Education and Skills

Changing the lives of millions of girls, one school at a time

Children write notes from a makeshift black board at a school in Mwezeni village in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province in this picture taken June 5, 2012. The Eastern Cape, home to giants of the African National Congress like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu who helped end apartheid and Thabo Mbeki, the nation's second democratically elected president, is a glaring example of the ruling party's failure to deliver its promise of a "better life for all". While thousands of schools wait each year for textbooks and many Eastern Cape children are forced to write on loose sheets, the ANC has produced copious reams of policy papers to be studied by about 3,000 delegates at next week's meeting. Picture taken June 5, 2012. To match Insight  SAFRICA-ANC/  REUTERS/Ryan Gray (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: EDUCATION POLITICS) - GM1E86O1TK601

The number of girls not attending school, despite having fallen by 40% since 2000, still stands at 130 million. Image: REUTERS/Ryan Gray

Julia Gillard
Chair, Global Partnership for Education
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Education and Skills?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Education is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Education

Washington, DC – Completing primary school in Niger was never a certainty for Aishetu Mahmoudu Hama, given all the obstacles that stood in her way. “It was hard to study,” she recalls. “We sat on the ground – sometimes on a mat, sometimes just in the dirt.”

But Aishetu persevered, and she is now a 23-year-old university student. Aishetu knows that without school, her life chances would likely be confined to herding, farming, getting married, and having a lot of children. There simply would be no other opportunities for her to pursue.

Like the female teachers who inspired her to learn, Aishetu wants to be a role model to younger girls and her own siblings. She hopes that her story will motivate them to complete their education, too.

On this International Day of the Girl, Aishetu stands as proof of the difference that education can make for girls and the people around them. But the struggles that Aishetu overcame also remind us that education remains beyond reach for far too many girls.

Consider one appalling statistic: The number of girls not attending school, despite having fallen by 40% since 2000, still stands at 130 million. This helps to explain why women struggle more than men to find meaningful, well-paying work, and why the share of women in the global workforce persistently lags behind that of men.

Image: UNESCO

Making matters worse, even where girls’ educational attainment has grown rapidly, commensurate improvements for women in the workforce have remained elusive. According to a 2015 study by the World Economic Forum, “while more women than men are enrolling at university in 97 countries, women make up the majority of skilled workers in only 68 countries and the majority of leaders in only four.”

These gender gaps represent a major generational challenge for large and small businesses alike. Worldwide, companies are already struggling to find enough qualified workers for their increasingly automated work processes. The International Commission for Financing Global Education Opportunity reported last year that nearly 40% of employers are having difficulties recruiting workers with the right skills.

Businesses investing in lower-income countries also need their workers to be healthy. This is more likely when mothers are educated: they and their families tend to be healthier than in the case of less educated mothers. In fact, research shows that if all childbearing-age women were to complete secondary education, the number of children dying before age five would drop by about 350,000 each year.

The businesses investing in developing- and emerging-market countries that are home to most out-of-school girls thus have an interest in helping girls get the education they deserve. If educational outcomes improve, we will likely see far more women pursuing the higher-level technical training that today’s workplaces are demanding.

To put 130 million additional girls into school, we will have to overcome an array of stubborn barriers. In many countries, educating girls is not considered important, owing to expectations that they will work exclusively at home or on the family farm. Early marriage, sexual assault, a lack of sanitary facilities for menstruating girls, and humanitarian crises are just some of the factors that make completing an education more difficult for girls than for boys. And in remote areas in particular, school fees and arduous commutes pose further challenges.

Even if these cultural, political, and geographic hurdles can be cleared, wealthier countries will need to commit far more resources to educating girls in developing economies than they have in the past. Shockingly, the share of donor countries’ overseas development aid that is allocated for education has shrunk over the last six years, and is now smaller than it was in 2010. Donor countries urgently need to reverse that trend.

The Global Partnership for Education has been one of the leading catalysts in educating girls over the past decade and a half. Thanks to GPE funding, an additional 38 million girls in developing countries were enrolled in primary school from 2002 to 2014.

To build on that progress, GPE will hold a financing conference, co-hosted by the Senegalese and French governments, on February 8, 2018, in Dakar. We are appealing to donors around the world to help us reach $2 billion in annual funds by 2020.

With sufficient funding, GPE can support the education needs of 870 million children in more than 80 countries. And it can help developing countries build education systems that will give girls like Aishetu the chance to realize their potential. When girls and women are empowered through education, they can and do transform the world for the better. Investment in their potential is a bet that can’t lose.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Education and SkillsEconomic Growth
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How focused giving can unlock billions and catapult women’s wealth

Mark Muckerheide

May 21, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum