Who is responsible for ensuring gender equality in education?

ukfietProblems require solutions, which requires knowing who is responsible for fixing them, and having clear steps to address the issue. This is the meaning of accountability. A longstanding issue like gender inequality, therefore, is one for which accountability is clearly not yet doing its job. What are the bottlenecks, and what are the solutions? These were the questions the GEM Report, together with the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, put to a roomful of people at last week’s UKFIET Conference in England. The event was the first consultation held by the team on the 2017/8 GEM Report Gender Review due out in March 2018.

The consultation began by asking who is responsible for gender equality in education. It ran through some of the principal actors, including:

  • Governments: responsible for the enforcement of the right to education and non-discrimination. They must consider the gender implications of how they allocate resources, gender equality in teacher pay, how school leadership appointments are made, gender-bias free curricula and textbooks; gender-sensitive teacher training programmes; and gender sensitive school facilities.
  • Schools: responsible for ensuring safe and inclusive learning environments free from school-related gender-based violence and gender-biased student treatment.
  • Teachers: responsible for using inclusive instructional practices and fair disciplinary approaches – and promoting active discussions on gender issues, as long as the curriculum, textbooks and their preparation allow them to do so.
  • Parents: responsible for ensuring there is no-discrimination in their choices over which children go to school, and for providing equal support and encouragement regardless of their child’s gender.
  • All of us as community members or professionals: responsible for monitoring governments, schools and teachers, to challenge stereotypes and ensure discrimination is not tolerated.

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What matters for education reform? Lessons from the Partnership Schools for Liberia experiment and beyond

Engaging the private sector to overcome the learning crisis is all the rage in global education. This is giving rise to heated debates, as evident from responses to a paper just published on Liberia’s high-profile ‘Partnership Schools for Liberia’ (PSL) experiment.

liberia reportThe authors of the Liberia report conclude: ‘After one year, public schools managed by private operators raised student learning by 60 percent compared to standard public schools. But costs were high, performance varied across operators, and contracts authorized the largest operator to push excess pupils and under-performing teachers into other government schools.’

While the learning gains are important, this does not sound an overwhelming success, particularly given the low base of learning, and that in some cases the programme resulted in a shuffling of students between schools. Overall, there is no evidence that the programme increased enrolment in a context where only around 38% of children of the official school age are in school. As most of the children not in school are from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, these children did not have a chance to benefit from the programmes. Moreover, the learning gains of 0.18 standard deviations are also relatively modest according to J-PAL’s assessment, which suggests that a 0.1 standard deviation improvement is typically considered a small effect. Continue reading

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What do we mean by literacy in a digital world?

literacy dayThe meaning of the word literacy has developed continuously over the years. Today, the fact that International Literacy Day is on the theme of literacy in a digital world reminds us how the world has changed.

At the end of the US Revolution in 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris that, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Subsequent futurists  thought that books would become obsolete. In 1894, a bibliophile, Louis Octave Uzanne published ‘The End of Books’ warning that electronic media would soon replace books.

In recent years, the mass circulation of printed material rapidly declined in many countries. UNESCO stopped collecting newspaper circulation information in 2004. Not only are newspapers scarce in many countries, but so are books and libraries. For example, in Nigeria there is one library for every 1,350,000 people. Nigerian linguist Nolue Emenanjo termed Nigeria as nearly “bookless”. Continue reading

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It’s not ok if prisoners can’t read


Image: Tiago Pinheiro

Tomorrow is International Literacy Day. A group, which has higher rates of illiteracy than other sections of the population but is rarely discussed, is those in the correctional justice system.

In the 2016 GEM Report, we noted that more than 75% of convicted persons in Italy had not completed high school in 2001, while United Kingdom incarceration rates among men aged 21 to 25 were more than eight times higher for those with no qualifications than for those with some qualification. A recent newspaper article points out that half of Britain’s prisoners are functionally illiterate. Research conducted for the European Commission revealed that in the Netherlands, 27% of early school leavers were suspected of a crime compared to 7% of non-school leavers. In Ireland, early school leavers were significantly more likely to be convicted (46.6 out of 1,000) compared with those who achieved the Leaving Certificate (1.6 out of 1,000)). Between seven and sixteen per cent of the prisoners in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in the late 2000s had not completed compulsory school. These startling statistics are concerning, as literacy skills can have a significant impact on a prisoner’s rehabilitation prospects.

There are significant logistical hurdles that must be overcome to provide education to those in the correctional justice system. Prisoners who have started a course in prison are often not able to finish it if they’re released in the meantime, and transfers between prisons can also severely affect prisoners’ learning and result in a loss of individual learning plans and assessment results. A study of prisoners in the United Kingdom showed that being transferred to another prison was the primary reason for a failure to complete a course. Sweden is leading the way in addressing this issue, by introducing distance learning in all Swedish prisons which means that teachers can teach students regardless of their physical location. Continue reading

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The GEM Report at UKFIET 2017

ukfietThe 14th International Conference on Education and Development organized by UKFIET will be held this week in Oxford, England. The packed schedule includes many events with GEM Report focus as shown in the calendar below.

The theme of this year’s conference, ‘Learning and Teaching for Sustainable Development: Curriculum, Cognition and Context’, will explore the importance of focusing on what is taught and learnt for achieving sustainable development. This is an area we covered in depth in the 2016 GEM Report and in a policy paper on textbook content released this year. It is an area we consider central to progress towards sustainable development and central to Target 4.7 in particular in SDG 4. We will continue monitoring this area in future GEM Reports, including the publication due out this October. Continue reading

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‘Cracking the code’ to end gender disparities in STEM

By Justine Sass, UNESCO

1Girls and women are significantly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions worldwide, a divide rooted in girls’ earliest days of socialization and schooling and one that a groundbreaking UNESCO report aims to address.

UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova officially launched the report “Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM” at a three-day International Symposium and Policy Forum, attended by more than 300 delegates from over 70 countries, which concluded in Bangkok on Wednesday.  “[The STEM gender gap] disempowers girls and women and throws a shadow over entire societies, placing a break on progress to sustainable development. In this new age of limits, when every country is seeking new sources of dynamism, no one can afford to shunt aside 50 percent of its creativity … 50 percent of its innovation,” she said in her opening remarks.

The “Cracking the code” report highlights that tremendous strides have been made in narrowing the gender gap in education in recent decades. Millions of girls and women previously shut out of learning opportunities altogether now fully exercise their fundamental right to education and thrive in the pursuit. However, severe gender inequalities persist for those already in school. A major concern in many countries is limited educational pathways for girls and more specifically, lower participation and learning achievement of girls in STEM fields of study in many settings. Continue reading

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Samoa votes against reintroducing corporal punishment in schools

Corporal punishment was only banned in Samoan schools in 2013. Four years later, however, the issue was once again up for debate. Thankfully, a matter of days ago, Cabinet decided to uphold the ban. Amongst those who have questioned whether the ban on corporal punishment is correct was a leading education official who worried that the ban served to protect only the child’s rights and not those of the teacher.

Millions of children around the world suffer physical violence at school under the guise of discipline: over one-half of all children worldwide live in countries where they have no legal protection from corporal punishment, of which 45% live in South Asia. As of December 2014, 122 states had prohibited corporal punishment in schools; 76 had no such prohibitions.

1In Samoa, the debate centred on the prevalence of violence in schools, which cumulated in the government closing a high school connected to several violent fights between students. The Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) shows the extent to which there is a culture of violence among students in the country. As the 2016 GEM Report showed, about 70% of adolescents in Samoa reported that they had been involved in a physical fight in the past 12 months, much higher than any other country that participated in the survey. Continue reading

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