle,” where we share monthly updates on news and research related to girls’ education. In this update from March, we celebrate the march of progress on five fronts:


 Click on image to download Echidna Giving's latest strategy

Click on image to download Echidna Giving's latest strategy

Closest to home, Echidna Giving launched our new strategy for girls’ education over the next four to seven years. What will we be doing? First, we will fund implementation, research, and scale up on a couple of issues that could accelerate girls’ outcomes: early childhood development and adolescent skills and mindsets.  Second, we will work to support a robust girls’ education ecosystem: we’ll support leaders and fund researchers and advocates who propel more and better work in girls’ education, based on rigorous data and evidence.

We hope you’ll read our new strategy in detail and share thoughts and ideas for how we can best bring our ideas to life.


We’ve come to expect great content on March 8th, and this month was no exception. Here were a handful of favorites for us this year:

UNESCO launched the Global Education Monitoring Report Gender Review. There are no big surprises in terms of gender disparities in access and completion: they are generally at the expense of girls in low income countries and of boys in upper middle and high income countries. We were intrigued by the findings for learning. Gender disparity in math is at the expense of girls in primary but not in lower secondary. And for literacy, girls’ tend to have an advantage in school that they lose by early adulthood. This year’s report also takes a deep dive on accountability, examining formal political and legal commitments to gender equality that can be leveraged to pressure for change.

Global Education Monitoring Report Gender Review

UNESCO also called for nominations to the 2018 Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education; note the May 11 deadline.   

Michelle Obama Talks to R29 about The Power of Girls’ Education (and announces the Obama Foundation’s intention to continue work in this space).

Researchers from the International Centre for Research on Women remind us that we need to talk about men: “While men have more privileges than women, evidence shows that the costs of masculine norms may be steep not only on girls and women, but also on young boys and men.”


UNICEF launched Progress for Every Child in the SDG Era to gauge how we’re doing on progress against SDGs for children. The report highlights that a large proportion of countries are not gathering data on key SDG indicators, something that we hope to see shift in the coming years.

For practical guidance on calculating and interpreting indicators about the most disadvantaged group, check out the new Handbook on Measuring Equity in Education.


UNICEF released new statistics on child marriage that show an uptick in progress over the last decade. In that period, child marriage rates have gone down in 80% of the countries for which UNICEF has data, leading to 25 million fewer child marriages.


Global Grand Challenges is looking for “new innovative ideas that transform teaching or school leadership to better prepare children with the 21st century skills” under their Reinventing Teaching and School Leadership challenge. Application deadline is May 2, 2018.

The Puggle: February 2018 Edition

Welcome to the February installment of The Puggle. This month brought encouraging news on aid to education. The Global Partnership for Education's latest replenishment broke new ground with $2.3 billion in commitments over the next three years (a 75% increase) and attention from top policymakers: President Macky Sall from Senegal and President Emmanuel Macron from France co-hosted the event.

The UK’s Department for International Development unveiled a new education strategy to “Get Children Learning.” It prioritizes (1) support for good teaching, (2) system reform, and (3) targeted support to the most marginalized children. Included in this third category is hard-to-reach girls, for whom DFID will promote 12 years of quality education and learning and investing in improving the life chances of those who do not go on to secondary school.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 reminded us that education alone will not erase gender gaps in areas like economic participation and political empowerment. "Given the continued widening of the economic gender gap, it will now not be closed for another 217 years. However, the education–specific gender gap could be reduced to parity within the next 13 years."

 Figure from the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, available  here .

Figure from the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, available here.

In contrast, the Youth Wellbeing Index suggests that youth at least notionally believe women should have the same rights as men.

 Figure from The Global Youth Wellbeing Index, available  here .

Figure from The Global Youth Wellbeing Index, available here.

Can we meet youths’ expectations that the world will become more gender equitable? Can education work smarter to begin to address some of the remaining gaps? News from this month suggests two potential pathways.

One potential path is universal childcare. Researchers from UN Women argue that universal childcare could unlock change for women and girls across generations. "Good quality, universal and affordable childcare services reduce women’s unpaid care work and enable mothers to access decent quality work because they can leave their children safely; [it] ensure[s] that children get at least one good meal a day, prepare[s] them for school in the crucial and neglected early years, particularly those from disadvantaged households; and can create decent jobs in the social service sector, which tend to be taken up mostly by women."

A study on pre-schools in Mozambique underscores the spillovers for women and older girls that come from providing early childhood education: older siblings went to school more often and adult caregivers went to work more often because they were relieved of their care duties. Of course universal childcare is no small lift - particularly given it must be of high quality for it to pay off - but it could be one route to greater returns on education for gender equality.

A second potential path is comprehensive sexuality education. UNESCO revised its International technical guidance on sexuality education, which now includes recognition of the need to include discussions of gender and power when providing sex education. "While the focus of many studies is on health outcomes, the evolving understanding of comprehensive sexuality education recognizes that this kind of education can also contribute to wider outcomes such as gender equitable attitudes, confidence or self-identity.” We don’t have definitive rigorous research on these non-health outcomes as yet, but perhaps we should.

Looking for more ideas on advancing gender equality? Here is a new resource on Advancing Learning and Innovation on Gender Norms that collates additional ideas and research for changing harmful gender norms for adolescents and young adults. Here are Four Ways to Incorporate a Gender Lens in Your Measurement and Evaluation Efforts. And here are reflections on How Gendered Interactions on the Ground Shape Development.

Are there other pathways to consider or resources for advancing gender equality we should know about? Let us know in the comments below!

The Puggle: January 2018 Edition

Welcome to the January installment of The Puggle. This month, champions spoke up for girls: Oprah made a rousing speech about a future in which “nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again,“ Bono argued that “Closing the gender gap in education could generate $112 billion to $152 billion a year,” Malala urged us to “invest in girls today” and got Apple to do just that.

Girls themselves rose to the occasion: Rwanda celebrated the rising performance of girls on its national exams, teens in the Ivory Coast split schooling and child care shifts in order to stay in school, and girls in Kenya found ways to avoid the traditional Maasai cutting ceremony.

