Education Helps Girls Overcome a History of Disadvantage

Article excerpt

A recent report--New Lessons: The Power of Educating Adolescent Girls, by Cynthia B. Lloyd, with Juliet Young--builds a case for the education of adolescent girls. It provides a framework for positioning them within the educational system. And it assesses past and current educational programs for girls in relation to the evidence on successful and promising approaches.

"Continuing education during adolescence is a necessary first step for girls if they are to overcome a history of disadvantage in paid employment and civic life," says Lloyd, who was at the Population Council when she wrote the book and is now a Council consulting senior associate.

Lloyd previously chaired the panel of experts who produced the enormously influential volume on the lives of adolescents, Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries. Lloyd and several other Population Council staff members contributed to that publication and its follow-up, The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies, both of which shaped the World Bank's World Development Report 2007 and influenced many policies on adolescent girls around the world.

State of girls' education around the world

Over the past 15 years, girls' education in the developing world has been a story of progress. Interest and financial backing from the development community have grown steadily in response to accumulating evidence documenting the many benefits of girls' schooling. Female education is now a major part of global development commitments, including the Millennium Development Goals.

Alongside this global interest, school enrollments have climbed. The large majority of girls now attend primary schools, and most girls attend school into early adolescence. The gender gap is closing, and higher enrollments are boosting economic returns.

But there is still a long way to go, says Lloyd. Girls' primary school completion rates are below 50 percent in most poor countries. The situation is worse by the time girls reach secondary school. In Africa, girls' secondary school enrollments have fallen relative to boys' since 2000. And throughout the developing world, young women are underrepresented in the workforce.

One of the most significant problems in most developing and conflict-affected countries is the failure of education systems to realize their potential to empower adolescent girls. Fewer girls attend formal education in later adolescence and, of those who do, many are in primary rather than secondary school, where one might expect to find them. The fact that the majority of donor funding is directed toward girls' primary school attendance may contribute to this pattern.

While primary schooling is a basic need for all children, education for adolescents can be transformative. Many benefits are immediate. The prospect of secondary education motivates girls to complete primary school. Being in school along with boys during adolescence fosters greater gender equality in the daily lives of adolescents. Education for adolescent girls helps them avoid long working hours and early pregnancies, and lowers their risk of HIV infection. In the long term, secondary education offers greater prospects of remunerative employment, with girls receiving substantially higher returns in the workplace than boys when both complete secondary school.

New Lessons seeks to increase understanding about the education of adolescent girls. Given the lack of information on education programs for girls, Lloyd and Young provide new data and analysis from research on more than 300 past and current programs and projects. Drawing on available data, they identify demand-side and supply-side approaches that are most commonly practiced with the goal of improving education for girls. "One of our most important findings is that there have been very few evaluations of these common programs," says Lloyd. …