Investing in teachers and school leaders is crucial to keeping girls in school, UN and African Union research finds — Global Issues

Dabaso girlsA37V1828 01

Dabaso girlsA37V1828 01
Girls at Dabaso Girls School in Malindi, Kenya, pose with a ball during recess. Universal secondary education could virtually end child marriage and reduce early childbearing by three-quarters, according to a report by the African Union and UNESCO. Credit: Maina Waruru/IPS
  • by Maina Waruru (Nairobi and Addis Ababa)
  • Inter Press Service

It is even more important to have more female teachers in schools and to have more of them leading the institutions. This will keep girls in school after primary school and provide them with role models who motivate them to keep learning.

While low levels of girls’ education and child marriage are deeply damaging to girls, their families, communities and societies, investing in teachers and school leaders is also critical to addressing the lack of knowledge that has been identified as the single biggest cause of girls dropping out of school, alongside traditional factors such as social and cultural factors.

For example, data shows that in many African countries, less than a fifth of secondary school teachers are women, and the percentage of female school leaders is even lower. Yet teachers have been shown to improve student achievement, and girls continue to perform better beyond primary and junior secondary school.

Therefore, female teachers and school leaders should be given better opportunities to create additional benefits for girls’ education, as women tend to stay in education longer, according to a report by the United Nations and the African Union.

The lack of the above has led to high school dropout rates, resulting in low educational attainment, higher prevalence of child marriage and higher risk of early child birth for girls across Africa, the report, Girls’ education and ending child marriage in Africa: investment case and the role of teachers and school leaders.

“Investing more in girls’ education brings major economic benefits, in addition to being the right thing to do. This requires interventions for adolescent girls, but it should also start with improving fundamental learning through better teaching and school leadership,” the document tabled at the 1st Pan-African Conference on Girls’ and Women’s Education will take place from July 2 to 5 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The lack of fundamental learning is a major cause of dropout in primary and lower secondary education. It is also argued that teachers and school leaders play a key role in teaching fundamental learning, but that new approaches are also needed for pedagogy and teacher and school leader training.

“Targeted interventions for adolescent girls are needed, but often reach only a small proportion of girls still in school at that age. In contrast, improving basic learning would benefit a larger proportion of girls (and boys) and could also make sense from a cost-benefit perspective,” it adds.

Parents in 10 French-speaking countries who participated in household surveys cited lack of learning in school – the absence of education despite children attending school – as a reason for dropping out of primary school. Further research shows that this is responsible for more than 40 percent of both girls and boys dropping out of primary school.

The lack of knowledge, due to the absence of teachers, is the cause of the dropout of more than a third of pupils in lower secondary education. This means that improving the learning process can automatically lead to significantly higher educational achievements for both girls and boys.

“To improve learning, impact evaluation reviews and analyses of student assessment data suggest that teachers and school leaders are key. Yet new approaches to professional development are needed, including structured pedagogy and practice-focused training. Teachers also need to be better trained; household surveys for 10 French-speaking countries suggest that only a third of primary school teachers have a post-secondary degree,” laments the study, conducted in 2023.

It calls for “better opportunities” for female teachers and principals, noting that this would bring additional benefits as women tend to stay in education longer than men.

Better professional standards and competency frameworks for teachers are also needed to make the profession more attractive and gender-sensitive, the report found. It shows that countries do not yet consider teaching as a career and that there is no clear definition of the competencies needed at different levels of the profession.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, just over two-thirds of girls complete primary education and four in ten complete lower secondary education, according to the study by Quentin Wodon, Chata Male and Adenike Onagoruwa for the African Union. International Centre for Education for Girls and Women in Africa (AU/CIEFFA) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.

The latest data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows that nine out of ten girls worldwide complete their primary education and more than three out of four complete their lower secondary education, but the percentages are much lower in sub-Saharan Africa. There, just over two-thirds of girls (69 percent compared with 73 percent of boys) complete their primary education and four out of ten girls (43 percent compared with 46 percent of boys) complete their lower secondary education.

Providing girls and women with sufficient opportunities to receive education can have a positive impact on many development outcomes, such as higher incomes and living standards for families, an end to child marriage and early births, lower fertility, and better health, nutrition and well-being.

It is noted that the gains made in earnings are substantial, especially with a secondary education, and that women with less education earn more than women without an education, “but women with a secondary education earn more than twice as much, but the gains with higher education are even greater.”

Each additional year of secondary education for girls could reduce the likelihood that they will marry as children and have a child before age 18.

“Universal secondary education could virtually end child marriage and reduce the number of early children by three-quarters. In contrast, primary education does not lead to large reductions in child marriage and early childbearing in most countries,” it said.

The organizations strongly advocate the importance of secondary education for girls. They explain that universal secondary education would also have health benefits. For example, women’s knowledge of HIV/AIDS would increase by a tenth, women would be able to make a quarter more decisions about their own health care, under-five mortality would decrease by a third, and stunting in children under five could possibly decrease by 20 percent.

Moreover, while ending child marriage, secondary education could reduce fertility – the number of children women have in their lifetime by an average of one-third – thereby slowing population growth and allowing countries to benefit from the “demographic dividend.”

Other benefits include a reduction in intimate partner violence, a one-fifth increase in women’s decision-making power in the household and a more than 25 percent chance of registering children at birth.

To address the crisis, it was necessary to make the teaching profession more attractive. This was a way to get more women into school leadership, said Wodon, director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA), presenting the report at the conference.

“Virtually all teachers are dissatisfied with their jobs, which means there is a need to improve job satisfaction in the profession, in addition to improving salaries,” he noted.

Although in some countries keeping girls in school led to a one-third lower birth rate, the study’s aim, namely to advocate for more education for girls, had nothing to do with the need for lower birth rates, but with strengthening the position of girls and women in decision-making.

Empowering girls through education will help them gain a better position in society when it comes to power relations between them and men, said Lorato Modongo, an official with AU-CIEFFA.

“The fact is that we cannot educate girls without challenging the power dynamics in patriarchal environments where men make decisions for everyone,” she noted.

Overall, the report regrets that gender inequality in education and beyond, including in career choices, is the result of deep-rooted prejudices and discrimination against women, which spill over into education. It is therefore essential to reduce inequality in and through education, recognising that education plays a key role in reducing broader gender inequality in societies.

“Educating girls and ending child marriage is the right thing to do, but it is also a smart economic investment.”

IPS UN Office Report

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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