The Puggle: July 2017 edition

Welcome to the July installment of The Puggle, your source for the emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education that the Echidna Giving team has come across this month!

There is a notion that things slow down during the summer months as people take holidays and spend time with their families, but we’ve seen no shortage of activity in girls’ education. There have been global and regional developments, such as the G20 Summit, progress against education and gender-related SDGs,  emerging education pledges related to Kenya’s upcoming elections, a shift in gender aid policy in Canada, and information about promising interventions for girls in Pakistan, India and Nigeria.

Many education advocates viewed the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany as a “make or break” moment for education. Much to their relief education was a key topic. The Leaders Declaration makes a number of references to education, including digital literacy and lifelong learning, vocational education and training (especially when it provides quality school-based and work-based learning), and women’s access to labor markets through the provision of quality education. Now the education community will be eager to see what action springs from the commitments to education.

An ongoing priority area for education is measuring learning outcomes, especially as they relate to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, only a third of countries can report on indicator 4.1 (ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes) with comparable data. There are large gaps in the geographic coverage of assessments and the type of information gathered. At the global level, this lack of comparable data makes it impossible to understand and map learning challenges across countries. It also makes it challenging to compose a compelling case to Ministers of Finance to invest in education. The Global Alliance for Monitoring Learning (GAML) is working to advance tools and measurements to benchmark student performance in reading and mathematics.

A major challenge facing education systems is how to ensure the delivery of quality education in an environment that is facing increasing school populations and budgets that are not commensurate with the population growth and demand for increased quality. This challenge has led education leaders and advocates to explore a myriad of solutions, including technology and public-private partnerships, which provides context on why these types of developments are included in the Puggle.

This month the Breakthrough Institute sounded a cautious note on the promise of technology and the ability to “leapfrog” the developed world. Broad adoption of mobile phones and the success of mobile banking created enthusiasm for the promise of technology and its ability to “leapfrog”. This article argues that the promise of Africa’s mobile revolution remains largely unfulfilled because Africa cannot jump directly to a service economy without first, or even simultaneously, building a base of infrastructure and technical capacity. The authors argue that education should be integrated into infrastructure building projects to create a pool of local talent who can later apply their expertise to infrastructure or innovations in other sectors.

An innovative program in Northern Nigeria called Girls Connect is using a telecom service to support adolescent girls. Callers dial a toll-free number and are offered a menu of four relatable stories to choose from. After listening to the story, the caller is connected with a specially-trained agent, called a “Role Model,” who helps the girl work through current or future problems. In its first month alone, the program received 42,000 calls, despite limited advertising, and holds promise in its ability to scale rapidly.

Another interesting technology advancement to watch is Kenya’s new National Education Management Information System (NEMIS), a web-based tool that will be used to transform data management in the education sector. NEMIS is intended to allow for more timely and accurate data to improve the flow of information to Kenyan policy-makers. Over time, the database should also allow researchers to analyze the underlying factors of both success and challenges facing students.

Kenya is preparing for elections in August. The campaigns have been debating five major socio-economic issues including education. Both candidates promise free secondary schools as part of their proposed education reform policies. These promises are raising concerns that Kenya will replicate mistakes made when primary education became free, such as lack of preparedness and uneven procurement which many believe ultimately led to increased inequality.

In Pakistan, education has also become a key talking point in political debates. Legislators are often elected by how many jobs they can provide to their constituents, and education departments are typically the single largest employers in most provinces. This translates into new hires and raises for teachers, but not to quality learning for children. Pakistani schools are critiqued for being a means to provide jobs, rather than education. As always there are examples of progress. One seeming successful intervention for girls’ education in Pakistan is training teachers on gender-responsive pedagogy to transform them into key catalysts for the empowerment of female students.

Canada is making a significant commitment to female empowerment by launching a new Feminist International Assistance Policy, positioning the country as a leader on gender equality in its aid programming. They’ve also allocated $150 million over five years to the new Women’s Voice and Leadership Program in response to the needs of local women in developing countries.

In India, bicycle programs for girls in Bihar are proving to be an effective intervention to reduce gender gaps in secondary school enrollment. Providing a bicycle to girls who continued to secondary school led to a 40% reduction in the gender gap and an 18% increase in the number of girls sitting for the high-stakes secondary school certificate exam. Further, the study found that increases in enrollment mostly took place in villages that were further away from a secondary school, suggesting that the mechanism of impact was the reduction in the time and safety cost of school attendance made possible by the bicycle.

Stay posted for our August edition next month!