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The findings > Thematic Studies> Girls Education>Part 1
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Ten years ago in the drive to promote Education for All, the world committed to focusing on girls, the largest population excluded from receiving a basic education. The level of awareness of girls' education has grown significantly, due partially to advocacy on the part of communities through to international agencies. Over the decade, there have been great improvements in some areas and, unfortunately, reversals in others. Many things have been tried, and much is known about what works and what does not in educating girls. New challenges have emerged over the decade. We know that all children have the right to acquire a quality basic education, and realistic plans and targets can be put in place for this. During the first decade of the new millennium, stakeholders at all levels (from government policy makers to local school committees, to teachers, to communities, to families, and girls themselves) need to mobilize resources and get all girls in school and make it possible for them to complete a basic education. It can be done. It must be done.
This Thematic Study sets out to describe what has been accomplished since the historic World Conference on Education for All held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990, outlines the major trends, presents the major lessons learned, identifies emerging issues, and proposes priorities for the next ten to 15 years.9.
Since 1990, there has been general acceptance of the critical importance of education to human development, and of the key role played by girls' education within this. From a human rights perspective, girls' education must remain a priority as girls still constitute almost two thirds of the children excluded from a basic education. This acceptance has led to commitments in a number of countries around the world, and to substantial progress in identifying obstacles to girls' education and in understanding how to overcome these obstacles.
Over the decade, several countries in the Middle East region have demonstrated that getting girls into school is quite possible, and data from other regions show some encouraging gains. The largest number of girls not realizing their right to a basic education remain in South Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa still presents the greatest challenge-both in terms of the size of the gender gap and because population growth rates remain high and so further challenge sufficient availability of school places. At the same time, Sub-Saharan Africa has also demonstrated its willingness to try new initiatives and innovations specifically directed at attracting girls to school and keeping them there. Worldwide, discrimination on the basis of gender remains a problem, and the focus on girls' education from a gender perspective has raised important questions about the education of boys as well.
There have also been some disappointments in the struggle for gender equality in education since Jomtien. In some cases, investments in girls' education have, unfortunately, increased, rather than decreased the gender gap. In other cases, consistent gains have been halted, or even reversed, due to negative conditions in the environment external to the education system. Data gaps make it difficult to accurately assess what is happening to girls in the difficult economic circumstances in parts of Eastern and Central Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Similarly, data are hard to find on the extent of the impact of conflict and external stress on the education of girls in approximately 50 affected countries.
Lessons learned
Most important are the lessons that the decade has given the world. The thoughtful and careful application of these lessons on a situation by situation basis will enable acceleration of girls' education so that the target of Education for All can be met within 15 years. There is a great number of lessons, but they are presented in six general categories for the purpose of summarization. Girls' education is more than an educational issue. It is deeply influenced by such things as poverty, tradition, habit, legal systems, and discrimination-all requiring political will, not just to educate girls, but also to eliminate those non-education obstacles.
The evidence is clear: strong and committed leadership at every level is essential to put in place the changes that are required to make girls' education a possibility and to maintain the momentum to make it a reality. To be effective, leaders must have sufficient evidence that the change they are supporting is in the overall best interest of those they are serving. Thus, it becomes important to have supportive fora for sharing information and for advocacy. These latter two lessons require up-to-date and practical information that is derived from an ongoing and serious research base that also supports the refinement of existing education data bases.
These first four categories of lessons are, perhaps, somewhat self-evident. The other two essential areas are less obvious. It is clear that for sustainability and to address issues of quality, equivalence, and demand, it is essential to take a systemic approach to reforms so that girls are no longer excluded. Finally, the only way that all these areas have been adequately pulled together in a coherent way that facilitates the kinds of change that are required to get all girls into a basic education of good quality is through extended and expanded partnerships. It is these new and creative partnerships that have brought the necessary dynamism into education systems, defined broadly, and enabled them to expand and reach out to include girls.
Within each of these categories there is a wide range of strategies and approaches that have been tried. They are not all equally effective and it is clear that some are more applicable to some contexts than others. There have also been some difficult lessons to learn-for example, discovery that some of the approaches that were believed to be simple and easily adapted to a wide range of environments are, in fact, quite limited.
New challenges
Since the Jomtien conference much has changed and, as a result, new questions and issues have emerged. The Thematic Study selects some of these and shows how they create new and nuanced challenges in the new millennium. Certainly the focus on girls' education from a gender perspective has raised many important issues about boys' education, and it is fully recognized that a gender-sensitive education is one of the things that will make the vision of Education for All a reality. Similarly, the evolution over the decade in girls' education and, in particular, attempts to better understand the gender gap have resulted in a much better understanding of exclusion-from school, but also in the classroom, even for many who are already in school but excluded from effective learning. This work, often pioneered by a focus on girls, can make it possible to adapt what is known to include other excluded and marginalized groups. One of these groups, among many, that is a challenge consists of adolescents.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic presents unexpected challenges of enormous proportions. Girls are disproportionately negatively affected, whether they are infected or not. Immediate and concerted effort is essential or the hard won gains in girls' education of more than a decade will be eliminated in a few years.
It is very apparent from the work in girls' education that access to and quality of education are inextricably linked-it would be easier if this were not the case. This bears on very closely to two other critical aspects of girls' (and boys') education: the need to understand both demand and supply and how these play out, one against the other. Everybody agrees that quality is important, but the experience of and challenge arising from girls' education is that the very notion of quality must change in some very fundamental ways. A quality education includes learning the basics and learning how to learn in a safe, secure, gender-sensitive, healthy, and protective learning environment. This finding presents an enormous challenge to systems that often find it difficult to offer basic education meeting the conventional definition of quality.
New research on globalisation is showing the enormous potential of the processes that accompany it to increase disparity. This is particularly alarming as women are already the bulk of the poor and globalisation could exacerbate the situation. In the face of this challenge and to break the cycle of women's poverty, girls' education has to take on a new urgency. On the other hand, the promise of the possibility of new information and communication technologies being brought to bear to close the growing digital divide could make an enormous difference in alleviating unfair disparities. A challenge for girls' education is deeply embedded in this possibility, however. There is a growing body of evidence that girls and women are less likely to benefit from these new technologies than their male counterparts.
A challenge that is not discussed much, but is emerging, is a worldwide growing push from forces in support of religious fundamentalism. Often this results in a decrease in, rather than increase in, the rights and empowerment of girls and women. The links of fundamentalism to patriarchy and their implications for educational change deserve more attention if girls' education is to move ahead at an accelerated pace.
