One in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their period

In countries around the world, menstrual hygiene and inadequate sanitation facilities are causing girls to miss classes. Across Africa, a 2016 study by Human Rights Watch estimated that one in ten African girls missed school during menstruation. Yet many countries in the region are still not doing enough to address the issue, with a distinct lack of effort towards providing single-sex toilets. With late enrolment, many girls reach the end of primary school well into their puberty. Yet, our latest Gender Review found that only 9 of 44 countries with data had single-sex facilities provided in over 75% of primary schools. In Benin and the Comoros, only 4% of schools provided access to single-sex toilets.


In some cases, the story hits the news, with devastating stories of children falling into pit latrines in South Africa, schools being closed altogether due to poor hygiene in Uganda or students being shamed by their teachers for menstruating in India. Continue reading

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Can better sanitary care help keep African girls in school?

This blog was written by Elizabeth Tofaris, University of Cambridge, on behalf of the Impact Initiative for international development research, which seeks to connect policymakers and practitioners with the world-class social science research supported by the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership to maximize the uptake and impact of research from the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Programme.

For young girls in developing countries, not being able to manage their periods can hinder access to education. Research from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London demonstrates that in rural Uganda, providing free sanitary products and lessons about puberty to girls may increase their attendance at school.


Uganda, Kitengeesa. A worker trims and stacks sanitary pads before they are lined and sewn at the AFRIpads factory. Started by volunteers in 2009, AFRIpads manufactures reusable fibre sanitary pads. Credit: Nyani Quarmyne/Panos

Period taboos

In many poor communities, menstruation is still often seen as an embarrassing, shameful, and dirty process. Such taboos around the topic mean many adolescent girls are often unprepared for their periods and how to manage them. Less than half of girls in low and middle income countries have access to basics such as sanitary towels or tampons, soap and water, or facilities to change, clean, or dispose of hygiene products.

In Uganda, only 22% of girls are enrolled in secondary schools compared with 91% in primary schools, with those living in rural areas being the least likely group to go to school. Researchers believe that the cost of hygiene products and the difficulties in managing periods play a key role in keeping girls out of school. Continue reading

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Gender norms also harm the education of boys

boys paperLast month, the 2018 Gender Review of the GEM Report focused on the universally acknowledged fact that girls face many more barriers in education, especially in the poorest countries. Yet, this fact often overshadows another concern, which receives a lot less visibility, yet is important in equal measure: that gender norms affect the education opportunities of boys as well of girls.

coverThe GEM Report unveils its latest policy paper putting the spotlight on disaffected boys and young men, often from marginalized or poor backgrounds, whose educational development and life chances are compromised.

Much of this stems from gender norms that continue to condition the identities and expectations imposed on boys and girls in classrooms and which have ramifications for their relationships with their families, teachers, peers and communities.

Poverty is a key driver of boys’ disadvantage in education

Meeting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development depends on offering equal opportunities for all. Yet, in a large number of countries boys persistently lag behind. Reversing this is no easy feat. Boys in Latin America and the Caribbean have been less likely than girls to enroll in upper secondary education for at least 20 years.

And the situation is worse for the poorest. In Honduras, while only 65 males completed upper secondary school for every 100 females in 2011, just 27 poor males did so for every 100 poor females. Continue reading

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Getting more girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics degree courses

It may sound improbable but only 4% of countries have achieved gender parity in tertiary education. But, unlike primary education, there tend to be more females than males enrolling in higher education institutions with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet, women are less likely than men to earn degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In countries such as Chile, Ghana and Switzerland, women make up less than a quarter of students enrolled in STEM degree courses.


Stereotypes keep girls out of STEM degree courses

Gender stereotypes are a massive driver of these disparities. Consciously or unconsciously, teachers’ gender beliefs are passed on to their students, inadvertently shaping the choices they make about their futures. For instance, in the United States, anxiety expressed by female mathematics teachers was found to be associated with female students’ perceptions that boys were outperforming them in mathematics.

