The girls' education has long been considered one of the single most effective development investments that can be made. Providing girls with quality education not only empowers them throughout their lives, but also has positive outcomes across generations. Numerous studies have provided tangible evidence that high-quality girls' education leads to wide-ranging returns: better outcomes in economic areas of growth and incomes, reduced rates of infant and maternal mortality, reduced rates of child marriage, reduced rates of the incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria, increased agricultural productivity, increased resilience to natural disasters, women's empowerment, and so on.
Inspite of massive progress in girls' education over the past two decades, girls and young women in many parts of the world have to face major challenges. More than 60 million girls around the world are still shut off from primary and secondary education. Many countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, have also observed attacks on girls' education and threats to close down schools. According to a UNICEF study (2016), often, girls are marginalised and are out of school simply because they are girls and it is not the cultural norm. Their chances of getting a quality education are even smaller if they come from a poor family, live in a rural area or have a disability. Moreover, there are often legal, religious and traditional practices that discriminate against girls having the chance to get an education.
Every girl has a right to learn and get a good quality education, regardless of religion, ethnicity, where they live in or their circumstances. And yet, in virtually every nation's resources are scarce and those arguing for a greater investment in girls' education must come to the table with not only a soft heart but also concrete evidence. In the book "What Works in Girls Education: Evidence for the World's Best Investment", the authors Gene B Sperling and Dr. Rebecca Winthrop have brought together a comprehensive body of evidence on why and how to improve education for girls around the world. The book compiles over forty years of research on girls' education and argues that the improvement and investment therein has a wide-reaching impact upon the world ranging from the economy, public health, reducing child marriage, and the empowerment of women. It also presents an unprecedented analysis of real world experiences and solid evidence addressing understudied issues like how to improve the school to work transition, with examples of programmes like 'Youth in Action' in Colombia, or the 'Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women' programme in Liberia.
The book consists of five chapters. The introductory chapter draws our attention to the power of girls' education and provides striking evidences on why girls' education matters and what works in educating girls is undeniably essential. Evidence indicates that educating women leads to a positive inter-generational cycle. When girls are educated, they become educated mothers who are more likely to see that both their daughters and sons are educated. And this is perhaps the greatest return from the investment in girls' education: the belief that when a single girl who would have been denied an education receives a high-quality education, it starts a positive cycle of education and empowerment from mother to daughter, generation after generation.
Chapter-2 reviews evidence on the economic, social, and political benefits of girls' education. In doing so it mainly focuses on the most important reasons why girls' education may be the smartest investment in the world. Education for girls and boys increases productivity, including in agricultural production, and is an important contributor to economic growth. Increasing levels of girls' education has been shown to dramatically reduce the incidence of infant and maternal mortality; since better-educated adolescents and women are better able to seek and negotiate life-saving health care for themselves and their young children. Better-educated mothers have healthier and better-educated children who are more likely to benefit from adequate nutrition and immunizations, attend school more regularly and longer, and study more frequently. Girls' education is often called the social vaccine against HIV/AIDS and malaria because better-educated girls and women are more likely to use prevention techniques. Better-educated women are more empowered women who have more say over their lives, participate more in decision-making in households, and have an increased sense of their own worth.
The third chapter depicts the state of girls' education. Here, the authors review how far we have come over the past several decades and the nature of the girls' education challenge that remains. Data presented in this chapter indicates that there has been enormous progress. Since 2000, the number of girls out of primary school has been virtually cut in half, and enrolment has increased by 8.0 per cent. Women and adolescent girls are completing more years of school than ever before. Today, women and girls more than fifteen years old spend, on average, seven years in school, compared with five years in 1990. However, amid this progress, there remain tens of millions of girls who are still being deprived of their basic right to an education. A total of 62 million girls are denied the right to attend primary and lower-secondary school. Girls who seek to attend school face violence and even death in many countries and too many face sexual abuse even when they are at school. Less than one in three girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and fewer than half in South Asia are enrolled in secondary school. Poor, rural girls still face a triple disadvantage. In 2010, the poorest women in rural areas in both low- and lower-middle-income countries had spent less than three years in school.
Chapter-4 provides a catalogue of the latest information about what works in girls' education by subject-matter, giving the readers both the key findings and the exact citations to the authors and publications of the top studies and evaluations of education interventions. This chapter gathers the evidence on what works in girls' education into seven groups of interventions: I) Making schools affordable - Reducing direct costs to families by eliminating school fees and reducing indirect and opportunity costs through scholarships, stipends, cash, and in-kind transfers. II) Addressing girls' health - Providing school meals and improving water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure. The evidence shows that supplying girls with sanitary pads leads girls to feel much better about themselves, less anxious about others knowing they are menstruating, and more confident about participating in school. III) Reducing the time and distance to school - Building schools closer to girls' homes, establishing community schools to reduce the cultural distance between home and school, and employing flexible school schedules to accommodate girls' work. IV) Making schools girls-friendly - Eliminating a range of explicit and implicit acts or threats of sexual, physical, or psychological violence against girls in and around schools. V) Improving the quality of education - Assuring that a girl has a high-quality learning experience and a high-quality education while in school. VI) Increasing community engagement - Engaging the community, parents, and especially mothers in the management of a school and its committees. VII) Sustaining education during emergencies - Ensuring that girls' education continues during emergencies caused by wars, natural disasters, and epidemics.
The final chapter of the book places a special focus on five compelling challenges for the next decade. The first challenge is to achieve actual learning and a high-quality education which will ensure that girls are truly learning both "hard" skills like literacy and numeracy, and "soft" skills like communication, teamwork, and resilience. The second major challenge is stopping the growing violence against girls in educational settings and helping them learn, even in conflicts and emergencies. The third challenge for the next decade is enabling girls to complete secondary education and to address the learning needs of marginalized out-of-school adolescent girls. The fourth challenge for the next decade is to assist girls make school-to-work transitions. This means focusing not only on girls' successful transitions to work and livelihood after leaving school but also improving their employment outcomes, including wages and the nature of her work. The fifth major challenge is to empower girls and women through education. Even today one of the world's great moral crises is the degree to which women face discriminatory laws, domestic violence, economic barriers, a lack of equal pay and job opportunities, and unequal political representation around the world. The push for girls' education, thus, must have a special emphasis and focus on empowering girls to overcome such barriers and to lead change for women.
S. M. Rayhanul Islam is an independent researcher.