All girls deserve an education, not just the lucky ones

All girls deserve an education, not just the lucky ones
Siem Reap, Cambodia - Jan 22, 2014: Local students having English lessons at their school. The school named New Bridge for Cambodia is a organization that offers students free education. Students whose families are not rich can get free lessons on fundamental curriculums. The school also relies on international aid from organizations like AIESEC.

Since I became the Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), I’ve been repeatedly reminded of how lucky I am.

Lucky to have grown up in a place and a time where it was a given – in fact, required by law and encouraged by everyone around me – that I would go to school. Without that schooling, the many extraordinary opportunities I’ve had up to now would have certainly been out of my reach. Unthinkable.

Whenever I travel to the developing countries GPE works with, I see far too many girls who aren’t as fortunate as I was. These girls won’t get even a basic education, and, many of those who do won’t go on to secondary school, much less to university.

Indeed, approximately 130 million girls worldwide are not attending primary or secondary school and more than 479 million women are illiterate. If those numbers alarm you – and they should – consider that in 2000 there were 200 million out-of-school girls.

In other words, there has been substantial progress for girls’ education in the last decade and a half. But we’re far from finishing the task of educating all the world’s girls by 2030 – a milestone the international community set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Meeting that milestone will require developing countries, industrialized donor countries, other NGOs and the private sector to work together to:

Continue to lower the barriers that keep girls out of school. While every country is different, a common set of factors often impede girls’ education: expectations that girls should work at home or bring in needed cash; forced marriage for young teen girls; school fees; long, dangerous commutes to school, especially in remote areas; lack of sanitary facilities for menstruating girls; too few qualified female teachers; and humanitarian crises that keep girls and boys from school.

Make educating girls a priority. Not coincidentally, countries that commit to girls’ education and follow through with real action show the best progress. Many of the countries GPE works with have even achieved or approached full parity between the number of girls and boys who enroll in and finish school.

That commitment comes when countries, with support from GPE, produce actionable blueprints (or education sector plans) that detail and mandate the steps they will take for years to come as they build and strengthen their education systems. Nearly all stress strategies for clearing aside the barriers that keep girls out of school, and they receive GPE funding for the essential implementation of those plans.

Provide more resources for girls’ education globally. The International Commission for Financing Global Education Opportunities, on which I serve, noted in a landmark report last year that under current trends only one out of 10 young people in low-income countries will be on track to gain basic secondary-level skills by 2030 – far short of the target spelled out in the Sustainable Development Goals. The Commission added that improving that trajectory will require developing countries themselves to increase their domestic education budgets. But most of these are low-income countries that will require additional help. According to the Commission, this means that donor countries need to increase overseas development aid for education from $1.2 trillion per year today to $3 trillion by 2030.

That kind of step change is not out of the question. But it will require us to reverse some troubling trends. Education’s share of overseas development aid, for example, dropped by 14 % between 2010 and 2014.

Averting our gaze from the enormous needs in education, particularly in the world’s poorer countries, will eventually go against our collective self-interest. The evidence shows that as countries become more educated, they are less likely to generate disease outbreaks and conflicts that threaten the rest of the world, and they become better trading partners and markets for private sector investment – for domestic and international companies. Helping struggling countries is not a giveaway – it’s an investment in everyone’s future.

Again, I was lucky enough to have come from a country that gave me an education that transformed my life. Girls everywhere – not just the lucky ones like me – deserve the same.

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