Lessons on supporting girls to learn
You’ve heard that girls all over the developing world are falling behind in education. Perhaps you’ve read news articles like this one or seen the stark statistics. But why, in countries where education is free and billions of pounds are spent by governments and aid organisations, is this such an ongoing problem?
Link works in sub-Saharan Africa where many complex, intertwined barriers are holding girls back from their full potential.
Social attitudes and cultural norms offer some of the biggest challenges – many girls face early marriage and child bearing forcing them out of the classroom, or else miss school days because of domestic chores, care responsibilities or stigma around their monthly period.
Poverty creates further barriers to school attendance as girls are pressured to work or provide childcare to support their family. Tuition may be free, but uniforms, textbooks and travel to school can all carry a cost and poor families often choose to prioritise their sons’ learning over their daughters’ education.
Even when girls do make it to class they face yet more obstacles. Teachers lack training in how to manage large classes and to ensure boys and girls get equal opportunities, often unconsciously favouring boys. Girls’ grades suffer, they lose confidence and stop fighting against the odds to stay in school.
So, what can we do?
30 years of working in education has taught us we must work on all of these issues together to fight them effectively. There is rarely just one reason why a disadvantaged girl falls behind in school.
We want to make a difference for girls like Mary from Malawi who is just 17 years old but is already married with one small child. An orphan, she has never been to school and lives in extreme poverty. She identifies as having a learning difficulty and relies on other people to help her with remembering or concentrating.
We’re determined to give her all the support she needs. To help her learn basic skills like reading and writing, we’ve enrolled her in one of our community classrooms that help girls catch up on missed learning. To support her struggles as a young mother with a disability, the classes also cover sexual health and emotional support in an environment which is adapted to her specific needs. For wider help, this is underpinned by community campaigns on girls’ rights to education, and income generation activities families to help Mary stay in class.
This is just one example of our creative, holistic projects that are championed by local communities to bring about lasting change.
We’re working to improve learning, but it leads to so much more. Gender equality and empowered, educated, local citizens driving forward positive change are what will help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. And that’s how you change the world.
Want to know more about Link's work? Sam Ross, International Programme Director at Link Community Development will be joining us at our annual conference on 25 September 2019 as a panelist at the breakout session entitled 'Improving education outcomes for girls: sharing practice from across the network' .