A lot of people in the education world are talking about girls in schools right now. Although it is in no way a new issue, it touches the lives of people all around the globe, and it’s currently a priority among a number of thought leaders and influential organizations in the profession.
Looking at the issue of gender equality globally, there are two issues. First, in developed nations, potential is going unfulfilled as girls don’t pursue science and math and then women don’t pursue engineering and technology. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study broke down exactly how significant the discrepancy is here at home, which the National Education Association suggested will be addressed with adherence to the Common Core Standards. (The Common Core Standards don’t mention helping girls specifically succeed in STEM, but rather moves toward helping all students see the applicability of math to better equipped to pursue it in higher education.) Efforts are being made to bring the Common Core Standards into expanded learning opportunities, like after-school programs, to provide students with more opportunities for success.
A second problem persists: in countries still developing, girls are not attending school in larger numbers than boys for a variety of reasons, most of them tied to domestic labor and needs of the family. It is of enough concern that UNESCO addresses gender equality twice in its six internationally agreed upon goals for education to be reached by next year. One organization formed to help meet these goals, United Nations Girls Education Initiative, found that violence was a huge factor keeping girls out of school, and depressingly reported that some of that violence, harassment, and sexual assault was coming at the hands of the teachers charged with keeping the girls safe. It makes sense, then, that UNICEF points out the shortage of female teachers, who would serve not only to keep girls safer at school, but also to provide them with positive female role models. AFT reported the reasons women were leaving the higher education field in America, and while some of those reasons, like unequal pay and lack of respect, could easily be factors keeping women from teaching in developing nations, it is likely there are more complicated cultural expectations at work as well.
In addition to concerns of fairness, the Global Partnership for Education illustrates a quantifiable reason for keeping girls in school through secondary education: women who stayed on through high school experience fewer deaths of their children, to the tune of 3 million lives saved. And in a commencement speech in 2005, former president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, offered another way that having more girls in school saves lives, by having more minds working on solutions to threats like heart disease, malaria, and lack of access to potable water. “Tell the girls in your class that they need to be scientists, too. These problems are too big for 50% of the world not be working on them.”
OECD. (2011). Report on the Gender Initiative: Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/education/48111145.pdf.
Long, C. (2011, Aug. 9). Gender Gap in STEM Fields Persist. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2011/08/09/gender-gap-in-stem-fields-persist/.
Key Shifts in Mathematics (n.d.). In Common Core State Standards Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/other-resources/key-shifts-in-mathematics/.
Council of Chief State School Officers. (2011). Connecting High-Quality Expanded Learning Opportunities and the Common Core State Standards to Advance Student Success. Retrieved from http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/Connecting%20Expanded%20Learning%20Opportunities%20and%20the%20Common%20Core%20State%20Standards%20to%20Advance%20Student%20Success.pdf.
Education: Gender Gap and Economics. (n.d.). In National Education Association. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/17036.htm.
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Senanayake, S. (2013, March 5). Gender-based violence is a major threat to girls’ education, UNGEI says. Retrieved from http://www.ungei.org/news/usa_3146.html.
Girls’ education and gender equality. (2014, July 15). In UNICEF. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/education/bege_70640.html.
AFT Higher Education. (2011). Promoting Gender Diversity in the Faculty: What Higher Education Unions Can Do. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/pdfs/highered/genderdiversity0511.pdf.
UNESCO Global Monitoring Report. (2014). [Graph illustration]. When Mothers Learn, More Children Live. Retrieved from http://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/when-mothers-learn-children-live.
Arias, O. (2005, October). [Translated transcription]. Teach Peace as a Value. In InterEd (vol. 32, no. 102). Retrieved from http://www.aaie.org/uploaded/publications/InterEd/InterEd_2006/InterEd_Vol_32_No_102_Spring_2006.pdf