Understanding these challenges and monitoring how they are affecting girls' education require more robust data that extend beyond the conventional education statistics. It also demands disaggregated data so that the nature of challenges can be properly understood.
It is not possible to address all issues simultaneously. Priorities have to be set-some can be set globally, but good analysis at local and national levels is critical to determine how best to overcome the barriers to girls' education in a timely manner. Simple access to any kind of basic education remains a major issue for millions of children, the majority girls.
Careful and strategic application of lessons learned to close the gender gap and address educational quality are essential if all are to receive a quality basic education. There is no single intervention that will work everywhere-each context will have to adapt what is known to the particular and nuanced circumstances that are working against girls' education. Linked to this is the fact that efforts in support of girls' education must move from what are primarily limited efforts to go to massive scale. This will present enormous challenges around the world, but without such an effort the majority of excluded girls will remain on the outside looking in for the foreseeable future.
To make this extra effort, to accelerate progress, will require ingenuity, persistence, ongoing fostering of new partnerships, and significant resource mobilisation and utilisation. There are probably fewer "lessons learned" in girls' education with regard to resource mobilisation than any of the other areas selected for discussion. Yet this topic may present one of the greatest remaining challenges. It is hard to reach girls (poor, with disabilities, affected by conflict or HIV/AIDS, engaged in child labour, for example) who must be included, and it is likely to take more resources per child to reach them than it took to reach those who are already in school.
To reach Education for All girls must be included-without this the world will have failed to deliver on the promise of a basic education for all. Girls can be included. It is possible. It must be achieved.
In March 1990, 1,500 participants from 155 governments, 20 intergovernmental bodies and 140 nongovernmental organizations met in Jomtien, Thailand, moved by a common concern for the global condition of education. They were seized by the imperative to make a fresh start and a new commitment to fulfilling the goal of education for all--especially for girls.
Three ground-breaking emphases in the drive for universal access to quality education emerged from the conference: (1) adult literacy as key in extending efforts to provide educational for children; (2) the recognition that girls and women constituted the majority of the unschooled in almost every region of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia; and (3) an expanded vision of education as a lifelong process of learning that includes but is not limited to schooling.
Participants made a global commitment at Jomtien to ensure access to, and improve the quality of, education for girls and women, and to remove every obstacle that hampers their active participation (Article 3, WCEFA). Every country, organization and agency dedicated itself to achieving this goal. Getting girls into school and ensuring that they benefited from the experience in a supportive, enabling environment was identified as critical to achieving education for all.
This decade has seen some of the greatest strides ever for women and children. However, as participants at the mid-decade EFA review in Amman, Jordan acknowledged, gender inequalities in education "is an area where in most regions of the world, least progress has been made…" Gender equity in education was reaffirmed as a priority for action.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, formulated in 1989, claimed the right to a quality education for all girls and boys. Article 28 states that education is a right which must be achieved "on the basis of equal opportunity." From a human rights perspective, girls' education must remain a top priority, since girls still constitute almost two thirds of the children excluded from a basic education. Education for girls means that as women they will be able to exercise their rights to participate in political and economic decision-making in the community as well as in the household, as well as participate in development efforts and in the household and in the community.
Educating girls has benefits at the personal, community and social levels that make it one of the most important investments that any developing country can make . Several decades of research have demonstrated that educated girls become more effective mothers who have higher survival rates among their children because they have better nutrition and health practices. Educated women are more likely to enter the formal labour market, earn higher wages and thus contribute more directly to a nation's economic productivity. There is also an intergenerational impact in that the daughters and sons of educated women are more likely to be educated and thus carry the benefits into succeeding generations. A recent review and analysis that aimed to 'identify the main elements of successful country performance in human development' concluded that the one 'seemingly necessary condition is a high female (primary) enrolment ratio'.
Since many countries dedicate significant proportions of their national budgets to supporting their education systems, stakeholders at all levels should work to ensure that education systems are effective and efficient. Education systems should provide quality education to both boys and girls, teaching them in a cost-effective manner what they need to know for life in the 21st century. When a significant proportion of the population is not obtaining these benefits--as is the case in most regions of the world--all stakeholders need to review the system's functioning to ensure that the funding dedicated to this sector is being well spent. Targeting girls' and women's education is a key strategy for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of school systems. Not only girls benefit from this focus. One of the clearest lessons from activities of the past decade is that boys also benefit from efforts to promote the participation of girls, in enrolment and even in achievement.
At Jomtien participants faced the reality that the gender gap in primary school enrolment ratios had not diminished despite a significant expansion of education in the least developed countries . After girls entered school, they often dropped out earlier than boys. Circumstances needed to be more favourable to permit girls' retention within the system. Schools had to be cheaper, better and closer to home to attain universal access for girls, especially in the poorest countries and the regions of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. While other regions had reached universal access or were close to it at the primary level, in many countries differentials between girls and boys still persisted at the secondary and tertiary levels in many countries. Further, the data from higher educational levels in almost all regions revealed that girls studied mathematics and science and entered the more technological careers at far lower rates than boys.
Beyond issues of access and subject choice, the school experience itself was significantly different for girls than for boys. The hidden curriculum in teaching materials, notably textbooks, and the attitudes of teachers, administrators, and other pupils conveyed the message to girls that they were inferior to boys and should have lower aspirations for themselves. There was a strong suspicion that these negative attitudes and experiences were being reflected in the generally low attainment and achievement levels for girls as compared to boys. These and other factors led participants to the conclusion that many education systems are systematically biased against girls.
Some populations were more likely to have low schooling rates. For example, poorer communities, those isolated by geographic or cultural barriers, or those who were part of religious or ethnic minorities were much more likely to enrol fewer children, especially girls. Governments and societies were excluding significant portions of their population. Participants at Jomtien adopted a Framework for Action as the guiding document to achieve education for girls and all excluded populations by the end of the decade.
Scope of Study
The WCEFA Framework for Action designed the following targets and objectives for girls' education: (a) universal access to and completion of basic education by the year 2000; and (b) reduction of the adult literacy rate to one-half its 1990 level by the year 2000, with sufficient emphasis on female literacy to significantly reduce the current disparity between male and female illiteracy rates.
Ten years later, the convening partners commissioned a series of thematic studies to examine the progress that has been made in reaching those goals. This thematic study on girls' education, in keeping with the general EFA 2000 assessment, is global in scope and covers girls in basic education. The focus is on developing countries, developed countries are mentioned also. While some clear differences between regions exist, these are of degree and not kind, therefore a global analysis is appropriate. Female literacy rates are addressed in places where they emphasise the critical need for girls' education.

