New gender gaps are developing as a result of school closures

It is an entire year since lives have been disrupted worldwide due to COVID-19. School closures continue to impact more than 990 million students. UNESCO estimated that by the end of January, on average, schools had been closed or partially closed for 5.5 months (22 weeks). As children stay home to learn remotely, one thing is becoming clear: the brunt not only of domestic responsibilities but also of the additional home-schooling responsibilities has fallen on women rather than men. Gender equality is under threat.

Credit: © Aisha Faquir/World Bank

Today, marks International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate great progress in advancing women’s rights over the last century. However, new global data from UN Women suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic could roll back 25 years of gender equality. With schools and day-care centres closed, women are spending increasing amounts of time in unpaid work such as taking care of their children, helping them with their schoolwork, cooking, cleaning, and other household tasks. All while trying to hold down a job.

We are now starting to talk about a care crisis affecting women and a real risk of roles reverting back to 1950s gender stereotypes. Before the pandemic, women were doing three hours of unpaid work compared to one hour by men. The pandemic has dramatically increased the burden and cemented these gender divisions along the way. Women are now delivering at least six hours compared to one hour of unpaid work undertaken by men.

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Son preference and girls’ education in India and Bangladesh

By M Niaz Asadullah, Professor of Development Economics at the University of Malaya, Malaysia, Nazia Mansoor, lecturer, University of Paris, Dauphine (London), Teresa Randazzo, lecturer University of Venice Cà Foscari and Zaki Wahhaj, Reader in Economics, University of Kent, UK.

Gender inequality is a global issue. Worldwide, women are excluded from multiple social and economic opportunities. The latest GEM Gender Report focused on two specific gender imbalances in education: the gender gaps in schooling and learning. Globally, 31 million girls of primary school age are out of the education system and half of them may never enrol in school. Over 53 million young women in low and lower middle income countries are unable to read a single sentence.  This blog explores our analysis looking at the far-reaching implications of these imbalances in the case of India and Bangladesh, showing the association between women’s education and how many children they would like and of what gender.

Image: GEM Report/IKON Productions

Differing progress rates in closing gender gaps in education in India and Bangladesh

While there has been tremendous progress in South Asia in closing the gender gap in education, significant challenges remain. In India, where the parliament passed the landmark Right to Education Act in 2009, making education free and compulsory for children between the ages 6 and 14, gender parity in secondary school enrolment was achieved by 2013. at the expense of boys. Contrary to India’s recent achievement in secondary education, girls throughout Bangladesh have outnumbered boys in classrooms since the mid-1990s. 

Could these historic education disparities explain the large difference in excess female infant deaths between India and Bangladesh? 

In India, sex discrimination has led to millions of girls ‘missing’ from the population, primarily due to higher mortality among female infants and sex-selective abortion. India has the highest rate of excess female deaths in the world at 13.5 per 1,000 under-five female births. In stark contrast, this figure is less than 3 in neighbouring Bangladesh.

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#AllmeansALL a call to action from 40 million European youth to mark Zero Discrimination Day

To mark Zero Discrimination Day 2021, the GEM Report team, the European Students’ Union, the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions and the Global Students Forum came together yesterday, March 1, to host an interactive webinar on the findings and recommendations from the 2021 regional report on inclusion and education in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Image: ESU

As with the 2020 GEM Report and the 2020 regional report on inclusion and education in Latin America and the Caribbean, this new regional report highlights the need to recognise young people and communities as partners for change in the implementation of Agenda 2030. Young people’s involvement, engagement and development in strengthening the foundations of inclusive education systems is an end in itself, as well as a means for young people to actively influence and shape education reforms.

The discussion, which was supported by the GEM Report’s partners in this regional edition, the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education and the Network of Education Policy Centers, led to the following joint youth statement calling on governments and regional organizations to fulfil their commitments to ensure the right to education for all, highlighting the essential role of students and youth to act as a watchdog to monitor government commitments for the right to inclusive education.  The statement will form the backbone of the group’s joint advocacy initiatives and campaigns throughout 2021 and beyond.

