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: 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!

The Puggle: January 2017 Edition

News in January seemed to be dominated by the new U.S. administration. The change and uncertainty can be unsettling, but there continues to be good news with regards to girls’ education. So although we could easily fill this entire issue of the Puggle with speculation about what the new administration means for efforts to promote girls’ educationWhat does the transition team’s request to the State Department for information on programs related to gender equality mean? What about the team’s questions on Africa? How will the reinstatement of the global gag rule affect adolescent girls, including their participation in education? Will the administration buy the numerous arguments that women’s rights are a national security issue? Are Tillerson’s personal experiences seeing the benefits of foreign assistance aimed at women’s economic empowerment a promising sign?we’ve decided instead to focus on news we came across this month that inspired us with regards to our work. Here goes...

 Photo by League of Women Voters of California LWVC

Photo by League of Women Voters of California LWVC

It’s hard to ignore the fact that millions of people showed up in solidarity for women across the world. It made us wonder what influence this outpouring of agency might have on how girls view themselves and the potential power of their voices.  Hundreds of thousands are also “coming together and uniting across our divides to get every girl into school and to make sure she gets a quality education once she’s there.”

We were inspired by new effortsin the form of the “world’s most valuable education prizeto fund innovative education research and reforms “that respond to what might be the future challenges for education.” (If you have such an idea, note that nominations run through the end of March!) And we were inspired by the examples of innovative efforts “challenging the dominant ideas of education” that are featured in the six-part documentary series Rebel Education.

As a piece on Learning and earning: Equipping people to stay ahead of technological change from the Economist stresses, responding to future challenges for education requires developing curriculum and teaching models that help children learn how to learn (also known as “metacognition”). When jobs become obsolete, metacognition helps learners at any age develop new, freshly relevant skills. So we were encouraged to see research suggesting that governments are increasingly stressing the importance of communication, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving in their education plans and visions.

And we are delighted to see that individuals in government are working to turn these plans into actions that they hope will improve outcomes for children in their country. Although there is plenty of room for debate about whether Liberia’s bold effort to work with private school providers is actually a good way to protect the future of Liberian children, what we are especially inspired about in this example is the government’s commitment to taking action based on evidence.

We were heartened by news out of the UK that the gender gap in math performance is rapidly declining, suggesting that it’s social and cultural factors that have been holding women back. Hopefully seeing more girls bucking gender norms in math will mean that fewer 6-year-old girls will buy into the belief that brilliance is for boys only.

Attitudes towards brilliance may also shift the more educators promote the idea that individuals aren’t born with brilliance, but rather brilliance is born from individual effort. Stanford professor Jo Boaler shares evidence that girls have more of a fixed mindset about their own intelligence than boys do, especially in math. As they internalize the notion that intelligence improves through effort, their performance improves.

The notion that our brains grow the most when we subject them to struggle (emphasized in anti-aging research as well) gives us courage that continuing to struggle with big and important problems in the field of girls’ education will be good for the world and for our brains!

The Puggle: 2016 Year-End Edition

Welcome to the end-of-year installment of The Puggle. In this issue, the Echidna Giving team summarizes emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education from November and early December.

In the U.S., November was dominated by the presidential election and its unexpected results. We’ve been thinking and reading about what implications those results might have for our work on girls’ education in developing countries. There is far more uncertainty than certainty at this stage, but here are three things we’ll be watching for.

 Photo by Garry Knight.

Photo by Garry Knight.

First, what happens with foreign aid under the Trump presidency? On the one hand, Trump’s plans for tax cuts and spending on infrastructure in the U.S. will mean tradeoffs elsewhere, and U.S. aid could take a hit. As this Devex piece predicts, “The big losers will likely be investments in multilateral institutions; democracy, rights and governance; women and girls; and climate.” Trump could end a long trend of strong, bipartisan, U.S. support for Africa that has thread across the Clinton, Bush and Obama administration.

