Girls’ Education in a Changing World: Innovation For Learning

October 11, 2013

Celebrating the power of girls on the International Day of the Girl Child

By Nora Fyles, Head of UNGEI Secretariat

Two weeks ago, Mariam Khalique, teacher of Pakistani school girl, Malala Yousafzai, spoke with passion and confidence about the power of education to transform lives. She does not need to be convinced; she had seen it with her own eyes. “It is the power of education that empowered little Malala to speak at the age of 11”, Mariam reported, speaking to a group of children in a midtown New York primary school. “Not only Malala – we have examples of many other girls who are striving hard to protect their rights.”

That education is a human right for all people is not new or, some might say, innovative. But that an 11 year old girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan would take the risk of speaking out for her right to education, and capture the attention of world leaders, is a fresh demonstration of the meaning of this right.

Innovation for Girls’ Education

© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-2183/GIACOMO PIROZZI

Innovation for Girls’ Education is a perfect theme for the 2013 International Day of the Girl Child. It recognizes the importance of preparing girls for a changing world; a world in which technology will play an increasingly significant role. It suggests the need for new ways of working, to provide quality education where ‘business as usual’ has failed. It speaks of the shift in the ‘girls’ education dialogue’ from one of access and learning, to one of empowerment.

This can be seen in the growing number of new initiatives that seek to build girls’ confidence and sense of agency. Many of them have been implemented by UNGEI’s partners and showcased on this dedicated space. In an uncertain and increasingly interconnected world, education has the power to transform people and promote positive, shared values. For girls, education can also transform society, by building the self-confidence of girls and women, improving their position in society and challenging inequalities.

Addressing girls’ education challenges….
Around the world, governments, civil society and the private sector are introducing innovative approaches to girls’ education. The World We Want platform recently hosted a three week interactive dialogue on Innovating for Girls’ Education, where practitioners shared stories about promising programs that expand access, promote learning, address social and financial barriers or collaborate through new partnerships. This has become a space rich in resources and ideas that can be adapted and implemented to address girls’ education challenges.

…in India
In the slums of Gomtinagar in Luchnow, India, girls from very poor families attend Prerna, an all-girls formal school run by a private NGO (Study Hall Educational Foundation). The school meets in the afternoon to accommodate the needs of girls whose economic circumstances require that they work. Community and parents play an important role in making the school a success. For example, girls’ parents must sign an agreement to protect their girls from child marriage. What is innovative about this school is the main goal. It is not so much about learning outcomes as life outcomes. Their goal is to support girls to become women who see themselves as equal persons having the right to equal participation in an unequal society, and to be equipped with the appropriate skills for such equal participation. Classes from preschool through grade 12 are interactive and activity-based. The girls study gender and empowerment along with science and math, and they are supported by a strong peer and teacher network. So far the results have been impressive with girls staying, achieving and graduating to take up either work or further study.

….in Kenya and Uganda
In Kenya and Uganda, the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), seeks to prevent the dropout of girls from school due to early pregnancy and marriage. The project – Adolescent Sexual & Reproductive Health: Fulfilling African Girls’ Rights – focuses on strengthening awareness, knowledge and skills among teachers, peer educators, community leaders and parents. It applies methods proven to work in FAWE’s approach to girls’ education and their Tuseme youth empowerment clubs. It provides mobile interactive platforms, and support to adolescents in assisting implementation of school re-entry policies for teenage mothers.

…and in Africa
In rural areas of Africa, Camfed works with young people to develop an innovative curriculum, ‘My Better World’, to empower young people to take charge of their well-being. This curriculum is founded on the recognition that a narrow academic focus does not adequately prepare young people for life beyond school. By developing a broad range of qualities such as self-reliance, resilience and problem-solving, young people will be empowered to take ownership of their own well-being; learning to ‘be well’ (have their needs met) and ‘do well’ (act to improve their life or the lives of others). The delivery of My Better World is led by networks of young women who are volunteering to work as Learner Guides. Through a mobile-phone based platform developed by Camfed, the Learner Guides freely connect young people across regions and provide them with learning modules and peer mentoring beyond the classroom. Chipo, a Learner Guide in Zimbabwe said, “This programme is helping us to face the challenges in our lives, and to do better at school.”

Celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child
The International Day of the Girl Child celebrates the importance of girls and how education can be the force that propels them to reach their full potential. It also provides a platform to showcase innovation which breaks boundaries for new partnerships, engages girls and women in the design as well as the delivery of programs, enables girls to achieve new levels of ambition, or extends existing programs to reach marginalized girls.

To help governments, civil society and others to present their innovative work in education, UNGEI is pleased to launch a Fund for the Documentation of Good Practice in Girls’ Education and Gender Equality which provides an opportunity for good practices to be systematically documented and shared within and between countries and regions. These stories will be collected and showcased on our website.

Furthermore, UNGEI’s new mini-podcast series entitled Changing the World for Girls will highlight the experience of a range of girls’ education advocates, researchers and practitioners. The first in the series will be released in the coming weeks. To learn more about what it takes to educate a girl, we also invite you to view this film where we explore such questions and how best …To Educate a Girl.

UNGEI stands committed to and will continue fight for the right of girls to get an education. We will also continue to support the Global Partnership for Education’s mandate to ensure that all girls complete primary school and go to secondary school in a safe, supportive learning environment.

Today, on International Day of the Girl Child, we celebrate the potential of girls around the world as we move closer towards a future where gender equality is no longer a development goal but a reality.

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Nora Fyles is the Head of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) Secretariat.

Before joining UNGEI Nora worked for the Canadian International Development worked as Educatio...

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