The Puggle: February 2022 edition

It is hard to know where to start our update on girls’ education this month. Our hearts go out to everyone suffering from ongoing turmoil and conflict around the world, including the most recent conflict in Ukraine. This month, Malala Yousafzai was The Economist’s first ever guest editor. She shares her thoughts on the importance of girls’ education and the barriers still to overcome for all girls to go to school. She also reflects on the latest conflict in Ukraine: “I hope this is also a time of awakening for all of us about how these conflicts affect so many countries…You sort of forget to ask this basic question, which is why is this happening? Why can’t we put an end to these conflicts? So I hope that it wakes us up.” Indeed.

In the spirit of hopefulness for a brighter future, this month we are sharing five ideas that could help support better education outcomes for girls that we have increasingly been reading about over the past month.

#1: Expanding access to high quality childcare

As the Early Childhood Development Action Network articulates in a recent call to action, equitable, high quality childcare opportunities improve child development, generate economic growth, address gender inequality, and strengthen families. They can free old sisters from childcare responsibilities so that they can attend school and provide a strong learning foundation for young children to strengthen their longterm schooling trajectories. Everyone wins.

So it is encouraging to see that childcare is increasingly on the development agenda. A recent report from the ILO “provides a global overview of national laws and practices regarding care policies, namely maternity protection, paternity, parental and other care-related leave policies, as well as childcare and long-term care services.” And, for the first time, the recently-launched Women Business and the Law report includes measures to assess the legal environment affecting the provision of childcare services. It looks at availability, affordability, and quality of care across 90+ countries.

#2: Challenging gender bias in and through education

It is more and more widely recognized that education can reinforce gender bias, but so too can it challenge them. There is compelling evidence that it is possible to reshape adolescents’ gender attitudes. Organizations like Room to Read and Promundo are looking at how Achieving Gender Equity Depends on Boys, And How We Raise Them. Governments like the Odisha state government in India are taking this on in their curricula. Philanthropists like Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies are on a Journey of Working with Young Men & Boys in India. The appetite to use education as a vehicle for explicitly challenging gender norms seems to be growing.

#3: Engaging girls in STEM

Part of confronting ways in which the education system perpetuates gender inequality is looking at why “Young women and girls around the world are disproportionately discouraged from studying subjects like science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or pursuing careers in these fields as adults.” Kiara Nirghin and Adefunke Ekine offer useful reflections on attracting more females into STEM.

#4: Getting more women in school leadership positions

Matt Brossard and Jessica Bergmann from UNICEF explore whether more women in school leadership can improve learning outcomes. They highlight the dramatic gender gap in school leadership — even when there are lots of female teachers, there are relatively few female school leaders. They also offer emerging evidence of a correlation between female-led schools and higher learning outcomes — it will be interesting to see if subsequent research validates this finding and unpacks what might be driving the correlation. There are still many unanswered questions in this space, but the piece offers a provocative starting point for further exploration.

 #6: Offering lots of opportunities for play

Research “strongly suggests that young children learn best (indeed all of us do) when the learning is active, engaging, meaningful, iterative, socially interactive, and joyful—when it is playful.” A recent symposium highlighted opportunities for “Post Pandemic Play” — check out the artistic representation of the conversation. Do you have “bold ideas that will help build a world where every child has the chance to play and learn”? If so, the Build A World Of Play Challenge is just the fund for you. Learn more and register by April 7th here.

Have other game changing ideas for (girls’) education?

A reminder that the Yidan Prize nominations close at the end of this month (March 31st). More information here. And the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education is accepting nominations through May 20th.

Thirsty for even more interesting research, tools, and ideas?