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Latin America: Countries should prioritise training teachers in the language of the community in which they teach

By: Silvina Corbetta, Argentinian researcher, coordinator and co-author of the case study “Los otros étnicos y la dinámica de inclusión-exclusión educativa en América Latina”, prepared for the 2020 GEM Report Latin America and the Caribbean- Inclusion and education: All means all

Education policies in Latin America and the Caribbean have historically ignored indigenous peoples, peasants, and Afro-descendants. Education systems across the region were built to promote cultural homogenization, which has influenced the way in which curricula are developed and in which language classes are taught.

Today, debates focus on the promotion of local languages as one of the most relevant aspects to guarantee the right to an equitable and quality intercultural bilingual education (ethno-education, or “own education”, among other denominations) for everyone. This implies revaluing cultural and linguistic diversity, highlighting different socio-cultural identities, and bringing indigenous knowledge and traditional education closer together.

 I prepared a background paper entitled “Los otros étnicos y la dinámica de inclusión-exclusión educativa en América Latina” together with Patricia Divinsky, Fernando Bustamante, Maia Domnanovich and Rodolfo Domnanovich to feed into the GEM Report’s analysis on ethnicity, inclusion and interculturality in its recent regional report for Latin America and the Caribbean on inclusion and education. Our study seeks to provide an overview of the education situation of Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples and to reflect on the existing education policies in the region from an intercultural approach.

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Two-thirds of poorer countries are cutting education budgets due to COVID-19

Education budgets are not adjusting proportionately to the challenges brought about by COVID-19, especially in poorer countries.  Despite additional funding needs, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have, in fact, cut their public education budgets since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the new joint World Bank – UNESCO Education Finance Watch (EFW).

Credit: GPE/Tabassy Baro

In comparison, only one-third of upper-middle and high-income countries have reduced their budgets.  These budget cuts have been relatively small thus far, but there is a danger that future cuts will be larger, as the pandemic continues to take its economic toll, and fiscal positions worsen.  These differing trends imply a significant widening of the already large spending disparities seen between low- and high-income countries.

According to the new report, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2018-19, high-income countries were spending annually the equivalent of US$8,501 for every child or youth’s education compared to US$48 in low-income countries. COVID-19 is only widening this huge per-capita education spending gap between rich and poor countries.

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Mother-tongue instruction and inclusion – a critical but complex relationship

The road to inclusion in education is not easy. Rather, it can often be full of dilemmas and tensions. The case of linguistic minorities showcases some of these challenges.

Well-intended efforts to include can slide into pressure to conform, wear down group identities, and drive out languages. Conversely, the boundaries of inclusion can be blurred when communities self-segregate in schools that cater to their language needs.

Such tensions can be observed even within communities. In Peru, some rural communities advocate prioritizing Spanish and reject bilingualism, while others demand education more aligned with their local reality, with local teachers who master students’ native language and value local knowledge and traditions.

In Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, 22 out of 30 education systems we examined for our recent regional report have separate schools for linguistic minorities. North Macedonia’s curriculum is taught in separate primary schools for learners from the Albanian, Bosniak, Serbian and Turkish communities. Kazakhstan has schools for Russian, Tajik, Uighur and Uzbek ethnic and linguistic minorities. In Slovakia, learners from the Hungarian and Ukrainian minorities may attend schools and classes providing education in their language. But despite their good intentions to protect minorities’ rights, parallel provision can also work against inclusion, which is best served by intercultural learning in mainstream schools. Ideally, bilingual schools would ensure the ethnic majority and minority learn together in both languages and from a common curriculum that is representative of both groups.

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Providing education for nomadic people requires a flexible approach

An inclusive curriculum should be flexible. That means having a curriculum that is adaptable and accessible to various needs and abilities so as to increase student participation and engagement. There are degrees of flexibility, along a continuum from fully flexible to traditional fixed curricula. Flexibility can manifest in what, how, where and when learning occurs.

Our new regional report on inclusion in education for Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia shows that the most common forms of curriculum adaptation in the region are individualized education plans and adaptation for learners belonging to ethnic minorities. However, other forms of adaptation are also found directed at the region’s pastoral communities. Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Russian Federation and Uzbekistan offer flexibility to the education needs of these seasonal migrants.

In Kyrgyzstan, pastoral communities move from the end of May to the beginning of September to high-mountain pastures (jailoo) and they could not attend a government-run 100-hour school preparation programme provided to children in August. Under the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme, initiated by the Aga Khan Foundation, the Jailoo Kindergartens project in Alai district (rayon) began providing early childhood care and preschool preparation classes for these children in 2006. In 2018, during the jailoo season, more than 600 children were educated in 21 jailoo kindergartens, while 107 jailoo educators received child development care and early childhood development science training modules. In turn, teachers trained more than 500 parents and caregivers.

