“The most urgent priority is to ensure access to, and improve the quality of, education for girls and women, and to remove every obstacle that hampers their active participation.”
The World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) is clear—quality education for girls and women is an urgent priority. It was so in 1990 when the EFA Declaration was made. Today, in 2011, it is still so, not least in sub-Saharan Africa where more than half of out-of-school children are girls and where two-thirds of the illiterate population are women.
Millions of children, in particular girls, continue to drop out of school, without acquiring basic education, knowledge, and skills. Many girls and young w
omen remain totally excluded from education due to conflict and social, cultural, and physical barriers. According to the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, 29 million out-of-school children—43 percent of the global total—are in low-income, sub-Saharan Africa. Of these, 54 percent are girls.
UNESCO estimates that by 2015—the deadline for the world to meet the learning needs of children, youth and, adults—there is a risk that the number of children around the world not attending school will have risen to 72 million. Given current gender imbalances in education, girls risk making up the larger share of these children
Since 1992, in the early days of the World Declaration on EFA, the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) has advocated for concerted efforts across sub-Saharan Africa to ensure that girls and women enjoy the same opportunities as their male counterparts, opportunities to learn, thrive, be productive and autonomous, and participate in every aspect of development of their societies.
To achieve this, all those with a stake in education, empowerment, and gender equality must work in synergy. This is why FAWE engages with governments and decision-makers across sub-Saharan Africa to encourage policy reform. It encourages communities to act for enduring and positive change in their attitudes and practices. FAWE also works with a variety of partners in education, gender equality, and empowerment who can add their voices to the call for firm commitment and targeted action in enhancing education and training for girls and women on the continent.
FAWE also takes action directly within the learning environment. It develops and implements programs that create opportunities for African girls and women. These programs support women’s and girls’ empowerment, enabling them to return to and complete basic education, pursue tertiary education, and engage in income-generating activities.
On June 15, the Centre for Universal Education at Brookings Institution released a new report, “A Global Compact on Learning: Taking Action on Education in Developing Countries.” It calls for renewed cooperation on education in low-income countries to prepare children to lead safe, healthy, and productive lives.
At a time when major development cooperation agencies around the world are turning their attention from education to other development issues, Brookings’s Global Compact on Learning turns the spotlight back on the need for global cooperation on education in developing countries. The need is an urgent one: there are more young people on the planet than ever before, with 1.3 billion of the world’s 12 to 24-year-olds living in developing countries.
Rarely are the merits of educating all children questioned. Parents demand it, community leaders advocate for it, and national leaders proclaim universal schooling as one of the main mechanisms for ushering their countries into the modern era.
Yet, in spite of the demand, the advocacy efforts, the proclamations, and the agreements to put in place national education policies, plans, and budget strategies towards learning for all, the commitment to education is flagging. Going to school has not translated into learning in school. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, children with five years of education have a 40 percent chance of being illiterate.
The challenges in providing learning opportunities for those out of school and improving learning outcomes for those in school are many. However, the global community is not prepared to address these very real education concerns and the private sector is yet to play a major role in education.
The Brookings report proposes six main principles to deliver the vision of learning for all: leadership on education at the highest political levels; partnership; more financial resources committed to achieve the agenda of learning for all; systematically measuring learning achievement; advocacy to mobilize public opinion and sending strong signals to governments; and building evidence of proven solutions in order to scale them up.
Brookings invited FAWE to be among the panel of experts discussing the new global education agenda proposed by the report and the way forward for greater global cooperation on June 15. A day before Brookings launched its Global Compact on Learning, FAWE’s Friends of FAWE affiliate, headquartered in New York City and Washington D.C., initiated its advocacy efforts in the U.S. to increase awareness, develop partnerships, and raise funding to support the work of educating young girls across sub-Saharan Africa and transforming their lives.
All photo by Nancy Wong of FAWE.