We were also excited to see new data and analysis that informs us about the nature of problems that girls face in getting educated, and what we can do about it. (Speaking of data telling good stories, do you have a story to tell about gender data having an impact? Data2x wants to hear about it, by the end of March.)


The World Bank released a working paper drawing from “the largest globally comparable dataset on education quality,” summarized in this presentation and on this blog. The most worrying finding from this report is not specific to girls. In fact, “gender gaps are relatively small and vary significantly by region.” But it is extremely worrying that “only half the students in developing countries are achieving the basic skills (reading, writing, counting) needed to perform in the labor market...The effect of quality education is three times higher for developing, as compared to developed countries.”

India’s thirteenth Annual Status of Education Report focused for the first time on children ages 14-19. In addition to testing reading and math, volunteers across India assessed how well youth can apply these skills to everyday tasks, whether they use mobile phones, internet, and banking, and what they aspire to do for further schooling and careers.

Year after year the ASER report has revealed that there is a learning crisis in India. This year’s report highlights the real-world consequences. For example, youth were asked to read and interpret the directions on Oral Rehydration Solution packets. Despite the straightforward instructions and the fact that 75% of youth could read, just over half of them could answer three of four simple questions like “How many packets should be mixed with 2 litres of water?”

 Full findings from the 2017 Annual Status of Education Report, available  here .

Full findings from the 2017 Annual Status of Education Report, available here.

The fuller set of findings show that counting money, calculating weight, and telling time are similarly problematic. "Substantial numbers of young people who have completed 8 years of schooling have difficulty applying their literacy and numeracy skills to real world situations." Every year ASER has sounded an alarm about the learning crisis in India. This year's report adds urgency. It’s the first time in history most children in India are completing eight years of school. They have aspirations for further schooling and careers that do not match their "worryingly insufficient levels of learning.” In short, “this generation is moving ahead into an uncertain future."


Although poor performance on the ASER assessment affected both boys and girls, the report reveals that India is a context in which girls perform worse than their male peers. There was a gender gap on almost every task, and the differential was especially large for tasks related to numbers. This could in part be because girls have fewer opportunities to practice their skills. The report found that girls use technology less than boys: "While only 12% of males had never used a mobile phone, this number for females is much higher at 22%...[and] while 49% of males have never used the internet, close to 76% of females have never done so."

Elsewhere, gender parity on average may mask gaps for sub-populations. In Tanzania, for example, girls in the wealthiest households are just as likely to go to secondary school as boys. Girls in the poorest households, however, are less likely to attend than boys.

In cases where disadvantage takes the form of adverse experiences like abuse or neglect, children have the added dimension of trauma, which can have long term effects on health and education.


There are ways to tackle disadvantage, and they pay off. For example, resilience training can help alleviate chronic stress.

Recent research from the RISE program shows that countries that make progress in improving learning outcomes do so by improving outcomes for students at the bottom—akin to the way in which “poverty reduction and growth go hand in hand.”

In a similar vein, this new study by the REAL Center at Cambridge finds that although it costs more to reach the most marginalized girls, the impact per dollar spent is worthwhile.

The Puggle: December 2017 Edition

Welcome to the December installment of The Puggle. This month we are keeping it short and sweet. In the spirit of the holidays and year-end reflections, we are taking a look back at the five greatest gifts of 2017:

  1. THE LEARNING CRISIS HAS TAKEN CENTER STAGE. Why is a crisis a gift? Because you can’t fix a problem unless you admit you have one. And it is now clearer than ever that we have a problem and that it’s a big deal for girls.

  2. THERE IS NEW EVIDENCE TO BRING TO BEAR ON GIRLS’ EDUCATION. To highlight three examples: (1) the World Development Report shows that the learning crisis is not inevitable; (2) a cross-country study by the Population Council reveals where girls face challenges in education and how that differs across countries; and (3) J-PAL’s review of effective ways to increase access to education, disaggregated by gender. This type of evidence brings more nuance to the conversation on girls’ education and helps us to adopt smarter strategies.

  3. WE KNOW MORE ABOUT GENDER THAN EVER BEFORE: how differences that seem biological are influenced by norms, how gender norms are hardwired at a young age and shape what children believe is possible for them, and how those social norms can be changed. It’s clear that gender norms affect boys and girls, women and men alike. They can drive lower educational achievement by boys and preserve male dominance nevertheless. Gender is Not [exclusively] a Women’s Issue.

  4. GOVERNMENTS HAVE TAKEN DECISIVE POLICY ACTIONS IN FAVOR OF WOMEN AND GIRLS. Free secondary education in Kenya, Ghana and Karnataka should benefit girls. Canada launched a Feminist International Assistance Policy. Governments are getting guidance on gender-responsive plans for education and even The Economist is touting gender budgeting. (Yes, this is the “glass half full” take on government policy actions in 2017—not all policies were so favorable for women and girls and even free secondary education won’t be meaningful unless it offers quality learning opportunities.)

  5. We were reminded over and over and over again the CHANGE CAN HAPPEN WHEN WOMEN BAND TOGETHER and draw strength from one another.

Share your "gifts" and wishes for 2018 in the comments below!

  Gifts  by Dave on Flickr, CC: BY-NC-SA.

Gifts by Dave on Flickr, CC: BY-NC-SA.

The Puggle: November 2017 Edition

Welcome to the November installment of The Puggle, where the Echidna Giving team highlights emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education. This month we are excited to share a piece we published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about the Half-Truths That have Sidetracked Girls’ Education. We hope you’ll read our analysis of why we’re falling short of delivering on the promise of girls’ education and add to the discussion. And we’d welcome hearing your reactions and additional “truths” in girls’ education!

As our article points out, when we paint the girls’ education picture with broad strokes, we miss important details about which problems matter most for which girls. New research from the 2017 cohort of Echidna Global Scholars at the Brookings Institution helps deepen our understanding of the types of issues facing specific communities of girls. This year’s cohort examined rural adolescents in India, Maya communities in Mexico, Maasai girls in Kenya, and school-age mothers in Jamaica.

Other research out of the Brookings Institution provides a framework for linking girls’ life skills education to social change. Christina Kwauk and Amanda Braga argue that in order for girls to translate life skills into better lives, they have to be able to exercise their skills in their contexts. They underscore that we can’t place the burden of changing gender unequal societies on girls alone. (This NYTimes article underscores how dangerous it can be when women are forced to “serve as the leading edge of change” in gender equality.)

