The Puggle: February 2021 edition

The shortest month of the year was filled with lots of news in the girls’ education space. On the one hand, we heard some hopeful reports of strong re-enrolment rates in Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Colombia, Zambia and elsewhere. On the other hand, reports suggest low attendance rates in Delhi and a hundred thousand students have dropped out in Northern Kenya and gotten pregnant in Uganda. (In Ghana, students got to return to school in African print uniforms. Fashion is not an evidence-based strategy for returning to school, but if it were these uniforms might do the trick!) As more and more school systems reopen, we’ll keep our eyes on re-enrolment, learning loss, and other trends. 

The most exciting news from February was the launch of the Girls’ Education Road Map. At Echidna Giving, we have been dreaming about a resource like this for the sector for years now. We longed for a comprehensive way to understand what is happening in the sector and how that aligns (or not) with the evidence of what works and the needs on the ground. The Population Council team poured over thousands of studies and compiled information about hundreds of organizations to give our field exactly that! The report is not to be missed.

I may be biased (given that Echidna Giving funded the Road Map), but this piece has stimulated more strategic thinking about our sector than anything I’ve read in a while. Here are five points that stood out to me as I read the report:

  1. The most common approaches deployed in girls’ education are not the most evidence-based practices. For example, life skills, community engagement, and gender-responsive pedagogy are extremely common programmatic approaches that do not have a strong evidence base behind them…yet. 
  2. On the flip side, very few programs include approaches with the strongest evidence base. Although addressing the cost of schooling has been proven to narrow gender gaps in enrollment and attainment, only 20% of programs aim to address financial barriers to schooling. Similarly, very few programs include approaches for improving pedagogy like competency grouping or remedial education, which are proven to improve learning for girls.
  3. It may be entirely appropriate for NGOs and philanthropists to expend more resources on innovation (in other words, approaches that have not yet been proven) and to advocate for/leave the proven approaches to governments to take up. But we could be doing a better job of facilitating systematic learning from innovation. Only 12% programs use the same combination of programmatic components. As the report argues, “This lack of shared approaches and definitions hampers efforts to develop clear best practices, prioritize program components, or learn from/adapt efforts across similar contexts.”
  4. We know very little about how to address gender-related school barriers that many girls face. It was particularly striking to me that there are ZERO rigorous studies on the effects of preventing gender-based violence on education outcomes. Ditto preventing child marriage and adolescent child bearing, despite the fact that these are all pervasive problems.
  5. We are only beginning to scratch the surface on gender in early childhood. Only 6% of programs target preschool age girls. The science behind investing in early childhood to strengthen education and lifelong outcomes is compelling and starting to make a dent on government expansion of preschool programs. Our work on gender and education is not yet keeping pace.

Now that the road map is out, what can you do? Here are three ideas.

  1. Read the report! You’ll find key takeaways at the start of each chapter, a handy guide to current evidence in the sector in section 5, and a thought provoking set of venn diagrams at the end showing where the field is and isn’t in alignment.
  2. Dive into the Evidence for Gender and Education Resource (or EGER) website. There you can view the data behind the report. You can find out which organizations are pursuing what approaches and find ways to collaborate — to coordinate approaches, to share learning, to conduct future research. This space is meant to serve the sector, so please also provide feedback on how it can continue to improve in serving your needs.
  3. Make sure your own organization is part of the ongoing Evidence for Gender in Education Resource sector mapping. Follow these guidelines to put up your own org profile

In other news this month…