On the other hand, as the Center for Global Development argues, to "make America Great again" requires attention to what's happening in the broader world. Development matters for American security and prosperity. This is exactly the argument put forth by panelists hosted by Brookings to discuss Recommendations for the new US administration in global education: education has tremendous bang for the buck in promoting stability and economic growth. Finally, as this Devex article argues, "If the U.K. is any guide (and Brexit seems the most analogous political tsunami to this one), there will be more status quo than change...We may well find that the U.S. foreign assistance infrastructure — the product of decades of bipartisan efforts — remains largely intact when the president-elect’s term ends."

Second, what happens with existing U.S. commitments around girls’ education, including the inter-agency effort around Let Girls Learn that Michelle Obama launched in 2015? Let Girls Learn is expected to continue under the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls through multi-year program funding for another two or three years. The First Lady is also expected to continue her own advocacy around girls’ education after leaving the White House.

Third, what, if anything, do the election results imply about broader sentiments towards globalization and women’s leadership, and what might these trends mean for our work? On the globalization front, the pushback on globalization has come because many have been left out, as this analysis and others have shown. Part of tackling the problem of job loss will need to come through education: “Fail to give them the skills to be part of a fast-changing, interconnected, digital economy, and they will strive to take it apart.”

In terms of what the results signify about attitudes towards women, there were good reasons for leaders in Africa to be concerned about the setback for feminism. While it is impossible to know how much her gender played a role in Hillary’s defeat, this article from the Atlantic contends that “The more a leadership position is perceived by the public as powerful, the harder it is for women to secure it—at least until a woman manages to occupy that position and challenge its association with masculinity.” Male-dominated leadership isn’t inevitable: women have become president even in countries where there are significant gender gaps in education and life expectancy, and gender gaps in politics are closing more rapidly than in other domains.

From the world beyond election results…

  • The latest PISA results suggest that “Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms."
  • Evidence (from the U.S.) suggests schools that work well are those that have "high expectations, with high support."

  • The Education Commission released the background papers that informed their report, including several related to girls’ education that are of interest (under the “inclusion” tab).

  • Data from India highlights the need to pay attention to gaps in technology access between men and womenespecially urgent as technology gains traction as an avenue for education.

  • The 2016 cohort of Echidna Global Scholars shared their final research findings as part of a broader event at the Brookings Institution.

The Puggle will take a hiatus until our January 2017 edition. Wishing you a restful end to the year and looking forward to pursuing our collective work for girls’ education with renewed energy in 2017!

The Puggle: October 2016 Edition

Welcome to the October 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 case you missed it, on October 11 the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child. A lot of the press surrounding the event focused on how far we have to go to do right by girls around the world. But Melinda Gates expressed more optimism. Girls are getting more attention from the world’s leaders, who have better data on them than ever. Investments in adolescents are on the rise. And girls are helping one another—in part by becoming heroes and role models for each other. We Will Rise, an hour-long special about Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, features some of these girls. So, yes, we have a long ways to go to equalize opportunities for girls. But honoring the Day of the Girl also means honoring the strengths of girls around the world and we have a great many to celebrate.

For a well-told story of a remarkable young women, check out the Disney film Queen of Katwe. In telling the story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl from a slum in Katwe who becomes a chess star, the film manages to convey the context while neither overly dramatizing nor overly romanticizing it. As Director Mira Nair put it, it’s “a radical film for Disney in many ways. … It has beauty and barbarity side-by-side." The New York Times also published a short documentary about a young woman in Afghanistan who resisted marriage to stay in school.

 From the United Nations Population Fund State of the World Population report, 2017. Click on image to see source.

From the United Nations Population Fund State of the World Population report, 2017. Click on image to see source.

The United Nations Population Fund argued in their recent State of the World Population report that we should be particularly concerned about girls at age 10, which “is a critical juncture in a girl’s life.” At the Girl Summit in DC at which the report was launched, Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, argued passionately that, in fact, by the time girls turn 10, it’s too late. They’ve already faced systemic disadvantages that will set them back in life, like the fact that their brothers and fathers are served the best of the food in the house. (See this summary from Devex for other takeaways from the Summit.)

