The Puggle: December 2019 edition

It’s hard to believe it, but the futuristic-sounding year of 2020 is just two weeks away! Before we race into the future, our last Puggle of 2019 provides an opportunity to reflect on three lessons from the past year. These are drawn from work our grantees are doing to: (1) promote gender equality in early education, (2) integrate life skills and mindsets into government school systems, and (3) ensure governments and donors invest smarter and more in girls’ education. In addition to reading the lessons below, click through the links in this paragraph to read our *new* 2-pagers on our strategies in each of these areas.

Lesson #1: Consider the intergenerational impacts of programming on young children and their caretakers.

This month we had the privilege of attending the annual Birdsall House Conference at the Center for Global Development, which interrogated “Early Childhood Development Through a Gender Lens: Designing Policies that Work for the Whole Family.” There were a number of terrific discussions, and the webcast is well-worth a look, as is this summary of the event. Big picture, what we learned is that although outcomes for mothers and their children are intertwined, they are often looked at in isolation. Folks working on early childhood development are focused on outcomes for children, so they don’t look at outcomes for mothers. Pamela Jakiela and her team looked at 866 impact evaluations in early childhood development and found that only a third of them report outcomes for mothers, and half of those are looking at whether the mother does more on behalf of child development, not whether her own outcomes improve. On the flip side, folks working on women’s economic empowerment are focused on how interventions affect women, not their children.

At the conference we heard examples of early childhood interventions that improved mother’s mental health (group parenting interventions) and increased their earning power (high quality childcare). We also learned about early childhood interventions that fell short of supporting mothers or even demanded too much of them, like preschool programs that run for too few hours each day to allow women to work. Similarly, economic empowerment interventions can improve child development, but this is not a given. These examples say nothing of impacts on other household members, including grandparents and older siblings, who we learned are critical in the caretaking equation, and fathers, who could take on even more of the caretaking responsibilities if programs are designed thoughtfully. The bottom line is that programs and policies can be designed in ways that set into motion mutually reinforcing outcomes for children and their caretakers, but we can only learn about this if we’re looking at outcomes for more members of the household.

Lesson #2: Men and boys need to be part of the solution for girls’ education, even if engaging them is tricky.

In May we worked with a consortium of partners to host a workshop on Engaging Men and Boys to Promote Gender Equality Through Education. Often when we think about how to improve girls’ education outcomes, we think about how to target programs for girls. But that leaves out an important part of the picture, which is what needs to change in the broader society in order for girls to succeed. As described in this report of the workshop, “deliberate and targeted engagement with men and boys is…necessary not only for the empowerment of women and girls, but also to transform the social and gender norms that reinforce patriarchy and inequality.” 

There are lots of reasons engaging men and boys is tricky—if done poorly, it can divert resources from women and girls and perpetuate gender inequality, as aptly described in this brief. But it also presents an opportunity for challenging and changing gender norms that cannot be tackled by targeting girls alone. Because schools serve both boys and girls, the education system presents an opportunity to do exactly that. If the curriculum can provide opportunities to reflect on gender norms and equality and classroom practices can create an equal space for girls and boys to learn, we have an opportunity to advance gender equality both in and through education.

Lesson #3: Disaggregate education research by gender to discover a wider solution set and to understand what works and for whom.

David Evans and Fei Yuan came out with a working paper and fact sheet documenting the potential for improving girls’ education through interventions that target girls and boys. 

One of the big takeaways was how disappointingly difficult it was to complete this study in the first place. Two-thirds of the papers considered by the authors had not reported results disaggregated by gender. Unless we do better on this front, we will not know whether or not girls benefit from general interventions and by how much.

Once the authors went back and were able to disaggregate the results, they found that girls benefit just as much from general interventions that target both girls and boys as they do from girl-targeted interventions, which opens the door to a wider array of solutions that work for girls. The only way to know what works and for whom is to disaggregate data as a standard practice.

Bringing it all together…

Have you noticed a pattern in the lessons above? The through-line for us is the importance of widening our gaze beyond the girls’ whom we seek to educate in order to find, design, and fund the best programs and policies for girls. Our 2020 vision (pun intended) is to see this wider lens brought to bear on behalf of girls. One way we work to widen our gaze is by supporting local leaders through the Echidna Global Scholars Program. This year we commissioned an evaluation of the program (summarized here in our wider resource library). We learned how unique and valued the program is and also what to improve in order to amplify voices from the field.