Complementing this theoretical framework for life skills programming is a recent rigorous review out of the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) examining the effectiveness of life skills programs and girls’ clubs on girls’ well being outcomes. It finds that programs targeting life skills have been successful in changing gender norms and practices and increasing confidence, knowledge, educational achievement, and civic engagement. But the review points out that we don’t know the relative impact of girls’ clubs versus more system-focused initiatives. The authors didn’t find any studies of institutionalized programs like Girl Guides, only externally funded, time-limited programs. That begs the question of sustainability of the programs and the longevity of the gains for girls. Can system-wide efforts like UNICEF’s work to mainstreaming life skills and citizenship education in the Middle East and North Africa impart the same crucial outcomes for girls at wider scale and in a more lasting way?

 The effects of gender discrimination that start at birth and transfer to the next generation. From Plan International's report on Gender Inequality and Early Childhood Development. Click on image to see full report.

The effects of gender discrimination that start at birth and transfer to the next generation. From Plan International's report on Gender Inequality and Early Childhood Development. Click on image to see full report.

Most life skills programs target adolescent girls. A new report from Plan International argues for the importance of early childhood programming to end the cycle of gender discrimination. The report documents the numerous ways gender discrimination hampers early childhood development: by limiting women’s abilities to adequately care for their children; by reducing the nutritional and learning opportunities that young girls can pursue; and by making traditional gender norms central to children’s identity as early as age three.

It argues that when early childhood programming is done well, it can help break the cycle of gender discrimination at lower cost than later interventions that have to overcome early childhood deficits. Marginalized children—including girls—that receive high quality early childhood interventions close achievement and well-being gaps with their more privileged peers. And programming can also promote more equal gender relationships (evidence from a small sample of children in Sweden indicates that children who attend 'gender-neutral' preschools are less likely to gender-stereotype). Better yet, mothers are freed up for employment and older sisters have more time for their own education.

Have you seen other research worth highlighting? Are there other girls' education truths we should feature? Let us know in the comments below!

In saying little about girls’ education does the World Development Report actually say a lot?

The latest World Development Report focuses exclusively on education for the first time in history. The table of contents lists 63 items and exactly one of those items mentions gender. Should girls’ education advocates be alarmed? Or in saying little about girls’ education is the report actually saying a lot?

There is a solid case to be made that absolute deficits in learning outcomes dwarf in importance any gender-specific gaps in education. There aren’t consistent patterns in learning gaps between girls and boys. That doesn’t matter. The magnitude of the learning crisis outlined in the report is so extreme that it this is arguably the #1 concern for girls’ education. It just happens to be the #1 concern for boys’ education, too.

Why should girls’ education advocates be alarmed about the learning crisis? We don’t know everything about the pathway between girls’ education and all the benefits it’s known for like smaller families, healthier children, wealthier women and communities. But from what we do know, it seems like learning is critical. “Each additional year of female primary schooling is associated with roughly six fewer deaths per 1,000 live births, but the effect is about two-thirds larger in the countries where schooling delivers the most learning (compared with the least)” (pg 47). Without learning, girls’ education will amount to little.

By no means am I arguing that we should stop looking at gender differences in education or that we should stop tackling problems that have gendered dimensions. As I argued in my recent SSIR piece, even with learning outcomes we cannot assume that schooling alone will wash away gender inequity. (Prachi Srivastava’s review of the report also points to the ways that classroom learning reproduces societal values.) But our investments should focus on issues that will make the biggest difference for girls, and improving learning for everyone may be what will help girls the most.

Here are 5 other takeaways from the report, with a girls’ education lens:

(1) There is a lot to celebrate when it comes to getting girls into schools. They are attending at record high rates, and progress has been relatively fast: “It took the United States 40 years—from 1870 to 1910—to increase girls’ enrollments from 57 percent to 88 percent. Morocco achieved a similar increase in just 11 years” (pg 58). Educational parity for girls is one of the great successes in international development.

(2) Poverty drives lower school completion and lower learning outcomes. In fact, poverty is associated with less school completion across all contexts whereas gender is more context specific. It is the interplay between gender, poverty, and other disadvantages that influence school participation: “In Sub-Saharan Africa, poor rural girls are seven times less likely than non-poor urban boys to complete school; less than 1 in 20 of these girls is on track to complete secondary school” (pg 62).

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Similarly, the “learning crisis disproportionately affects children from poor households: they are far more likely to leave school without acquiring basic skills like literacy and numeracy” (pg 71). Female/male learning gaps are smaller in richer groups, although females are not always disadvantaged.

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Is tackling poverty the best route for influencing girls’ participation? Evidence consistently shows that lowering the cost of education means more girls go to school, and yet over 40 percent of countries charge fees for lower secondary school. This is one area where there is a clear gap between evidence and practice. Eliminating fees for everyone may exacerbate the fact that “public education expenditure tends to favor wealthier, more powerful groups” who are more likely to be enrolled in higher levels of education (pg 184), but programs to alleviate costs specifically for vulnerable groups need wider adoption.

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(3) The report makes a strong case for investing in early childhood nutrition, stimulation, and care in order to set children on higher development trajectories. We don’t know much about gender differences in early childhood, but we do know that marginalized children tend to benefit from early intervention the most. That said, there are two huge caveats to investing in early childhood that the report mentions but spends little time elaborating on. The first is that “attending a low-quality center-based program can be worse than attending none at all” (pg 116). The second caveat? “The quality of subsequent learning environments in primary school is an important determinant of the long-term effects of preschool programs” (pg 116). In environments where providing high quality opportunities is difficult and where primary school is not delivering for children, will early childhood investments pay off?