The parameters for analysing girls' education are these:

Access-Are girls and women physically, culturally and legally able to access educational services? How are the needs of the excluded addressed?

Achievement-Do girls and women within educational institutions learn as much as boys and do they demonstrate similar achievement patterns in their learning through standard assessment measures?

Attainment-To what extent do girls and women progress toward secondary, technical and tertiary levels?

Completion-Having attained a certain level of education, what percentage of girls and women are able to complete it?

Dropout-At what stage and in what proportion do girls and women drop out from educational systems?

Teaching practices, curriculum, teacher and community attitudes, cultural practices, and state policies help to explain the parameters in their contextual perspective. Lessons learned from the 1990s offer insights into the challenges to be addressed in this new century.
The study is based on a review of EFA country reports ; the review of documents provided by the convening partners and other agencies interested in promoting the education of girls and women; individual interviews (in person, over the phone and via e-mail) with knowledgeable informants; and the authors' backgrounds in this area.
One caveat is that a problem still exists with educational statistics. The international databases tend to be several years behind and there is little consistency between editions of such sources as the UNESCO Statistical Yearbooks. This report relies on the most recent data available, which has generally incorporated corrections for earlier periods. Therefore, the level of enrolments reported for 1990 is based not on data available in 1990 but on that contained in the most recent UNESCO database (September, 1999).
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