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.)
SCHOOL SYSTEMS ARE FAILING GIRLS AND BOYS
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?”
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."
GIRLS FACE EXTRA DISADVANTAGES, ESPECIALLY THE MOST MARGINALIZED
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.
HELPING DISADVANTAGED STUDENTS PAYS OFF
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.