Meeting the Challenge of Girls’ Education

March 7, 2014

The approach of International Women’s Day always brings a welcome focus to the issues facing women all over the world – from violence and poverty to inequality and under-representation. It heralds a global conversation about global challenges – and, thankfully, can draw attention to global solutions.

School Furniture Improves Learning Environment

© WVUK/Michelle Siu

As we all know, one of these solutions is education. The virtuous circle created through access to a good education is well-rehearsed but worth repeating. A girl who receives an education is more likely to be healthy; she will marry and have children later in life; she will be able to provide for herself and her family, and can have a positive influence on her community. She will have children who are also healthy and much more likely to go to school themselves. And so it goes on.

This is why the UK Government created the Girls’ Education Challenge. Through this ambitious programme, totalling over £300 million, 36 new programmes have been allocated funding to ensure girls from some of the poorest areas of the globe have an opportunity to learn and transform their lives.

These projects range from existing programmes which are scaling up their activities, to new and innovative schemes using new technologies or targeting vulnerable groups such as disabled girls or itinerant communities. They are being implemented in many places, including conflict zones and refugee camps. Some of these projects are unique collaborations between the private sector and the UK Government – our Strategic Partnerships.

Today, ahead of International Women’s Day, we are announcing the second of these Strategic Partnerships between the UK Government and Coca Cola. Together, The Coca-Cola Company and the UK’s Department for International Development will invest nearly £7 million in an initiative known as “ENGINE” (Educating Nigerian Girls in New Enterprises). This initiative will establish 170 learning spaces where girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 19 will meet for academic support and training sessions over a nine-month period. Approximately 5,400 girls who are still in school will receive after-school tutoring, as well as training to advance their leadership and entrepreneurship skills. Additionally, a vocational training programme focused on business and employment readiness will be offered to approximately 12,600 young women who are currently out of school.

The first Strategic Partnership was created with Discovery Communications who are investing £12.3 million into girls’ education in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, which will be match-funded by the Department for International Development. This initiative will establish 1,000 Learning Centres in schools (using sustainable technology and exciting video programming), collaborate with girls and experts to develop nationally broadcast television discussion shows where issues of gender can be woven into the public dialogue, and train and support communities on how to develop and implement their own action plans to address girls’ challenges.

These are challenging programmes with ambitious targets. Donors, development professionals, educators and communities will want to know if and how these programmes, and the other projects supported by the Girls’ Education Challenge, succeed. We are committed to sharing the lessons, the results and the stories from this programme, as they emerge.

International Women’s Day reminds us to keep our “eye on the prize”. Today’s girls are tomorrow’s women – who need the skills, confidence and ambition to provide for themselves and their families, lead their communities, and support and inspire generations to come. Lives are very literally at stake.

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Sally Gear is a Senior Education Adviser at the UK’s Department of International Development . She currently leads the UK’s £355mn Girls Education Challenge programme and has worked on girls...

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