(4) For interventions that target adolescent girls, it is important to cultivate socioemotional skills. The report is careful to emphasize that socioemotional skills are a complement to foundational skills like reading and math, not substitutes to them. It also argues that a focus on developing foundational skills is likely to “crowd in” other desirable outcomes. That said, the brain science outlined in the report acknowledges two important points. First, “although foundational cognitive skills become less malleable after age 10, some areas associated with socioemotional development remain highly malleable through early adulthood” (pg 69). As such, once students have missed out on developing foundational skills, the most effective way to improve their transition into work might be through an emphasis on socioemotional skills. Second, “certain socioemotional skills--such as self-esteem, positive identity, or leadership--are better acquired in middle childhood and during adolescence” (pg 103). Girls face special challenges in adolescence and socioemotional skills may be one of the best ways to support them at this stage.

(5) Finally, the report left me wondering how private schools are affecting education equity from a gender perspective. The report offers a measured perspective on the question “can private schooling be aligned to learning for all?” (pg 176-177). But in the heated debate about whether private providers are beacon or bane, I have heard little discussion of the gendered dimensions of privatization and this report is no exception. DFID’s rigorous literature review on the role and impact of private schools in developing countries finds that in many contexts--but not all--girls are less likely to access private schools than boys. In India, for example, I’ve attended government schools in Bihar where most of the students are girls, because their brothers are being sent to private schools. As the report points out, “even if the expansion of private schooling brings short-term benefits, it can undermine the political constituency for effective public schooling in the longer term,” which is all the more worrying if it is mostly girls left in the crippled public system.


All in all the World Development Report offers good food for thought for girls’ education, despite little explicit attention to the issue. If we are serious about girls’ education, the learning crisis cannot be ignored.

The Puggle: October 2017 Edition

Welcome to the October installment of The Puggle, where the Echidna Giving team highlights emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education. There was so much interesting data that came out this month that we’re trying something new. In this post we feature five facts and figures that inform work in girls’ education. In case that has you feeling spooked, we also showcase two examples of new work around solutions.

#1. The latest Global Education Monitoring Report reveals that countries have made remarkable progress in achieving gender parity in the past 15 years.

#2. That said, a recent policy brief from the Population Council (funded by Echidna Giving) shows that over roughly the same time period, only 3 of 43 countries studied made substantial progress in achieving gender parity and ensuring that the vast majority of girls complete primary school: Ghana, Sierra Leone and the tiny island nation of Comoros.

#3. The fact that many of the countries in which progress in girls’ education has stagnated are in Africa is significant because There’s a strong chance a third of all people on earth will be African by 2100.  This means that ever more students can either benefit from improvements in these education systems or suffer from stagnation. (And of course more education for girls in Africa may stem the speed of population growth since more educated women tend to have fewer children.)

#4. Even if a the vast majority of girls did complete primary school, this study in World Development suggests that "a primary school education is not sufficient to exit poverty. A sizeable minority of the extreme poor—about 39%—graduated primary school, and over a quarter of those who completed primary school but not secondary school live on less than $3.10 per day."

#5. Save the Children finds that girls and boys in primary school are gender biased: “in Sierra Leone, for example, 70% of 4th grade boys and 28% of girls agree that boys are smarter than girls. Boys are more likely to endorse statements about unequal gender norms, but these beliefs are common among girls, too.”

#6. A study funded by the Gates Foundation suggests that there are a number of promising models (for India) that support adolescents transitioning into adulthood.  There’s a very nice synthesis of the report here.

#7. To mix things up, instead of reading another report check out this new podcast series from ODI that provides an overview of how social norms influence the lives of adolescent girls and how communications, policy changes, and role models and help to shift them.

The Puggle: September 2017 Edition

Welcome to the September installment of The Puggle, where the Echidna Giving team highlights emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education.

This month the World Bank released the World Development Report (WDR). For the first time in its nearly forty-year history, the report focused exclusively on education. The first message of the report? Schooling is not the same as learning.

Other recent data back this up. For example, the UNESCO Institute of Statistics did an analysis of learning showing that at the end of primary school, over half of children won’t be minimally proficient in reading or math. Another study from the Center for Global Development shows the disparity between rich and poor countries. College graduates from Indonesia are less literate than high school dropouts from Denmark - and the gap has gotten bigger over time.

Inequality in learning outcomes is stark. We know that sometimes girls are especially disadvantaged, but the WDR and this Insight Paper from RISE show that gender is not the biggest driver of learning inequality. A recent study in India by Pauline Rose and Ben Alcott finds that “poverty supersedes all other characteristics as a predictor of learning disparities.” When it comes to gender disparities, they are prevalent in some states but not others. And “gender disparity is occurring primarily among children from poorer households, indicating that disadvantages associated with gender and poverty reinforce one another.”

 From the 2018 World Development report, available here:

From the 2018 World Development report, available here:

This article explores “Why Are Middle East Girls Better in School Than Boys” and reminds us that even when girls perform better than boys they don’t necessarily have more opportunities. Indeed, a lack of opportunity may be part of what drives girls to excel. School is a potential ticket “out of...confinement.” The article also underscores how gender norms are negatively influencing boys, not just girls. “All around the globe, notions of masculinity have not kept pace with the demands of a world that rewards creativity and critical thinking above physical strength."  

So yes, Gender Norms Can Harm Kids Everywhere. A recent set of studies in the Journal of Adolescent Health "concluded that between the ages of 10 and 14, children begin to fully embrace and internalize the belief that girls and boys are intrinsically different – and should act accordingly." Perhaps that’s why a role model – even in the form of a movie character – can have a big influence on exam scores.

When it comes to what students should be learning, the WDR makes a compelling case to focus on foundational skills. At the same time, students need to acquire a wider set of skills across a wider span of life. Another study out of the World Bank finds that “noncognitive entrepreneurial skills, such as the will to persevere, optimism, and passion for work play a decisive role [in economic success] – even more so in communities where women face greater constraints to their economic empowerment.” This NYTimes piece argues for changing when we teach. The sequence of “learn early, benefit for a lifetime...makes sense only in a world where the useful skills stay constant.”

The good news out of the WDR? There is nothing inevitable about low learning outcomes. Efforts are underway to figure out how to transform schooling into learning by tackling some of the proximate factors that limit learning like underprepared students and teachers, as well as to tackle the deeper system barriers to learning (since, as the WDR and this blog remind us, “Even interventions which can be proved to work “in principle” with rigorous evidence cannot be scaled up and produce ongoing overall gains unless social, political and organizational forces are aligned with learning.”)

