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?
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!