A randomized experiment in France assessed the effectiveness of a one hour, one-off visit by a volunteer female scientist to grade 10 and grade 12 classrooms. Exposure to such a female role model significantly reduced the prevalence of stereotypes associated with jobs in science, for both female and male students. While there was no significant effect on the choice of track the following year among grade 10 students, the probability of grade 12 students being enrolled in selective science programs increased by 30%. Continue reading

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Teachers who are running countries

President Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown,

Mokgweetsi Masisi, a former teacher and education minister, has just been sworn in as Botswana’s fifth President. On appointment, Masisi said that young people, who make up 60% of the population, were the country’s future leaders and the country would invest in them with scaled up technical and vocational education and training and with new ways of tackling poor education at every level. He re-committed to implementing the new education sector plan, which would introduce pre-primary education and said that his government would, “continue to focus on and intensify the maintenance of the existing schools facilities to ensure enabling environment for effective delivery of education, learning and training programmes.”

He is far from being the only teacher to make it to the top. Analysis from 2009 taken from the Who‘s Who database had shown that at least 7% of politicians worldwide were academics or educators before going into politics.

The United States tends to favour academics or educators for presidents it seems. No fewer than 10 presidents were teachers or academics, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, James Garfield, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Barack Obama.

Continue reading

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Tracking of aid to early childhood development needs to improve

This blog was written by Asma Zubairi, a researcher at REAL Centre at the University of Cambridge.

How much do donors spend on early childhood development? This is the key question for our new report for Theirworld Just beginning: Addressing inequality in donor funding for Early Childhood Development.

Young Lives/Lucero Del Castillo Ames

Early Childhood Development (ECD) is widely recognised as a vital area for global policy attention given evidence that children’s futures are shaped by investment in their early years. Such priority is recognised in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with ECD cutting across health, education, nutrition and child protection. But our analysis shows that, while aid spending on ECD has been increasing in recent years, it has not kept pace with health and nutrition.

For the report, we rely on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Creditor Reporting System (CRS), which is the global aid reporting mechanism through which stakeholders are able to track the volume, recipients and sectors targeted by aid. For example, the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) also relies on this database for its annual factsheet, the next of which is due in May, that helps hold donors accountable for their pledges on aid to education.

Some donors may claim their spending is misrepresented in our Report. To take one example where we are already aware of potential discrepancies, according to our analysis using aid disbursements from the OECD-CRS database, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the largest donors to ECD overall but one of the 69 out of 93 donors who do not report spending anything on pre-primary education. Yet a recent report to Congress indicated, for example, that USAID disbursed $22.5 million in aid to pre-primary education in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Jordan in 2016. Continue reading

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#MakeitPublic: GEM launches new campaign calling on all governments to report on education progress to their citizens

UNesco11- Hard to hold anyone accountableThe 2017/8 GEM Report showed that national education monitoring reports are a vital tool for transparency and accountability yet only government in two countries produced such reports between 2010 and 2016. Only one in four did so annually.

Monitoring should provide timely and relevant information on whether progress is being made towards the objectives of the national education strategy or plan. Monitoring reports can interpret evidence, identify problems to support decisions and follow-up actions, and provide the basis for evaluation. When the assignment of responsibilities and the links between inputs and results is clear, they also serve as an accountability mechanism.

National monitoring reports are the tool through which governments capture progress on education commitments to report it to their citizens. While NGOs fulfil this reporting role in many countries, a government report carries special weight. Governments prepare a range of monitoring reports, many of which fulfil statutory obligations to other bodies, e.g. the legislature, the supreme audit institution or an international organization. In addition, citizens need a regular report on the implementation of the national education strategy or plan to be able to hold government to account. Such a document can demonstrate the executive’s commitment to transparency and to communicating government expenditure, activities and results to citizens in an accessible manner. Continue reading

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