Helping Current and Future Adolescent Girls Requires Bailing Out the Boat but Also Fixing the Hole

Guest blog written by Michelle Kaffenberger, Kirsty Newman, Marla Spivack

Guaranteeing quality education for every girl requires a two-pronged approach: bailing out the boat and fixing the hole in its hull. We need to invest in today’s primary school girlswho are future adolescentsto ensure that they gain the foundational skills they need to start and stay on a strong learning trajectory. Programmes aimed at girls who have already reached adolescence need to focus on closing learning gaps, not just inducing greater attendance, so that girls reap the full benefit of additional time spent in school.

The consequences of low learning

You only have to look at modern-day heroines Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg to appreciate the power that adolescent girls have to change the world. Their potential is limitless. But tragically, too many adolescent girls struggle to reach their full potential, often because education systems are failing them. Many stakeholders blame early marriage, pregnancy, or entry into the workforce for pulling girls out of school, and propose solutions to tackle these.  But these pulls are often symptoms of dropout. The deeper cause is often low learning pushing girls out.

new RISE Insight Note discusses how insights from learning trajectories (analysis of how much children learn over time) can inform approaches to supporting today’s and tomorrow’s girls. For many children in developing countries, learning trajectories are too shallow and flatten out far too quickly. The illustration in Figure 1 shows how damaging flat learning trajectories can be. The purple line shows a learning trajectory that makes enough progress to reach threshold goals, like basic arithmetic, early and sets girls up to reach aspirational goals (like advanced calculus) by the end of school. But the orange learning trajectory is too flat, meaning that children learn little and fall behind the level of instruction. Even if a girl whose learning follows this trajectory persists all the way to the end of school, she can’t reach even the threshold goal at this slow learning pace.

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To Increase Girls’ Schooling, Improve Girls’ Learning

written by Michelle Kaffenberger, Danielle Sobol, Deborah Spindelman, Marla Spivack

A new paper shows that girls who are learning are more likely to stay in school. Improving learning could be key to achieving both schooling and learning goals.

The G7 recently agreed to two new education objectives: ensure that 40 million more girls attend school and that 20 million more girls are able to read by 2026. A new RISE working paper suggests good news: that progress on the girls’ learning goal may actually be one of the keys to delivering on the girls’ schooling goal. 

The paper draws on longitudinal quantitative and qualitative data from the Young Lives Surveys in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam to understand why children drop out of school. The quantitative data reveals a strong link between low learning and later dropout. The qualitative findings reveal that low learning often underlies other, more commonly cited reasons girls drop out such as marriage or work. Girls report seeking ways to provide for their futures, and when it becomes clear that they are learning too little for school to provide future security, they seek other means such as a husband or a job.

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To Improve Women’s Lives, Start by Improving Girls’ Education

written by Marla Spivack

By ensuring that all girls are receiving inclusive, effective instruction in well-functioning education systems, we can grow closer to achieving SDG 4’s promise of universal literacy and numeracy and lifelong learning.

Today is International Women’s Day. Among the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 presents, there are manymanymany issues in women’s lives that deserve urgent attention.  Amid all of those pressing challenges, we should not lose sight of how COVID-19 is affecting today’s girls, who will become tomorrow’s women. 

COVID-19 and girls’ schooling

COIVD-19 has closed schools. According to UNESCO, nearly 1.5 billion children in more than 180 countries were affected by the closures. For girls with access to the internet, this means time spent in front of screens, where too little is known about how the abrupt transition to online learning will affect their progress. But for girls in disadvantaged countries and communities who lack access to the technology that enables remote schooling, school closures have severely curtailed or even completely paused their learning. 

Fortunately, schools are starting to open up again. This is welcome news. But school systems will have to act quickly to help girls catch up from this lost year of learning. Simulations and empirical estimates suggest that when children miss out on time in school, they can continue to fall farther behind after they return unless sufficient attention is paid to ensuring that classroom instruction matches children’s actual, post-lockdown learning levels rather than simply defaulting where the curriculum would have been under business as usual. Education systems need to focus on foundations when schools reopen, assess where students are when schools reopen, provide adequate time for remediation, and streamline curricula so that children don’t fall farther behind when they are back in the classroom

Those are the immediate steps systems can take to help children catch up from this crisis, but the reopening of schools is also the right time to ask: what kind of school systems are girls returning to? 

Even before the pandemic, far too many girls had their future potential stymied by ineffective education systems

The World Bank’s Learning Poverty measure paints a stark picture of the poor quality of the education most children in low- and middle-income countries receive. 53 percent of boys and girls in low- and middle- income countries reach the age of 10 without mastering basic reading skills. In the world’s poorest countries, the figures are even more grim, as Figure 1 shows.

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