The Puggle: February 2020 edition

February is the month of love. At least that’s what a whole bunch of retail marketers want us to believe. We don’t have anything to sell, but we are orienting this month’s Puggle around the theme of love…as it relates to girls’ education.

The case for teaching love — or at least teaching socioemotional learning and fostering connection, collaboration, and social well-being

A study recently published in NBER finds that when schools are able to grow their students’ socioemotional development they can have an even larger impact on those students’ long-term outcomes than by improving test scores alone. It argues that “adolescence can be a formative period for socioemotional growth, high-school impacts on [socioemotional development] can be captured using self-report surveys, and [socioemotional development] can be fostered by schools to improve longer-run outcomes.”

Similarly, David Brooks argues that a big driver of the Nordic success story — “high economic productivity, high social equality, high social trust and high levels of personal happiness” — is the fact that schools teach “bildung,” or “the complete moral, emotional, intellectual and civic transformation of the person.” This includes helping students to understand their own emotions and the ways they connect with (and have responsibility towards) their family, larger community, and humanity more broadly.

In a recent analysis of education sector plans for 15 countries, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) found that countries do want to teach a broad range of skills in classrooms, but many are struggling to do so in practice. All 15 countries referenced some form of 21st century skills in their plans, but only three of them included activities related to teaching those skills in their GPE grants.

Young people also want more opportunities to learn skills like creativity, curiosity, and collaboration. That’s what a 20-country survey for the WISE Global Education Barometer Found. 

“There can be no love without justice. Until we live in a world, in a culture that does not only respect, but also upholds basic civil rights for children, most children will not know love.” – bell hooks

The same survey for WISE found that youth believe a “major area for improvement in schools…is the need for equal opportunities for all, especially between boys and girls.” A quick look at the great new data visualization tools from the Global Education Monitoring Report make this clear. For example, looking at the theme of equity we see that there has been a remarkable movement towards gender parity in education, but among lower-income countries girls still remain behind boys, especially at higher levels of education.

The UN Girls Education Initiative and the REAL Centre at the University of Cambridge recently published recommendations on the type of political leadership that is needed to ensure 12 years of quality education for girls. The report discusses how individual leaders can demonstrate commitment to and advocacy for girls’ education and outlines the role for collective action, research, and accountability mechanisms for bringing about change.

One recent win for marginalized girls was a landmark ruling from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ordering that Sierra Leone immediately revoke its ban of pregnant girls in school. Meanwhile, advocates in Tanzania continue to fight, even under attack, for the World Bank to hold back a $500 million loan given the government’s ban on pregnant girls in school there.

Is grade repetition a way to promote equity? Does it help children — including girls — who are falling behind to catch up to their peers or simply waste resources and eventually push students out of the system? The short answer is that we don’t know enough, despite the widely used practice.

And a caution about programs that look like they promote more equitable outcomes in the short term — we need to look at long-term impacts to ensure they really are driving the improvements we’d like to see. School Uniforms in Kenya reduced school absenteeism by a significant amount, but ultimately had “no long-term effects on the likelihood of completing primary school or on the number of years of education completed.”

We can’t end a February note about love without a little candy — eye candy, that is. Check out this beautiful photo essay about changing roles in Burkina Faso.