The Puggle: April 2022 edition

April was a busy month! Our team attended the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference in person, and enjoyed reuniting with many colleagues there. We also virtually hosted a Forum for Education Research in/for/by Africa with Imaginable Futures, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Porticus. This month we share highlights from both events, along with a few other highlights from the month.

At CIES we organized a session looking at: How far did COVID-19 set back the girls’ education agenda and where do we go from here? Knowing that there had been tremendous gains in girls’ education over the last several decades, we were keen to understand COVID-19’s impact. In particular, we had our eye on three questions:

  1. Which girls’ education outcomes proved to be sticky?
  2. Where have we fallen back on gains made in girls’ education?
  3. What did this crisis teach us about key priorities for advancing girls’ education in the years to come?

You can read the full presentation from our session here, and below we summarize some of the key points that came out of that discussion at other sessions at the conference. 

The best news from the pandemic continues to be strong re-enrollment rates from boys and girls alike. The 2022 Global Education Monitoring Report Gender Report that was released this month celebrates our progress over the past 20 years, with girls closing or even reversing many of the gaps that separated them from boys in completion, learning access at all education levels. Today there is less than 1% of a gender gap in access and completion at the global level. Data so far suggests that these gains in enrollment and schooling access are proving to be sticky. 

But the general good news about re-enrollment masks deep inequities and potential future problems. The pandemic increased inequality by gender, geography, socioeconomic status, school status, and age-grade. For example, we heard that:

  • The return to school is fragile. When children are behind on learning they are more likely to drop out, so even though they are back in school now, without interventions to address learning millions are at risk of dropping out earlier than they otherwise may have. These risks fall disproportionately on the poorest girls.
  • In many cases students from poorer households were not able to access meaningful remote learning opportunities. In Ghana, for example, 51% of girls are from households that could not implement any remote learning whilst schools were closed. 33% girls in India attended online classes vs. 39% of boys.
  • There is a growing crisis in education for young mothers who became pregnant during the pandemic (frequently driven by sexual violence) and who now have no pathway to finish school.
  • While SMS nudges proved to be a powerful strategy to improve parental involvement in remote education, an RCT in Ghana found that these nudges backfired when delivered to uneducated parents, who were made more aware of the gap between their own knowledge and expectations of engagement, and felt more demotivated regarding their abilities to support their children with remote learning. 

When we think about key priorities for advancing girls’ education in the years to come, a few things stood out:

  • We need to prioritize adolescents who are also now young mothers and invest in pathways for them to finish their education. African Scholar Pempho Chinkondenji posits that practices that expel pregnant girls are inherited from missionary schools. Chinkodenji emphasizes the need to do away with this colonial understanding of an ideal learner, “understand pregnant and parenting adolescents without a damage-centered approach,” and recognize the power and privilege of motherhood and the benefits society can reap when they educate their mothers.
  • A study of young moms in South Sudan and Iraq found that most girls described motherhood in positive terms, feeling less socially isolated and finding a larger purpose in their life. However, they faced significant challenges due to the increased costs of parenthood, inability to finish schooling, and lack of support raising children. To ensure that this generation of adolescent mothers and their children are not left behind, we can take a dual generation approach that supports strong lifelong outcomes for both adolescent girls and their babies. Researchers recommend more government support adolescent mothers through: (1) psychosocial counseling to help with stigma; (2) parenting classes; (3) provision of childcare facilities in school; (4) financial support for school fees and materials; (5) norm change advocacy and safety mechanisms to support adolescent mothers in the school environment; and (6) offering alternative pathways to formal education (entrepreneurship, TVET).
  • Investment in childcare infrastructure is crucial and there are promising interventions for doing this. Upskilling 58 childcare center providers in Nairobi resulted in significant improvements in provider knowledge and practices and the overall level of childcare quality provided in just 6 months. 
  • Prioritize early childhood development given the high economic cost of closing preschools (for child development, future earnings) and the very low risk of severe illness.
  • Research underscores the importance of six actions to prioritize learning in light of COVID: (1) Keep schools open; (2) Reduce transmission in schools; (3) Adjust instruction; (4) Support teachers; (5) Encourage parental engagement; and (6) Leverage existing technology
  • When it comes to leveraging technology, it is far from a panacea. Of note are the exclusionary nature of many technology products (not to mention the algorithmic / cultural biases embedded into funded products). But technology can be an effective way of supporting children remotely when you use the technology they have in their households already (e.g. feature phones) and provide personalized, targeted instructional support.
  • We can draw on Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) analysis and feminist pedagogy to support students in ways that equitably include marginalized groups and emphasize social and emotional wellbeing in addition to academic outcomes.

For others who attended CIES, what big themes and ideas did we miss??

In other news this month, we are appreciative of the many African researchers and research enthusiasts who joined us at the Forum for Education Research in/for/by Africa. They shared a compelling vision for a world in which African researchers are leading, setting agendas, and influencing education in Africa…and beyond. They highlighted how North-South power dynamics and unequal relationships have hampered this vision, the challenge of fragmentation among researchers and systemwide, and the need for funding that gets beyond “islands of excellence” and individual support. They also underscored the possibility for more long term thinking, crowding in African funders, creating an enabling environment for more participation from female researchers and other marginalized groups, and funding practices that share power, resources, ownership, responsibilities, benefits.

If you have views on how to best support education research in Africa please add them here!

Lastly, two opportunities to consider:

  1. Do you know African leaders transforming education across the continent? Consider nominating them for the Africa Education Medal by June 3rd. 
  2. Are you a trailblazing grassroots or national CSO working to advance gender equality for children, especially in and through education?! If so, consider applying to inform the UN Girls’ Education Initiative’s 2023 – 2027 Strategic Planning process. Deadline to apply: May 15, 2022 (midnight EST)