Today, as we celebrate the second international day of the girl child, we also note that 2013 has put the challenges that girls face in accessing and successfully completing education at the very top of the international policy agenda. This is in no small measure due to the courage of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani education advocate who was shot in the head by the Taliban in October 2012.
Malala’s refusal to be silenced by terrorists, and the tenacity with which she continues to advocate for girls’ education, culminated in the celebration of a day especially designated ‘Malala Day’ when, in the company of the UN Secretary General, she addressed the young delegates who ‘took over’ the United Nations on July 12th this year.
Global Focus on Girls’ Education
The attempt on Malala Yousafzai’s life brought the issue of girls being prevented from attending school, under the penalty of death in some countries, into sharp relief. Last December, at the first of a series of high level events to discuss girls’ access to education in Pakistan Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, rightly commented that the time had come to shift the focus from making ‘speeches that bring people to their feet’ to engaging in ‘ action that brings the world to its senses’.
It is, therefore, fitting that the theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child is Innovating for Girls’ Education. Some of the young teachers who attended the UN Malala Day event as part of EI’s delegation have been reflecting on the challenges that girls face in education in their own countries.
In Amsterdam, Lotte Bosma (from AOB union) teaches in a school for children with special needs. She reports that the Netherlands is currently introducing inclusive education, so that as many children with special needs as possible are able to be educated in mainstream schools. This will have a transformative impact in the lives of special needs children, and doubly so for girls: one of Lotte’s colleagues told her that “some parents admit that their daughter is less likely to find a partner if they have followed special education”. Based on her own teaching experiences, Lotte’s opinion is that there has tended to be a focus on boys’ educational needs in her country, with policies being enacted to address the ‘feminisation of education’. That is a reference to the view that the high numbers of women teachers explains why boys have not been performing as well as girls in the Netherlands in recent years; because of a lack of male role models in the classroom. However, recent research by ITS with 6000 students across the Netherlands has shown that the gender of a teacher has no incidence on children’s educational performances. In addition, girls might outperform boys in school in the Netherlands, but, as Lotte notes, the majority of high level and high pay jobs are held by men, and women are generally still paid less than men for doing work of equal value.
In Egypt, EI youth delegate Mennatallah Shapaan Abdelgid Morsy Hikal (ISTT) says that the internet and the use of ICTs more generally have opened a door to the world and motivated girls to do more. As one student told her, “I don’t want to sit at home, get married and end my life in my home doing nothing!” Increasingly, Egyptian girl students see getting an education as a way out of poverty, a way to become independent, and a way to ‘make the world see that they can do something that matters’.
Sehreen Moorat (COT) in Pakistan spoke to a teacher in a government school in her local area. He told her that girls face a number of different challenges when it comes to education in Pakistan, including cultural and religious barriers, crippling poverty that leads many parents to choose vocational training for their sons while their daughters receive little or no form of education, and a shortage of female teachers.
Lastly, Alexis Ploss (NEA) pointed to some disheartening statistics about girls’ education in North America: 50% of Native American girls, 4 out of 10 Latinas, and 4 out of 10 girls of colour do not complete their education.
These different scenarios from around the world show that girls’ education has to remain at the top of national, regional and international policy agendas, and not only on the international day of the girl child. These testimonies from Lotte, Mennatallah, Sehreen and Alexis show that teachers’ organisations have a strong evidence base from around which they are united and ready to speak up for girls’ education. Teachers are at the front line and know from experience what the issues are; they are also key to finding the solutions.
The message by EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child can be read here.