For instance, the Center for Universal Education at Brookings has published a new report on the possibility for leapfrog innovations in education and the Education Commission is working with Pioneer Countries to enable system reforms. Governments in Ghana and the state of Karnataka in southern India are removing the immediate barrier of school fees. Liberia is experimenting with a system reform in the form of Public Private Partnerships, and preliminary evaluation results show big learning gains from more consistent teaching, but "the program has yet to demonstrate it can work in average Liberian schools, with sustainable budgets and staffing levels, and without negative side-effects on other schools."

So there is hope to ensure the next generation is a Learning Generation. And inspiration to draw from women making things happen! If you know anyone looking to make a difference in girls’ education, encourage them to apply to the Echidna Global Scholars by November 16.

The Puggle: August 2017 Edition

Welcome to the August installment of The Puggle, where the Echidna Giving team highlights emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education. In the early days of September there is always a rush to get stuff done, and we find ourselves longing for the dog days of summer when we got to read and reflect and ponder the awesomeness of the universe.

August offered plenty of great material, including a collection of essays from the Center for Universal Education on Meaningful Education in Times of Uncertainty; a new book by Echidna Global Scholar Urvashi Sanhi on Reaching for the Sky: Empowering Girls Through Education; and two interesting pieces from the NYTimes on how students learn best: A New Kind of Classroom: No Grades, No Failing, No Hurry and Britain Turns to Chinese Textbooks to Improve Its Math Scores.

Perhaps more than any other reading material from the month, though, we were intrigued by the "It's Not a Women's Issue” of Scientific American, which argues that "everybody has a stake in the new science of sex and gender.” In this installment of the Puggle we’ll dive in on key lessons from that issue and related material.

First, we learned that gender differences that seem biological are deeply influenced by cultural norms. This article makes the case that "'In humans, the fact that you're raised as a particular gender from the instant that you're born of itself exerts a biological impact on your brain'…plasticity, the way the brain changes in response to experience, drives sex differences in behavior more than hardwired biology does." This means that, as argued here, "when culture changes--creating a very different pattern of rewards, punishments, norms and consequences, compared with those in the past--so, too, will patterns of sex differences in behavior."

Furthermore, the process of cultural hardwiring starts very young. This article suggests that "By about 18 months toddlers begin to understand gendered words such as 'girl' or 'man' and associate those words with sex-matched faces. By 24 months children know of sex stereotypes (such as associating women with lipstick), and before their third birthday nearly all kids label themselves and others with gender labels that match their sex." These early gender identities also shape perceptions of what girls are capable of. As described here, "by age six, girls were less likely than boys to think that members of their gender are 'really, really smart,'" which in turn subtly nudges girls away from careers that are commonly perceived to rely on brilliance.

Given these findings, it’s comforting to know that cultural norms are malleable. For instance, government policies can shift them: India’s quota for female positions in local government helped to weaken gender stereotypes and increase the aspirations of girls. New economic roles for women can also change norms. As Graça Machel argues, "When women participate in the job market and engage actively in business or political decision-making, patriarchal power dynamics shift, elevating the social status of women. Economic equality also challenges accepted beliefs, and dispels harmful myths that perpetuate narrow definitions of gender norms. In other words, bringing more women into the workplace leads to an emancipation of mindset – in men and women alike."

And norms shift based on economic incentives. Here is one powerful example: a famous safari lodge in Botswana hired exclusively women guides based on "the bottom line...Simply put, the women were better drivers. They were saving the company money."

A recent piece from Data2x linking theory and practice on social norms reminds us that changing social norms also requires removing “the economic and legal circumstances that contribute to sustaining harmful practices and behaviors." For example, this article describes how enabling women to participate in the job market may require relieving them from their traditional duties of childcare and housework.

Of course we also believe that education has a role to play in shifting norms as the diagrams on the right suggest. But we cannot assume that education will play this role, since it can equally help to reproduce societal norms. That’s why we’re fans of disaggregating the impact of programs by sex and were excited to see that a recent policy brief and accompanying blog post from J-PAL on getting children into school does just that. We’ve worked with grantees to think about the gender impact of their work in ways akin to these eight Minimum Standards for Mainstreaming Gender Equality and wonder whether gender equality standards can also help chip away at harmful social norms? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Puggle: July 2017 Edition

Welcome to the July installment of The Puggle, your source for the emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education that the Echidna Giving team has come across this month!

There is a notion that things slow down during the summer months as people take holidays and spend time with their families, but we’ve seen no shortage of activity in girls’ education. There have been global and regional developments, such as the G20 Summit, progress against education and gender-related SDGs,  emerging education pledges related to Kenya’s upcoming elections, a shift in gender aid policy in Canada, and information about promising interventions for girls in Pakistan, India and Nigeria.

Many education advocates viewed the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany as a “make or break” moment for education. Much to their relief education was a key topic. The Leaders Declaration makes a number of references to education, including digital literacy and lifelong learning, vocational education and training (especially when it provides quality school-based and work-based learning), and women’s access to labor markets through the provision of quality education. Now the education community will be eager to see what action springs from the commitments to education.

An ongoing priority area for education is measuring learning outcomes, especially as they relate to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, only a third of countries can report on indicator 4.1 (ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes) with comparable data. There are large gaps in the geographic coverage of assessments and the type of information gathered. At the global level, this lack of comparable data makes it impossible to understand and map learning challenges across countries. It also makes it challenging to compose a compelling case to Ministers of Finance to invest in education. The Global Alliance for Monitoring Learning (GAML) is working to advance tools and measurements to benchmark student performance in reading and mathematics.

A major challenge facing education systems is how to ensure the delivery of quality education in an environment that is facing increasing school populations and budgets that are not commensurate with the population growth and demand for increased quality. This challenge has led education leaders and advocates to explore a myriad of solutions, including technology and public-private partnerships, which provides context on why these types of developments are included in the Puggle.  

This month the Breakthrough Institute sounded a cautious note on the promise of technology and the ability to “leapfrog” the developed world. Broad adoption of mobile phones and the success of mobile banking created enthusiasm for the promise of technology and its ability to “leapfrog”. This article argues that the promise of Africa’s mobile revolution remains largely unfulfilled because Africa cannot jump directly to a service economy without first, or even simultaneously, building a base of infrastructure and technical capacity. The authors argue that education should be integrated into infrastructure building projects to create a pool of local talent who can later apply their expertise to infrastructure or innovations in other sectors.

An innovative program in Northern Nigeria called Girls Connect is using a telecom service to support adolescent girls. Callers dial a toll-free number and are offered a menu of four relatable stories to choose from. After listening to the story, the caller is connected with a specially-trained agent, called a “Role Model,” who helps the girl work through current or future problems. In its first month alone, the program received 42,000 calls, despite limited advertising, and holds promise in its ability to scale rapidly.

Another interesting technology advancement to watch is Kenya’s new National Education Management Information System (NEMIS), a web-based tool that will be used to transform data management in the education sector. NEMIS is intended to allow for more timely and accurate data to improve the flow of information to Kenyan policy-makers. Over time, the database should also allow researchers to analyze the underlying factors of both success and challenges facing students.

Kenya is preparing for elections in August. The campaigns have been debating five major socio-economic issues including education. Both candidates promise free secondary schools as part of their proposed education reform policies. These promises are raising concerns that Kenya will replicate mistakes made when primary education became free, such as lack of preparedness and uneven procurement which many believe ultimately led to increased inequality.

In Pakistan, education has also become a key talking point in political debates. Legislators are often elected by how many jobs they can provide to their constituents, and education departments are typically the single largest employers in most provinces. This translates into new hires and raises for teachers, but not to quality learning for children. Pakistani schools are critiqued for being a means to provide jobs, rather than education. As always there are examples of progress. One seeming successful intervention for girls’ education in Pakistan is training teachers on gender-responsive pedagogy to transform them into key catalysts for the empowerment of female students.

Canada is making a significant commitment to female empowerment by launching a new Feminist International Assistance Policy, positioning the country as a leader on gender equality in its aid programming. They’ve also allocated $150 million over five years to the new Women’s Voice and Leadership Program in response to the needs of local women in developing countries.

In India, bicycle programs for girls in Bihar are proving to be an effective intervention to reduce gender gaps in secondary school enrollment. Providing a bicycle to girls who continued to secondary school led to a 40% reduction in the gender gap and an 18% increase in the number of girls sitting for the high-stakes secondary school certificate exam. Further, the study found that increases in enrollment mostly took place in villages that were further away from a secondary school, suggesting that the mechanism of impact was the reduction in the time and safety cost of school attendance made possible by the bicycle.

Stay posted for our August edition next month! 

The Puggle: June 2017 Edition

Welcome to the June installment of The Puggle, your source for the emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education that the Echidna Giving team has come across this month!

As we enter the long hot days of summer and reflect on Father’s Day, it seemed appropriate that this edition cover how girls’ education and global warming are connected, and discuss the important role fathers play in their children’s learning and education. But first, we cover the increasing body of evidence of what works in education, particularly for girls.

This month, the RISE -- Research on Improving Systems of Education -- conference was held in Washington, DC. The event brought together high profile academics and policy makers to discuss the RISE research agenda. David Evans did a great round-up of highlights from the event in a World Bank blog post.

Ark recently conducted a rigorous review of the evidence on educational PPPs “public-private partnerships” in developing countries to evaluate their potential impact and found that the current evidence is limited. In the midst of recent analysis and debate, the field and education researchers are anxious to study the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) pilot program as a potentially significant source of learning.

In an exciting announcement, the Population Council launched the GIRL Center to shape research and investments on what works to improve girls’ lives. Building upon the world’s largest open data repository on adolescents, the GIRL Center will engage leading experts to identify and promote evidence-based approaches for addressing key issues affecting adolescent girls.

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics issued the largest education data release of the year, including updated data for many of the global and thematic indicators used to monitor SDG 4. This interactive map gives a visual response to many questions, including, “Are girls completing secondary education at the same rate as boys?” This UNESCO report shows that gender gaps in access to education have reduced but that no region has achieved gender parity. According to analysis, it is sometimes boys who are disadvantaged, as is the case in eastern and south-eastern Asia. If you’re looking for more on the SDGs, check out PwC’s SDG selector.

 UNESCO eAtlas of Gender Inequality in Education

UNESCO eAtlas of Gender Inequality in Education

Teach For Afghanistan, a branch of the global educational partnership Teach for All, is working against components of the deeply conservative culture in Afghanistan when it comes to girls’ education. Teach for Afghanistan is using their program to lead by example. While being able to read and write is traditionally considered sufficient education for a girl, Teach For Afghanistan fellows aim to demonstrate that continuing education and getting a good job does not preclude a girl from marriage or having children.

India, the country with the world’s largest education system, is struggling to educate its students. According to Pratham, only half of fifth-grade pupils (ten-year-olds) can read a story designed for second-graders and just a quarter are capable of simple division. Pratham is running high-intensity learning camps that adjust curriculum to the child’s learning level in 5,000 schools across India. With 20 million children reaching school age each year in India, ambitious efforts and quality reforms are needed to ensure that students are learning.

“Teenage Pregnancy Menace in Kenya, AFIDEP singled out inadequate access to education as the major cause fuelling the problem, as girls aged between 15-19 without education are about three times more likely to start childbearing.” In order for girls’ education to have the desired positive effect on climate change (and other societal challenges), countries will need to enact supportive policies for girls not just in order to delay first births but to reduce family size. However, Tanzania's President John Magufuli ruffled some feathers recently when he stated that young girls who get pregnant should not be allowed to return to school. Unfortunately, his comments are in line with a Tanzanian law passed in 2002 which states that girls can be expelled and excluded from school for "offenses against morality...and wedlock.”

Climate change is an increasing threat to education systems. Echidna Global Scholar Ellen Chigwanda speaks to her research on the implications of drought on school children, especially girls. She proposes a framework that is specifically designed to leverage education as a platform for building resilience in the face of climate change. At a macro level, Rebecca Winthrop and Christina Asquith argue that women and girls in developing nations will bear the brunt of the Unites States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement given their particular vulnerability from displacement. They note that educating women and girls is a significant lever in reducing population size, which in turn has a tremendously positive impact on reducing global warming. In his new book Drawdown, Paul Hawkins claims, “educating girls could reduce CO2 emissions by 59.6 gigatons by 2050, making it the sixth-most powerful solution, ahead of recycling and even solar panels.”