Despite the increased attention on early childhood development overall (for example, the October Lancet focuses on the subject), in our field scan we haven’t found much evidence related to systemic gender gaps for young children. What we do know is that, for the most part, in the long run girls and boys benefit equally from early childhood interventions, although girls are more likely to benefit in terms of schooling outcomes. We also learned that a careful look at existing evidence on cognitive outcomes for young children may yield some interesting insights. Given what we know about developmental differences between girls and boys, at the age of five to six girls should be a year ahead of boys academically. If outcomes at young ages are equal, it would suggest inequality in favor of boys.

We’re on the lookout for more evidence in this area: please share what you've come across in the comments below.

Stay posted for our November edition next month. In the meantime, check-out the latest call for proposals from the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education and encourage those doing great work to improve secondary education in East Africa to register by November 21!


The Puggle: September 2016 Edition

Welcome to the September installment of The Puggle, in which we share updates on emerging issues and new findings related to girls’ education from this month. It turns out September was a busy month for education. Not only did many children head back to school, but education researchers and advocates also launched three seminal reports on the status of their schooling.

The first was the Global Education Monitoring Report, which takes stock of how well countries are doing against the education targets set forth in the Sustainable Development Goals. It makes the case that achieving the education goals will be critical in order to make progress against other goals like lifting people out of poverty, improving health outcomes, engendering greater gender equality, and promoting more sustainable energy use.

 Data from the Global Education Monitoring Report by UNESCO. Click on image to see source.

Data from the Global Education Monitoring Report by UNESCO. Click on image to see source.

The Gender Review, a compendium to the report, takes a deeper look at gender parity against the education goals. It “largely focuses on the challenges facing girls and women...But it also understands that gender disadvantage can be experienced by boys and men, and that gender equality involves males, relationships and power.” Girls are more disadvantaged in lower income countries and communities, whereas boys tend to be disadvantaged in countries with high overall enrollments in secondary school.

The second report came from the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, which called on world leaders during the UN General Assembly to harness more resources for education and to use those resources more effectively in order to create The Learning Generation. In essence, the Commission concluded that education is in crisis. More children are in school than ever before, but they are not learning the skills that they need to improve their lives. This, in turn, cripples economic growth, increases the risk of violent conflict, and may erode the faith parents and communities have placed in sending their children to school. The Commissioners are optimistic we can do better...if we choose to do so.

The final report came out of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, which spent over a year scouring nearly 240 studies to compile a systematic review on “The impact of education programmes on learning and school participation in low- and middle-income countries.” Their findings—illustrated in the diagram below—suggest that “programs typically improve learning or participation, but not both.” This helpful map of the evidence enables a deeper dive on evidence related to particular interventions and outcomes and will soon include a gender lens as well.

 Overview of results across the 3ie systematic review. Image from 3ie: click to see source.

Overview of results across the 3ie systematic review. Image from 3ie: click to see source.

We'll be back next month with a new edition of the Puggle. In the meantime, the Brookings Institution has opened a call for the Echidna Global Scholars program. Encourage applicants to apply before the end of October!

The Puggle: August 2016 Edition

Welcome to The Puggle...a space where we provide updates on emerging issues and new findings related to girls’ education that we have been exposed to in the last 30 days.

This August we couldn’t help but be inspired by the Olympics! Especially the dominance of the U.S. women thanks to Title IX (which demonstrates that one law can make a major difference for gender equality) and the way other female athletes bucked social norms.

We were also inspired by this story of Prerna, a school in India run by former Echidna Scholar and current grantee Urvashi Sahni, where students engage in critical dialogues about gender norms that help “girls to reflect on their lives and to develop strategies to stand up for themselves.”

 Matunduzi Primary School in Malawi. Photo by Erik Törner.

Matunduzi Primary School in Malawi. Photo by Erik Törner.

