Girls Education

Achieve Universal Primary Education

MDG Goal #2: Achieve universal primary education. Educating girls raises lifetime incomes for them, their families and their countries. The World Bank found in a study of 100 countries that every 1 percent increase in the proportion of women with secondary education boosted a country’s annual per capita income growth rate by about 0.3 percentage points.

Facts at a Glance

Educating girls raises lifetime incomes for them, their families and their countries.1

The World Bank found in a study of 100 countries that every 1 percent increase in the proportion of women with secondary education boosted a country's annual per capita income growth rate by about 0.3 percentage points.

Girls who have one more year of education than the national average earn 10 to 20 percent more, on average – even more than the increase for boys.  In particular, girls with secondary education have an 18% return in future wages, as compared to 14% for boys. 2

Crop yields in Kenya could rise up to 22 percent if women farmers had the same education and inputs (such as fertilizer, credit, investment) as men farmers.3

Educating girls and women fosters democracy and women's political activity.4

A Bangladeshi study found educated women three times more likely to take part in political meetings than those without schooling.

Educated women are more likely to resist abuses such as domestic violence, traditions like female genital cutting, and discrimination at home, in society or the workplace.

Educating girls and women saves children's lives.5

Every year of education delays a girl's marriage and reduces the number of children she has. Girls with secondary schooling are up to six times less likely to be married as children than girls with little or no education. Girls who receive secondary and higher education beyond grade 7 have, on average, 2.2 fewer children than girls with less or no education. 

Educated women are less likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth and more likely to send their children to school.

If mothers have a primary school education, the mortality rate for their children under 5 is halved: Each additional year of schooling for girls reduces infant mortality for their offspring by up to 10%. Also, mothers provide better nutrition and health care and spend more on their children: girls and women spend 90% of their earned income on their families, while men only spend 30-40% 6

Children of uneducated mothers are half as likely to attend primary school as those whose mothers attended primary school themselves.

Educating adolescents and young people is critical for development.

Young people under 25 – half the world's 6.5 billion people – need vocational and life skills and access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, if they are to take full part in their countries' development and contribute to it. 8

Secondary and higher education, especially for girls, provides high returns for poverty reduction, economic growth and reproductive health.

Enabling young couples to choose when to marry and have children leads to smaller families, slower population growth, increased productivity and rising incomes.

Girls' education still lags behind schooling for boys.

Of 163 million illiterate youth in the world, 63 percent are female.9

UNESCO and UNICEF estimate that there are over 115 million 6-to-12 year olds not in school, and three-fifths of them are girls. 10

Each year, almost 5.5 million girls aged 15-19 give birth.  Only 35% of those who are unmarried use a modern method of contraception.11 

Although the gap is closing in primary school enrollment, one out of five girls in the developing world does not complete sixth grade.12

Only 43 percent of secondary-school-age girls are in class in developing countries.13

Factors that lower girls' school attendance include: fees for tuition, transport, books or uniforms; cultural biases or traditions that educate boys only or keep girls to work at home; lack of female teachers; lack of sanitary napkins; lack of separate toilet facilities; sexual harassment or abuse by teachers or other students; and child marriage.

Where girls are expected to work at home and to join their husbands' families at marriage, parents may see sending them to school as all loss and no gain.

Girls who suffer setbacks or long absences in primary school may not get the help they need to catch up.

Teachers may require less from girls than they do from boys: one in three girls who complete primary school in Africa and South Asia cannot read, write or do simple math.14

High-level political leadership can raise public understanding and create conditions for girls' education in the developing world.

Education costs are immediate to parents, but benefits are distant, so governments must make universal education mandatory – at least for primary grades, and eventually for secondary grades as well.

Eliminating or cutting school fees typically causes enrollments to skyrocket.

Stipends for tuition, books, uniforms etc. dramatically lower dropout rates.

Schools can be made more girl-friendly with private latrines, female teachers, sanitary supplies, and an end to harassment and discrimination against girls.

Rural and community school construction should increase and include community support, flexible schedules and child-care programs.

Comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education should be mandatory in schools, especially for adolescents.

For Further Information

What Works in Girls' Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World

Toward universal primary education: investments, incentives, and institutions. Millennium Development Task Force on Education and Gender Equality.

References

1 Herz, Barbara, and Sperling, Gene B., What Works in Girls' Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 2004, p. 2-3
2 Ruth Levine et al., Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda Reprint (Washington, DC: Center for Global Development, 2009).
3 UNFPA, UN Population Fund, State of World Population 2005: The Promise of Equality, UNFPA, New York, 2005, p. 47
4 Herz, p. 6
5 UNICEF, The State of the World's Children 2007, UNICEF, New York, 2007, p4-6
6 Nike Foundation, The Girl Effect.
7 UNICEF, p. 27
8 UNFPA, p. 45
9 UNFPA, p. 46
10 Ruth Levine and Nancy Birdsall, On the Road to Universal PrimaryEducation (Washington DC: Center for Global Development, 2005): 2.
11 National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Growing Up Global:The Changing Transition to Adulthood in Developing Countries, ed. Cynthia Lloyd (Washington DC: National Academies Press, 2005).
12 UNICEF, p. 4
13 UNICEF, p. 4
14 Herz, p. 2

 
 
 

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