In December 2019, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, made Girls’ Education a top priority, with a reference to the commitment of ensuring that all girls have access to twelve years of quality education in the Queen’s speech.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Global Education event: ‘Heralding the decade of leaving no girl behind’ (supported by the Global Partnership for Education, the Impact Initiative and RESULTS UK) met in the House of Commons to share progress and discuss what still needs to be done in order to move beyond the numbers of girls in school towards gender equality.
More than 50 MPs, bilateral and multilateral donors, representatives of NGOs and researchers came together to hear the panel discuss the need for a more strategic approach in moving beyond gender parity and tackling some of the complex issues which prevent girls from staying in school and learning.
In 2015, the international community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to create a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for all by 2030. This year marks the start of the “Decade of Action” – 10 years left to mobilize the international community to accelerate sustainable solutions to the world’s greatest problems.
Despite great progress in getting more children into school over the past decade, children who face multiple disadvantages, including those related to gender, are amongst those least likely to be learning. Education, especially for girls, has a ripple effect on health, prosperity, resilience and so much more. Getting education right will accelerate progress and provide an amplifying effect on the rest of the SDGs.
The panel, moderated by the Impact Initiative’s Professor Pauline Rose included the Global Partnership for Education’s CEO, Alice Albright and Minister of State for Africa and International Development, Andrew Stephenson. The event was introduced by new Chair of the APPG, Harriett Baldwin MP.
A global crisis
Alice Albright began by highlighting how education plays a crucial role in delivering on the promise of the 2030 Agenda, particularly in relation to the climate crisis and as a key condition for ensuring peace and helping communities prevent and cope with conflict.
However, she warned that education progress had stalled and that the number of children out of school is on the rise. She warned that if trends continue, youth employment will increase and the number of illiterate adults will increase massively. She warned, “It’s not just an education crisis, it’s a global crisis.”
Alice Albright advocated that better education decreases the chances of conflict and reduces poverty and stated that if we were to empower every girl about reproductive health, this would result in a 120 gigatonne reduction in carbon emissions, proving that education girls could be the key to unlocking the current climate crisis. She also highlighted that improving leadership and strengthening the mechanisms for systematic reform were essential, highlighting initiatives such as the Platform for girls Education.
‘Leave no girl behind’ – more than just a slogan
Andrew Stephenson said that the Prime Minister and the current UK Government were extremely committed to girls’ education and gender equality, but acknowledged that there was much to achieve if SDG4 was to be fully realised.
He applauded gatherings such as the African Investment Summit and the World Education Forum for bringing together bilateral organisations and for facilitating conversations on education and skills. But he asked how we can go further and faster in order to achieve gender equality, reminding us all that ‘Leave no girl behind’ must be more than just a slogan.
Evidence is essential for moving agenda on
Pauline Rose, Director of the REAL Centre at the University of Cambridge, summarised by saying that the UK should be proud of its evidence-based approach to girls education work through initiatives such as the Girls Education Challenge and DfID’s work to ensure education policy is informed by evidence.
Highlighting the work of the Impact Initiative, she reminded the attendees that it is essential evidence informs policy, recognising some key ESRC-DFID research on adapting measurements of gender equality and work looking at post-school prospects and aspirations for girls in remote areas.
Moving beyond parity measurements
Questions from the floor focused on opportunities to work more cross-sectorally and build upon previous work to raise disability on the education agenda. Andrew Stephenson responded to these questions by acknowledging the great work done by the disability inclusions community but recognising that more work was needed on identifying children with disabilities in school and understanding their experience.
ESRC-DFID grant holder Elaine Unterhalter of University College London raised a concern that the current SDG indicators do not sufficiently represent the complexities of ideals around gender equality. She asked about how this could be tackled. Alice Albright responded by acknowledging the issues were not about gender parity but about equality and the ‘soft issues’ which keep girls out of school and learning needed to be fully understood and measured.
Finally, ESRC-DFID grant holder Nicola Ansell of Brunel University asked: ‘Are we expecting too much from girls’ education?’ Drawing on her research, she stated that there are just not enough long-term prospects for some girls, and education just doesn’t deliver what it promises (in some contexts). Alice Albright insisted that local advocates who understand contexts should be reached out to in order to improve future prospects for girls.
ESRC-DFID Research for Policy and Practice: Gender and Education
The publication ESRC and DFID Research for Policy and Practice: Gender and Education profiles a collection of ESRC–DFID funded research which provides valuable evidence on strategies to ensure commitments to eliminate gender disparities in education are met. Beyond ensuring that every child – both girls and boys – is in school and learning, it highlights new approaches to how gender equality in and through education can be measured, which is crucial to achieving more than just gender parity in education. It also demonstrates the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to challenge existing norms and traditions; and, highlights the benefits of social-emotional learning activities which can be particularly effective for girls in conflict-affected contexts.