The Puggle: January 2017 edition

News in January seemed to be dominated by the new U.S. administration. The change and uncertainty can be unsettling, but there continues to be good news with regards to girls’ education. So although we could easily fill this entire issue of the Puggle with speculation about what the new administration means for efforts to promote girls’ education—What does the transition team’s request to the State Department for information on programs related to gender equality mean? What about the team’s questions on Africa? How will the reinstatement of the global gag rule affect adolescent girls, including their participation in education? Will the administration buy the numerous arguments that women’s rights are a national security issue? Are Tillerson’s personal experiences seeing the benefits of foreign assistance aimed at women’s economic empowerment a promising sign?—we’ve decided instead to focus on news we came across this month that inspired us with regards to our work. Here goes…

 Photo by League of Women Voters of California LWVC Photo by League of Women Voters of California LWVC

It’s hard to ignore the fact that millions of people showed up in solidarity for women across the world. It made us wonder what influence this outpouring of agency might have on how girls view themselves and the potential power of their voices.  Hundreds of thousands are also “coming together and uniting across our divides to get every girl into school and to make sure she gets a quality education once she’s there.”

We were inspired by new efforts—in the form of the “world’s most valuable education prize—to fund innovative education research and reforms “that respond to what might be the future challenges for education.” (If you have such an idea, note that nominations run through the end of March!) And we were inspired by the examples of innovative efforts “challenging the dominant ideas of education” that are featured in the six-part documentary series Rebel Education.

As a piece on Learning and earning: Equipping people to stay ahead of technological change from the Economist stresses, responding to future challenges for education requires developing curriculum and teaching models that help children learn how to learn (also known as “metacognition”). When jobs become obsolete, metacognition helps learners at any age develop new, freshly relevant skills. So we were encouraged to see research suggesting that governments are increasingly stressing the importance of communication, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving in their education plans and visions.

And we are delighted to see that individuals in government are working to turn these plans into actions that they hope will improve outcomes for children in their country. Although there is plenty of room for debate about whether Liberia’s bold effort to work with private school providers is actually a good way to protect the future of Liberian children, what we are especially inspired about in this example is the government’s commitment to taking action based on evidence.

We were heartened by news out of the UK that the gender gap in math performance is rapidly declining, suggesting that it’s social and cultural factors that have been holding women back. Hopefully seeing more girls bucking gender norms in math will mean that fewer 6-year-old girls will buy into the belief that brilliance is for boys only.

Attitudes towards brilliance may also shift the more educators promote the idea that individuals aren’t born with brilliance, but rather brilliance is born from individual effort. Stanford professor Jo Boaler shares evidence that girls have more of a fixed mindset about their own intelligence than boys do, especially in math. As they internalize the notion that intelligence improves through effort, their performance improves.

The notion that our brains grow the most when we subject them tostruggle (emphasized in anti-aging research as well) gives us courage that continuing to struggle with big and important problems in the field of girls’ education will be good for the world and for our brains!