Accountability

Many Countries Fall Short on Expanding Girls’ Access to School

By The Associated Press — October 20, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

More than half of the world’s countries have failed to achieve gender parity in education for girls in primary and secondary schools, missing a key goal set out in the Education for All forum 15 years ago by an international coalition convened by the United Nations.

In a report released this month, UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural agency, focused on progress in the Education for All initiative—launched in 2000 when 164 countries met in Dakar, Senegal, and agreed on common education goals, including schooling access for girls.

Although 62 million girls are still denied their basic right to an education, the number of out-of-school girls has declined by 52 million in the last 15 years, according to the Paris-based organization.

The number of countries that did reach gender parity, achieving equal participation of girls and boys based on their proportion in the relevant age groups, has risen in both primary and secondary education from 36 to 62 since 2000, the report said. No country in sub-Saharan Africa, however, is expected to meet that goal by this year’s deadline.

And without tackling gender-based access issues, countries will remain far from the goal of educational equity, the report said.

“Until all girls and women exercise their right to education and literacy, progress in achieving [Education for All] will be stymied, and a dynamic source of development and empowerment will be squandered,” the report said. “Fifteen years later, the road to achieving gender parity and reducing all forms of gender inequalities in education continues to be long and twisting.”

Barriers Remain

Even if schools technically permit girls to attend, structural and cultural barriers often prevent them from obtaining an education, the report said. Child marriage is a persistent barrier to girls’ education. UNESCO data show that in 2012, almost 1 in 5 women married were between 15 and 19 years old.The report also stressed that “the lack of progress in literacy among adult women is especially stark.”

In 2015, an estimated 481 million women aged 15 and over lack basic literacy skills, 64 percent of the total number of adults in the world who are illiterate, a percentage virtually unchanged since 2000.

The report recommends that governments recruit, train, and support teachers to address gender inequality. By changing norms, girls will feel more empowered to stay in school and to continue through higher levels of education, it says.

“In the learning environment, the content, processes, and context of education must be free of gender bias, and encourage and support equality and respect,” the report said. “This includes teachers’ behaviors and attitudes, curriculum, and textbooks, and student interactions.”

The report also calls for school fees to be abolished, and costs for textbooks, uniforms, and transport to be covered by government and non-governmental organizations. In some countries, families who can’t afford to send all their children to school opt to send their sons, and keep daughters at home to help with household duties, advocates have said. Other barriers include long travel distances to school and the lack of water and sanitation facilities, the report said.

“Educating a girl educates a nation. It unleashes a ripple effect that changes the world unmistakably for the better,” Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, said in a statement. “We have recently set ourselves a new ambitious agenda to achieve a sustainable future. Success in this endeavor is simply not possible without educated, empowered girls, young women and mothers.”

Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Staff writer Evie Blad contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 2015 edition of Education Week as Most Nations Fall Short in Equal Access to Schooling for Girls

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Accountability Timeline: How Federal School Accountability Has Waxed and Waned
From its origins in the 1990s to the most-recent tack, see how the federal approach to accountability has shifted.
4 min read
President George W. Bush, left, participates in the swearing-in ceremony for the Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, center, at the U.S. Dept. of Education on Jan. 31, 2005 in Washington. On the far right holding a bible is her husband Robert Spellings.
President George W. Bush, left, participates in the swearing-in ceremony for the Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, center, at the U.S. Dept. of Education on Jan. 31, 2005 in Washington. On the far right holding a bible is her husband Robert Spellings.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Accountability School Accountability Is Restarting After a Two-Year Pause. Here's What That Means
For a moment, the COVID-19 pandemic succeeded in doing what periodic protests about school accountability couldn't: Halting it.
10 min read
Illustration of a gauge.
4zevar/iStock/Getty
Accountability Opinion Let's Take a Holistic Approach to Judging Schools
Parents wouldn't judge their kids based on a single factor. So, says Ron Berger of EL Education, why must schools use a lone test score?
8 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Accountability Opinion Are K-12 State Tests Like a Visit to the Pediatrician?
Even if the doctor’s trip isn’t pleasant, at least parents get something out of it they believe is worthwhile.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty