With its linkages to improved health, economic growth and community-building, educating one girl has a powerful multiplier effect across families, communities and countries.
Girls represent 54% of the 32 million children out of school in sub-Saharan Africa. For many poor families, immediate chores at home or the need for additional income outweigh the long-term benefits of sending their daughters to school. As a result, girls are more likely than boys never to set foot in a school. Twelve million girls in sub-Saharan Africa will never enroll in school, compared with 7 million boys. Many girls who do enter school either drop out, often during adolescence, or do not go on to higher levels once they graduate.
Compared with an uneducated girl, a girl with an education is more likely to wait longer to get married, have fewer children and invest in the health and education of her children. She is also better equipped to find a job, and often more empowered in her family and more active in her community and government.
An educated family in Uganda
When Grace Nangyonga was just eight years old, both her parents passed away. As the oldest of seven children, it suddenly became her job to take care of the family.
But even with all her new responsibilities, she refused to stop going to school. She knew how important an education was to the future of her family. “I did all sorts of small jobs,” she says –including selling chickens after class every day.
But when it came time to start secondary school, tuition fees became too expensive. She could no longer go to the classroom and still feed her family. Grace thought she’d finally have to drop out.
Then she discovered the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), a non-profit organisation that works to help make sure that girls all across Africa can go to school. FAWE agreed to help pay her tuition fees for as long as she needed.
Today, thanks to FAWE’s help, Grace holds a degree in information science and owns her own company. She’s paying the way for all of her brothers and sisters to go to school. And she hopes her story inspires other young girls just like her.
“I am so proud of who I am today. I want to be an example for girls in my country and beyond.”
– Story adapted from FAWE
Educating Africa’s next generation: recommendations for world leaders
Although African countries have significantly increased the number of children enrolled in primary school over the past decade, progress improving primary school quality and completion, as well as access to secondary school and higher levels, has been much slower. In 2010 and beyond, development partners should collaborate towards the following goals:
Prioritise quality, completion and secondary school: Improving the quality of education will require increased efforts to recruit and retain trained teachers; scale up access to inputs such as textbooks and classrooms; and monitor and evaluate learning outcomes through classroom-based assessments, as well as national and regional testing. To incentivise primary school completion and increase enrolment in secondary school, developing countries and donors should take a fresh look at the barriers to secondary school, including fees, opportunity costs, distance to school and socio-cultural barriers, especially for girls, and ensure that these are addressed in national education plans as the demand for secondary education grows.
Increased, effective resources: Progress on improving primary school enrolment, quality and completion relies on increased resources and reform and replenishment of the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative.
1. UNESCO. 2010. “Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2010”. Table 5. p. 346.