By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report
As the 2015 deadline draws near, is the world on track to give its boys and girls the same chance to get a good education? This week we look back at the 2003/2004 EFA Global Monitoring Report, Gender and Education for All – The leap to equality, as part of our countdown to the launch of the 2012 report on October 16.
When the six Education for All goals were agreed upon in Dakar, Senegal, in 2000, the urgency of Goal 5 was clearly expressed. As well as its 2015 deadline for achieving gender equality in education, the goal was the only one of the six to have an additional, earlier, deadline: by 2005, gender disparities in primary and secondary education were to be eliminated.
In hindsight, that goal was too ambitious. When our 2003/2004 report Gender and Education for All – The leap to equality was published, it was already becoming clear that it would be difficult to reach. By 2005, it was missed by a wide margin: only 59 of the 176 countries with available data had reached gender parity in 2006. The ambition of gender equality in education by 2015 is more realistic, however. Only 73 countries have not yet achieved parity, and 13 of them are already on track to do so by 2015, according to the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report. However, progress must speed up if girls and boys around the world are to have the same chance of going to school in 2015.
In primary schools in 2009, there were 96 girls for every 100 boys enrolled around the world, an increase of four girls per 100 boys since 1999. However, such global figures hide countries where progress is not fast enough. In 14 countries in 2009, there are fewer than 90 girls per 100 boys in primary schools. It is still true that girls around the world are less likely to have equal access to primary education.
Looking particularly at secondary school, in sub-Saharan Africa there has been a marked increase in female enrolment since our 2003/2004 report on gender. However, this improvement was from a low base, and has not been strong enough to make a significant change in gender parity in the region. In the Arab states, progress towards gender parity in secondary school is still lagging behind the progress that has happened at primary level. Furthermore, in many countries, particularly upper middle income and high income countries, it is boys rather than girls who are less likely to enrol in secondary school and to do as well once they are there. This problem – and different solutions – is among the gender topics examined in the forthcoming 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report.
The inequalities children face in education translate into serious disadvantage when those children become young people facing job markets. As the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report points out, governments that tolerate large gender gaps in their school systems are not just depriving their children of a basic human right, but also undermining the national economic interest by leaving a large part of the population without the skills they need to get good jobs.
Literacy skills are one example. In spite of progress towards gender parity in schooling, as well as towards reducing illiteracy overall, two out of three illiterate adults are women – and this figure has hardly changed over the last decade, according to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics. The 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which will be released in nine weeks, will examine how young people – especially those facing disadvantages – can learn the skills they need for the labour market. And young women are often among those facing the most serious difficulties in bridging the mismatch between skills and work.
In addition to monitoring progress on the gender goal, the 2003/2004 EFA Global Monitoring Report raised the more fundamental question of what keeps holding girls back. The report suggested a three-step, rights-based approach to overcome discriminatory obstacles set by societies. First, girls should have the right to education. Second, girls should have rights within education, specifically to safe schools that treat them fairly. Finally, girls should be given rights through education – raising the issue of how well girls’ schooling translates into equal opportunities in society. We cannot achieve equality in education, the report argued, without taking all three dimensions into account. Taking these three steps is as necessary in 2012 as it was when the report was written nine years ago.
Next week we look back at the 2005 Education for All Global Monitoring Report – The Quality Imperative, and examine how the Education for All movement has contributed to better quality education.
Follow Pauline Rose on Twitter: @Pauline_RoseGMR