In celebration of Father’s Day, we are sharing some stories and research on the significance of fathers. This New York Times article looks at the increasing body of research on how mothers versus fathers influence early development and language acquisition, and explores the different way we treat infant girls and boys. The evidence base includes research on differences in caretaker vocalization, comparisons on interactions between fathers of sons and fathers of daughters, and emotional expressions by mothers versus fathers and the potential correlation to children's emotional understanding. In honor of Father’s Day, we highlight these three African fathers who are standing up against female genital mutilation and encouraging their daughters to receive quality education and these Kenyan brothers who are using their cricket team as a platform for fighting for their sisters’ rights.

 Kenya's Maasai Cricket Warriors  PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEORGINA GOODWIN

Kenya's Maasai Cricket Warriors


The Puggle: May 2017 Edition

Welcome to the May installment of The Puggle, your source for the emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education that the Echidna Giving team has come across this month! 

In May, the Center For Universal Education (CUE) and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) collaborated to bring us ten trends in girls’ education. They identified ten strategic gaps and opportunities that the field is grappling with in a new era of girls’ education, including: a shifting focus from primary-age to adolescent girls, an increasing prioritization of investments in quality learning, and a global political will to benefit the hard-to-reach (such as rural girls in Niger).

An interesting cluster of trends worth highlighting from the article is around system-strengthening, gender equality, and social norms work. It will be increasingly important for governments and civil societies to have gender-mainstreaming expertise as more girls move into mainstream educational systems. A great example of this work is the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNGEI’s recently launched toolkit for developing gender-responsive education sector plans. The guidance provided will help developing countries put in place gender-sensitive policies and plans, and to consider gender equality more broadly in curricula, textbooks, assessment, and teacher education.

Another trend identified in the article is the increasing utilization of ambassadors, both grassroots leaders and political champions, to mobilize communities in support of girls’ education. The article highlighted a few global ambassadors for girls’ education who have been in the news this month: 

  • We’ve seen conflicting headlines about the status of the Let Girls Learn initiative under the new administration and speculation about Michelle Obama’s continued involvement in girls’ education and related issues moving forward.

  • Malala Yousafzai was named an honorary citizen of Canada, became the youngest ever UN Messenger of Peace, and prescribed education as a panacea for an ailing world. All of this leaves us thinking... What’s next?

  • Julia Gillard, Chair of GPE, conducted a Q&A with Devex on raising funds for their next replenishment round. She points out that the “Holy Grail” of development now is girls’ education because of the “great spin-off advantages it has for health, peace, and prosperity of the next generations.” She also speaks to the often controversial topic of private schools and public private partnerships, explaining that countries are free to take whatever approach they think is best in GPE’s country-led model. The approach may be in response to recent studies that show private education may be growing more quickly than public education in some parts of the world. 


In Northern India, over 80 adolescent girls banded together, some even engaging in a hunger strike, to protest their dangerous commutes to school. After eight days, the education minister addressed the girls’ demands by saying he would add two grades to their school so they would not have to travel to another village for their high school education, though he made no commitment as to when this change would occur. Their struggle is a good reminder that in some countries, harassment remains a key barrier for girls’ education. Efforts to ensure women have access to education is not only an issue in the developing world. It has been a long battle throughout the world and history.

A field study from Malawi reveals that psychological factors, such as intrinsic motivation, play an important role in whether girls attend school. As you might expect, genuine excitement about school and learning can have a material impact, even in the face of extreme poverty and deprivation.  The lead author says, “The take home message is that development projects that aim to increase the school attendance of girls in impoverished settings need to not only aim for female empowerment, but for creating environments in which girls feel that they belong and feel able to learn as well."

And finally, NewsDeeply, a source for updates on women and girls, celebrated their one year anniversary by soliciting input from seven gender experts on where the field has made progress and where there is room to improve. You may also enjoy this accompanying photo gallery.

Stay posted for our June edition next month! 

The Puggle: April 2017 Edition

Welcome to the April installment of The Puggle, your source for the emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education that the Echidna Giving team has come across this month!

In April, the World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings served as a catalyst for the education community. The Global Partnership for Education launched its Replenishment Case for Investment, which aims to reverse the trend of declining aid to education and increase its own budget to $2 billion annually by 2020. The Education Commission argued for an International Finance Facility for Education to further expand education financing. After becoming an honorary Canadian citizen, Malala promptly asked Canada to make girls’ education central to their G7 presidency.

And the World Bank offered a preview of the first ever World Development Report focused on education, which aims to “make it clear for the development community as a whole this problem of the hidden exclusion and education failing those who need the boost from education the most.” That puts a premium on ensuring that the call for more money to education is accompanied by reforms that ensure financial outlays translate into learning outcomes. Barbara Bruns and Eric Hanushek argue that a universal test of learning for 9-year-olds would be a good way to “focus first on a meaningful measure of what kids know, so we can hold ourselves accountable for progress.”

  Google’s ‘doodle’ celebrates the achievements of an entrepreneur from Ghana who helped to empower millions of women through business

Google’s ‘doodle’ celebrates the achievements of an entrepreneur from Ghana who helped to empower millions of women through business

The World Development Report will also highlight how current learning deficits “are likely to be felt even more keenly as markets continue to globalize and advances in technology and automation transform the workforce.” The Center for Universal Education’s annual research and policy symposium highlighted a similar message. Its Skills for a Changing World Report looks at the breadth of skills that will be required for success in work and in life and how governments around the world are working to incorporate these skills in their schools.

March was all about women and girls, but now that International Women’s Day has passed, there’s been more talk about the disadvantages that boys face in education. Out of the U.S. context comes research suggesting that in the context of early childhood care, “boys are more sensitive to disadvantage and responsive to intervention.” (Though there is no doubt that when high quality care is available, women are also BIG winners: “government spending on early childhood care and education had the single biggest effect on boosting women’s employment, earnings and fertility rate and on decreasing gender pay gaps.”)

