Study calls for safeguarding of girls’ education at all levels

New global data underscores the importance of policies that safeguard female children’s education at all levels and the need to encourage girls and women to pursue the highest levels of education.

The latest eAtlas of Gender Inequality in Education produced by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, Institute for Statistics shows that Sub-Saharan Africa is among those regions with the highest gender disparities in education: approximately 9.5 million girls will never enter a classroom, compared to 5 million boys.

However, the good news is that girls who begin primary school and go on to attend secondary school tend to continue their studies and outperform their male peers, raising their chances of pursuing tertiary education.

The eAtlas allows users to explore the educational pathways of girls and boys in more than 200 countries and territories globally.

Higher enrolment in tertiary education

It shows that while Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest gross enrolment ratio for higher education in the world, such enrolment has nearly doubled from 4.3% in 2000 to 8.2% in 2014 (meaning that eight out of 100 people of the relevant age are enrolled in universities or colleges).

More African students are studying abroad in neighbouring countries, such as South Africa, Senegal and Ghana. These regional education hubs not only attract a share of the global population of mobile students but are becoming favoured destinations for students within regions, according to Amy Otchet, head of the Data Outreach, Advocacy and Publishing Unit at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

The study also reveals that while there has been remarkable progress in some regions, such as Southern Asia, where a girl starting school today can expect to receive 11 years of education compared to six years in 1990, a girl in Sub-Saharan Africa can only expect to receive about nine years of schooling while boys can expect 10 years (including some time spent repeating grades).

The study seeks to be a resource for policy makers and others invested in education.

“We are putting data in the hands of policymakers, activists and engaged citizens striving to take down the barriers that prevent girls and women from tapping into the transformative power of education,” according to Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics which launched the new eAtlas to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March.

‘Trouble spots’

A statement from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics identified 'trouble spots', one of which was in Sudan where there are only about 70 girls enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys. According to the statement, large gaps persist in other African countries such as Chad where 77 girls were enrolled for every 100 boys. Strikingly, the gaps tend to widen with higher levels of education in many countries.

“Considerable progress has been made, with the balance tipping in favour of young women in many middle- and high-income countries,” said the study. It reveals that while there are now more women pursuing bachelor degrees globally than men, data show the persistence of gender barriers in advanced levels of study, which result in women accounting for less than 30% of the world’s researchers.

According to Otchet, numerous studies show the positive effects that female teachers can have on girls’ learning, but Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest number of women teachers.

“As shown in the eAtlas, the region facing the greatest challenges – Sub-Saharan Africa – is the only one to have mostly men teaching,” Otchet told World University News.

In most countries of the region, women still account for a minority of teachers as in the case of Liberia (13%), Togo (16%) and Benin (24%).

At primary school level, 23% of all primary school age girls are denied the right to education in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 19% of boys. When drilling down to the country level, it emerges that as much as 50% of girls of primary school age are not in school in African countries such as Eritrea, Liberia and South Sudan. The study further reveals that the female primary out-of-school rate is at least 10 percentage points higher than the male rate in countries like Angola, Nigeria and South Sudan.

In total, 142 million upper secondary school age youth were not in school in 2014, 21 million more than the combined number of out-of-school children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age. Out of these, 35 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa.