Post by Judithe Registre, Program Director for Because I am a Girl at Plan International USA
Education is the greatest investment that a nation can make in its citizens or that a parent can make in his or her child. It is indisputable that historically marginalized groups are too often denied access to an education by those holding power. Withholding education is the most effective tool for those in power to control their citizens.
Learning is equally effective for economic development and national transformation. As a precursor to the evolution of a nation, an investment in education gives people the knowledge and skills needed for the entire nation to advance. Governments will lead more effectively with an educated populace, and only then is democracy truly conceivable and economic development possible.
The sharp contrast seen today between the developed and developing nations is embedded in the allocation of national resources to ensure access to an education for all its citizens. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) better life index, in the United States, 89% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, much higher than the OECD average of only 74%. This achievement is truer of women than men, with 90% of women in the US completing high school compared to 88% of men. A person in the US has on average 12 years of schooling; whereas citizens in countries like Indonesia and India have on average only five years of schooling. In Haiti, the average is 2.8 years, and in Sierra Leone and Nepal, only 2.4 years.
The figures are even more alarming for girls. While school enrollment for girls has increased over time, attainment of full primary or high school education remains a major obstacle for too many girls in developing countries. Indeed, much can be revealed about a nation by examining the status of its girls and women citizens. There is evidence to prove that a nation’s well-being is clearly linked to the well-being of its girls and women. As such, how girls are treated says a great deal about a society.
According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 61 million primary-school-aged children are out of school, 32 million (53%) of which are girls. The figure of 53% of girls compared to 47% of boys being out of school shows very little difference in terms of attendance gap. However, 75% of these out-of-school girls are expected never to enroll again. There is a far greater tendency for a girl to be pulled out of school for an early, forced marriage or to work to meet the economic needs of the family. She is likely to never return.
When you put girls as a marginalized educational group under the spotlight, the impact and the outcomes are evident in those societies where education without gender discrimination is seen as a priority. When Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore transitioned from developing countries to middle class nations, the education of their populace, both male and female equally, was a major contributor to that success. This is evident in the data: the literacy rate in Malaysia for men and women sits at 95%. The results of the investment made in schooling were a gain for both the individual and the society. While you could argue that education alone is not a cure for the many social ills that plague communities worldwide, we do know one simple basic truth—education does improve much in a country, ranging from health to economics, governance, poverty and child survival rates, as well as future education, agriculture, and food security.
Influential cultural views in many developing countries often maintain that an investment in girls’ education is foolish. These views are simply wrong. Why? Even if we agree with the traditional practices that accept that the roles and responsibilities of girls are largely to become future mothers and wives, the case for investing in their formal and informal schooling is even more strongly justified. The education of a mother has a direct impact on the future prosperity on her children. Research shows that for every extra year a mother stays in school, her daughters are 20% more likely to stay an extra year, and her sons are 10% more likely. Moreover, education translates into fewer and healthier kids. The numbers do not support the same arguments for fathers.
Plan International USA is deeply committed through the “Because I am a Girl” campaign to ensure that girls are granted the opportunity to attain an education. Through its child-centered community development and gender-transformative approaches, Plan continues to improve economic development gains by investing in girls, especially the most marginalized girls across many communities in countries around the world.
We support contextually appropriate education projects and work with governments in developing countries as well in the developed world to gain strong commitments to education and advocacy, increase donor funding, and achieve a transformative policy for bi-lateral assistance. Over the last two decades, the school attendance rates for girls have increased. We must assert that still it is not yet time to celebrate.
Progress does not automatically translate to true educational attainment because of the many obstacles girls still face to remain in school. Full educational attainment that aims for at least nine years of school is the next great obstacle to overcome. We are working diligently with the “Because I am a Girl” campaign to help more communities realize their aspirations for greater prosperity. That prosperity starts with girls—who have been for far too long denied the chance to realize their full potential—and ends with more prosperous communities and peaceful and stable nations. The focus on girls is done while continuing efforts to ensure boys are receiving a transformative education to meet the demand of a modern world that entrenches true equality as the fundamental principle of existence.