Among the more sobering pieces on our summer reading list were three studies from Malawi that suggest limited effects from simply getting girls to complete more years of school. Baird, McIntosh, and Ozler find that "unconditional cash [to adolescent girls] caused a short-term delay of marriage, fertility, and HIV infection, but the ending of the program is immediately followed by a wave of marriages and pregnancies...[There is] no increase in employment rates, wages, or real-life capabilities, suggesting that schooling itself has not improved the medium-term labor market prospects of young women in this context." Monica Grant finds that "Despite increases in female grade attainment over the past twenty years, the age at first birth has not changed...suggesting that the deterioration of school quality and shift in the age pattern of enrollment that accompanied educational expansion may have compromised the transformative potential of education." And Chisamya et al. “found limited evidence that girls’ educational experiences [in primary and secondary school] modeled significantly different gender norms than the communities’, or that by being educated, girls experience a transformation in the gender inequalities they faced in their families or communities.”

The key to ensuring that investments in schooling continue to pay off for girls may hinge on confronting gender norms more explicitly, as Prerna does, and on investing in quality education. The latter is the argument Harry Patrinos makes in this more positive set of findings that schooling has a higher rate of return than alternative investments and that the rate of return is higher still for girls.

Patrinos also argues that expanding access to quality secondary education for the poor in rural areas will be costly, and may require alternative financing and partnerships. New delivery models may be increasingly possible: smartphone use has doubled in Africa in two years and prices continue to fall.

Part of delivering high quality education means teaching students the skills they need to succeed. Rebecca Winthrop argues to NPR that a breadth of skills like communication, critical thinking, teamwork, and perseverance will enable students to be lifelong learners.

August brought more good news for promoting the messages from our Big Bets chapter: apparently gender data is now cool! Time to make good use of all that sexy data.

Speaking of cool, in August Barack Obama declared himself a feminist in Glamour magazine, arguing “It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too." We agree!

We'll be back early next month with another puggle. Have comments on what is and isn't useful about these updates or content to suggest? Feel free to drop us a line or leave us a note in the comments!

The Puggle: July 2016 Edition

Echidna Giving is delighted to launch our blog, a space where we plan to share what we are learning and engage with others around girls' education and our philanthropy.

In this inaugural post, you'll find updates on emerging issues and new findings related to girls’ education that we were exposed to in July. We have named our monthly updates The Puggle after the name for a baby echidna. We think it rolls off the tongue nicely and we're proud of what we've birthed! Let us know in the comments section if you've come across other items that should be on our radar.

And now, for updates from July...

First Lady Michelle Obama continues advocating “Let Girls Learn” in the popular media, on the road, and, through USAID funding, in Liberia, Malawi, and Tanzania.

Across the pond, the UK made a £100m commitment to girls’ education, signaling continued commitment to the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister May appointed Priti Patel Secretary of State. There may be shifts under her leadership; Patel previously called for DFID to be replaced by a Department for International Trade and Development.

 Global Partnership for Education infographic on Breaking down the barriers to girls' education (click to view the original)

Global Partnership for Education infographic on Breaking down the barriers to girls' education (click to view the original)

DFID’S announcement was coupled with related commitments, including one by the Global Partnership for Education to implement a new Gender Policy, Strategy and Action Plan. The strategy aims to ensure that countries have in place legal frameworks, policies, and plans that support gender equality in education.  

In a recent article in Time, Jordan’s Queen Rania argues that data on women and girls is important because “data is more than numbers; at its heart, data is people—some of the most vulnerable women and girls in our world today...By counting them, we send them a message that they matter—and we make them a promise that, together, we’ll use the gender data in practical ways to help every refugee girl and woman realize a more peaceful, secure and hopeful future.” Perhaps someone slipped Queen Rania an advance copy of our Big Bets Chapter on reaching the SDGs by counting, consulting, and connecting women and girls?

Research out of the Africa Gender Innovation Lab at the World Bank shows that the biggest driver of wage gaps between men and women is the types of careers that they choose. Women who enter traditionally male careers were often nudged there by a father or other male mentor. This video shows how Pratham has supported girls in roles that are more often filled by men. 

Other research from the Gender Innovation Lab at the World Bank suggests that what’s good for girls has knock-on effects for their brothers. When boys are surrounded by empowered sisters, they, too, step it up and become more competitive!

Jimmy Carter wrote passionately about “Losing my religion for equality.” He declared that "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.” And Nick Kristof wrote passionately about how “When Women Win, Men Win, Too.”


Check back soon for the birth of our next Puggle!