How do you help girls do well in school? There is a surprising answer

Through JOANNE LU

You would think that the best way to get girls to do well in school would be to design programs just for them – offer them mental health support or free sanitary pads.

But a new study, published in May in the journal World Bank Economic Review, beg to differ. Researchers David Evans and Fei Yuan looked at 267 studies of education programs in 54 low- and middle-income countries to find the most effective ways to get more girls into school and improve their learning. Globally, more than 130 million girls are still out of school, according to the World Bank, due to poverty, child marriage and violence.

Instead of looking only at girls’ education programs, they looked at all kinds of programs. To measure access, they analyzed enrollment, attendance, drop-out, graduation, and completion rates, and to measure performance, they looked at test scores.

Their biggest finding is that gender neutral programs, such as distributing cash assistance to families of school-aged children.– can be just as effective in improving girls’ education as programs designed just for girls.

The study is among the first to examine both ways to improve girls’ access to school as well as their classroomperformance, says Markus Goldstein, chief economist at the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab, who did not work on the report.

We spoke with Evans, a senior researcher at the Center for Global Development, and Yuan, a doctoral student in educational policy and program evaluation at Harvard University, to discuss the best ways to boost girls’ education in low-income countries. and intermediate. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to conduct this study?

Evans: Much of the previous work that has examined this issue has focused on programs targeted to girls’ specific needs, such as menstrual health. These are valid interventions, but if we focus only on programs that target girls, we may miss out on programs that greatly benefit girls but also help boys.

That’s why we decided to look at all the interventions that we know ofidentify which ones are most effective in improving girls’ outcomes, whether specifically targeted at girls or not.

You have found that the most effective programs to get more girls into school reduce the cost of educating students, regardless of gender, and their families. What are some examples of programs that have worked well?

Evans: Many of the most effective programs are those that eliminate tuition fees, offer scholarships, or provide families with a cash transfer to cover other costs related to their daughter’s education.

For example, in Ghana a lot of girls and boys pass their secondary school entrance exams, but they don’t have the money to pay for school fees. For example, a program provided scholarships to students who had already passed the entrance exam. It dramatically increased girls’ high school graduation rate by 66%.

But the most effective interventions are those that address the costs associated with the specific barriers girls face in a particular setting. In Afghanistan, for example, a [non-gendered]program builds schools in rural communities. He diminished [the cost of] going to school for both girls and boys and led to an increase of over 50% in girls’ participation in primary school. It’s dramatic.

What programs have been most helpful in improving a girl’s academic performance, as opposed to just integrating into the classroom?

Evans: The most effective interventions to increase learning were programs that improved the quality of teaching. But it’s not just about throwing teachers into a boardroom and giving them a lecture. Nor is it about launching fancy technologies, like laptops or tablets, into classrooms. The hardware does not work. It is embarrassing for teachers and students.

Instead, a literacy program – which included mentoring teachers, providing them with detailed teaching guides, and providing books to students – had a big impact on girls’ education. [in terms of test scores] in Kenya. The same was true of another program in Kenya that helped teachers teach children a language they spoke at home (rather than English).

Are there other types of programs that have helped girls learn better in the classroom?

Yuan: Another intervention worth mentioning is called Teaching at the Right Level, based in India. The idea is that students in the same class can have several different reading levels. But due to constraints such as large class sizes, teachers may not be able to tailor their teaching to the right level for each student. That leaves a few students out.

Teaching at the right level made it easier to have summer camps in which children were grouped by reading level, rather than by age or grade. This allowed teachers to target their teaching at the specific levels of these students. In one region, after 50 days of targeted education in these camps, children with the lowest achievement levels in India were able to catch up with the learning level of the third best performing state in the country.

Many of the high impact interventions you refer to do not specifically target girls. Are you saying that girls’ programs are not necessary?

Evans: Not at all! We have particularly focused on how to increase access to education and improve the quality of learning. Some [girl-focused] programs have other goals, such as reducing violence against girls, improving girls’ psychological and emotional well-being, reducing teenage pregnancies, or helping girls move from school to the labor market. job.

But when education is of poor quality, it is enough to help schools to improve education. This is not necessarily a gender specific problem.

Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to offer scholarships or cash transfers only to girls rather than both sexes, especially if far fewer girls than boys are in school?

Evans: Of course, if you don’t have the budget to cut school fees for everyone, eliminating school fees for girls is an effective way to set up a program targeting girls. This is what The Gambia has done. But sometimes general and untargeted interventions are more politically acceptable to governments, since voters have both daughters and sons.

Were you worried that some non-sexist programs would benefit boys more than girls?

Evans: It was something that worried us – increasing inequalities. But we found that overall, the impact of gender neutral programs tends to be slightly larger on girls than boys, both in terms of access and learning. These differences, for the most part, were not statistically significant. They were small. But it does mean that these general, untargeted interventions do not increase inequalities between boys and girls. If anything, they are likely to decrease it.

What changes do you hope to see in the way we work on girls’ education around the world?

Evans: We want to make sure that those who care about girls ‘education tap into the comprehensive toolbox of programs that can improve girls’ education. This includes programs for girls. It also includes general programs.

We don’t want anybody to walk away from that and say, “Oh, we don’t need to worry about the girls”. Instead, it means that if we care about girls, we have a wider range of tools to help them.

Joanne Lu is a freelance journalist who covers poverty and inequality around the world. His work appeared in Humanosphere, The Guardian, Washington World and War is boring. Follow her on Twitter: @joannelu



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Norma A. Roth