Looking internationally, this World Bank blog provides a useful summary of the ways in which girls are “smarter” than boys and this report from USAID talks about boys’ underachievement in reading. Despite evidence that boys underperform girls in many domains, both reports touch on the importance of ensuring education systems work for both boys and girls. The literature review from USAID points out the “notion that socially acceptable male behaviors that are often incongruent with academic achievement are also the ones that maintain male dominance in society is critical to addressing boys’ and girls’ achievement...rather than drawing attention away from the need to focus on girls’ education, it emphasizes that boys’ underperformance has not been shown to take away the benefits of male advantage in the long run...Therefore the focus on girls’ education is still justified, as girls will need both academic achievement and social empowerment to match male advantage in the post-school setting.”

We will continue to monitor news coming from the new administration regarding the future of US government funding of aid and initiatives that impact gender and girls education such as the Let Girls Learn and Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment efforts at USAID.

The Puggle: March 2017 Edition

Welcome to the March installment of The Puggle, your source for the emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education that the Echidna Giving team has come across this month!

  Fearless Girl on Wall Street by Anthony Quintano  on Flickr .

Fearless Girl on Wall Street by Anthony Quintano on Flickr.

March 8th marked International Women’s Day. This month we were reminded that under some circumstances, women have made major advances. For instance, this evidence suggests that post-conflict settings may be open to radical shifts in women’s leadership. But elsewhere, we still see deep gender divides. As just one recent example, a new study on how resources get divided within households finds that women and children are more undernourished than men not only in the poorest households, but in richer households as well. So this month we are featuring stories we read about the people who are helping make gender equality a reality, evidence we found about the policies that might advance girls’ education, and a set of practical resources.

THE PEOPLE. Not surprisingly, often the people doing the most to advance the cause of women are women themselves. Here is a nice tribute to African feminists and here is a podcast chronicling some of their work. Melinda Gates writes about The Power Of Women Coming Together, and this story brings that idea to life as it describes how a loose network of women--dubbed the “Hellraisers of Nairobi”--support other women to get attention from local politicians and police.

In the context of education, this article from the New York Times reminds us that principals are people that “can make a real difference…‘Principals create the environment. They create a culture of accountability. They create a sense of community.’”

In the context of girls’ education, Christina Kwauk and Amanda Braga highlight the influencers, groundbreakers, thought leaders, and champions shaping girls’ education globally. They end with a question: “how can we better coordinate girls’ education advocacy, research, and implementation so that the girls can get a quality education and achieve their full potential in life and livelihood?” Another important question: how can we guard against unintended consequences? Prisoners of Boko Haram, Then Prisoners of Fame, reminded us that successful advocacy can have dark sides.

THE POLICIES. The Economist wrote about Why governments should introduce gender budgeting. “At its simplest, gender budgeting sets out to quantify how policies affect women and men differently. That seemingly trivial step converts exhortation about treating women fairly into the coin of government: costs and benefits, and investments and returns.”

Education Commission commissioners Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi make the case for greater investments in girls' education. The One Campaign also calls for more funding and acknowledges that "investing in education must lead to better learning," by "implement[ing] a package of reforms that will break every barrier, invest in every teacher, monitor every outcome, and connect every classroom."

Finally, GPE and UNGEI put out their Guidance for Developing Gender-Responsive Education Sector Plans.


May we all have the same confidence of the Fearless Girl on Wall Street as we seek to move this agenda ahead!

The Puggle: February 2017 Edition

Welcome to the February installment of The Puggle, your source for the emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education that the Echidna Giving team has come across this month!

 Image from David Evans on  Twitter  shows that median math performance in low-performing countries is lower than the bottom 5% performance in top-performing countries.

Image from David Evans on Twitter shows that median math performance in low-performing countries is lower than the bottom 5% performance in top-performing countries.

New analysis by Lant Pritchett and Justin Sandefur at CGD adds to growing evidence that schooling is not equivalent to learning. Even if every single girl completed at least 6 grades of schooling, 40% of them would still be illiterate. The conclusion? We need to get girls into school AND we need to improve how much girls are learning once they get there.

What are some of the ways we can do this? Here’s what we’ve learned in February:

Students will not learn unless they have teachers who understand the content they are trying to teach, who know how to teach it, and who show up in class. Unfortunately, recent analysis conducted by the World Bank using data from seven African countries shows that this is rarely the case. For instance, one-third of teachers are unable to correct simple spelling and grammar exercises with 80% accuracy. Only 10% of teachers deploy a full set of effective teaching practices. And teachers are absent so much that students only receive half of the intended instructional time.

Students can learn effectively from computer-based content, as opposed to live instruction, if the conditions are right. There are as many failed technology-related interventions in education as successful ones. But a recent evaluation showed particularly promising results when children learned with computer-assisted learning software called Mindspark. In 90 days, student scores increased impressively, with effect sizes up to four times larger than previously studied technology-related interventions. What contributed to success? Embedded in the software were many of the same elements that are associated with good teaching: high quality content targeted to (and constantly adapting with) student learning levels that requires constant student engagement. And, in urban India, the program could ensure the infrastructure, staffing, and other conditions needed to run successfully.

For decades, economists have argued that spending more money on education does not improve student learning. Improving learning is about how governments spend their money, not how much they spend. But new analysis by Kirabo Jackson argues more money may matter more than we thought. And he argues that spending on early education complements spending in K-12. “Basic findings are that the effect of Head Start on long-run outcomes is bigger if the child subsequently attends a K-12 school that is well funded. The opposite is also true: Each additional dollar spent on K-12 is more effective at increasing wages if it was preceded by Head Start spending.”

Bigger picture, does the global education community have the right attitude, architecture, and actors to advance girls’ schooling and learning? In his final post as managing director for global education at Results for Development, Nick Burnett argues that sterile debates dominate the sector and the international architecture is not fit for purpose. Meanwhile, Christina Kwauk at the Brookings Institution posits that “not enough actors working on girls’ education engage in policy advocacy work that is specifically geared toward changing policies and legislation.”

Want to dig in more on other findings related to education? Check out this usefully-compiled database of education studies.

Need a shot of inspiration? Watch this Superbowl ad and read these books to the children in your life!