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Inclusion in education in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia

A new regional Report launched today in an event by the GEM Report, in partnership with the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education and the Network of Education Policy Centers covers inclusion and education – the theme of our 2020 GEM Report – in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Working from 30 new profiles of education systems from the region, the Report shows that, while access to education is high, the region has been trying to overcome a heavy legacy of segregated education, which is holding it back from achieving inclusion for all.

A shift towards a rights-based approach to inclusive education

In the past 20 years, education levels in the region, already among the world’s highest, have increased further, seeing out-of-school rates fall by half.

Adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the influence of international bodies, such as the Council of Europe and European Union, have led to important reforms.

In countries including Poland, schools are also making their support systems broader and more flexible, investing in resource centres that share expertise and materials with mainstream schools on the way to inclusion.  And there are signs of moves towards more inclusive and in-school support, with counselling and mentoring, learning assistance and specialist and therapist easier to come by.

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Gender-responsive career counselling can help women’s progress in science

Year-on-year the issue of women in science comes back to the surface as we celebrate the International Day of Women in Science.  Yet, year-on-year there is not enough progress.  The 2020 Gender Report showed that women are still over-represented in education, health, arts, humanities and social sciences, and under-represented in some science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields of study.

The facts are hard to ignore. Women make up less than 25% of those studying engineering, manufacturing and construction or ICT in over two-thirds of countries. Less than 1% of those studying STEM subjects are women in the Maldives. In OECD countries, on average, women account for less than 20% of entrants in tertiary computer science programmes and about 18% of engineering entrants. They make up only around 10% or 12% of students in ICT programmes in high-income countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.

Credit: UNICEF/Brown

This can be turned around. Already in some countries, the field has been levelled. Women make up 51% of students in ICT programmes in Tunisia, for instance.

Better gender responsive school counselling policies are needed.

In the formative Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago, the lack of gender responsiveness in school and career counselling was recognised as a bottleneck in gender equality more broadly. Still today, programmes that redress such imbalances are needed, especially as gender digital divides are currently being stretched by the advent of COVID-19. Policies required include active measures to ensure teachers, counsellors and the whole school community offer gender-responsive career orientation that help deconstruct false images of technology and their biased connection to gender stereotypes. We commissioned three country case studies on this issue jointly with UNESCO for our 2020 Gender Report.

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Deprivation of liberty does not mean deprivation of the right to education: youth deprived of liberty require more attention in Latin America

By Javier Gonzalez, Director of SUMMA and Manos Antoninis, Director of the GEM Report

About 16% of imprisoned individuals in the world are in Latin America and the Caribbean, including 27,000 young people deprived of liberty. The Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, El Salvador, Grenada and Panama have incarceration rates above 400 per 100,000 people, while the global average is 144. Brazil has the third highest total number of people in confinement of any country in the world (690,000) after the USA and China. Many centres are overcrowded and under resourced. To further research these aspects and highlight the importance of guaranteeing the right to education of imprisoned youth, four background papers on the education of these children and youth were commissioned to feed into the 2020 GEM Regional Report – jointly developed by UNESCO and SUMMA – on inclusion and education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Youth in confinement are among the most vulnerable groups in society. In fact, they tend to have lower literacy levels than their peers outside prisons. In Honduras, as of 2014, barely 6% of the prison population had a secondary education. In Uruguay, 59% of the 501 adolescents admitted in 2018 had not completed lower secondary education. These cases do not constitute exceptional situations in the region.

Credit: Alonis

This situation requires to be urgently addressed and prioritised by governments and society as a whole. Education is a universal human right and this does not exclude imprisoned youth. It is a legally established right in many Latin American countries. The UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, known as the Havana Rules, adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 45/113 in 1990, affirm the importance of education and training. Rule 38 expressly acknowledges that‘[e]very juvenile of compulsory school age has the right to education suited to his or her needs and abilities and designed to prepare him or her for return to society’ and promotes education continuity after release. The rules also propose standards or conditions, particularly regarding special learning needs (cultural, ethnic or cognitive), learning environments (classroom space, library provision), certification of education and training activities, and training for future employment.

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