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Gender Inequality In Primary Schooling

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“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance… across the world.”

~ Kofi Annan

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Introduction

The world as a whole has improved in terms of education levels, gender inequality, health coverage, and overall well being – or so Bill Gates and other world officials keep telling us. However, inequality, poverty, and lack of development continue to be a pervasive problem throughout the world – even with the improvements that have been seen over the past few decades. One of the most significant social and economic problems from a development standpoint is that of primary education, or lack thereof. In most of the world’s underdeveloped (or, rather, developing) countries, low education rates and primary school enrollment continue to pose a problem for the future of that country – in terms of conflict resolution, economic development, and even healthcare. For these reasons, this paper turns to the topic of primary education in development countries. More specifically, the present research paper discusses both the barriers to and opportunities for gender equality in primary education and early childhood development.

Why is this an important topic to approach from a developmental and economic standpoint? Nearly all of the statistics that will be brought forward throughout this paper point to the fact that investing in education – especially primary education – can have a waterfall effect in improving nearly all other areas of development. Better education can mean better wages, which can mean better economic development. Better education can mean a better understanding of health, which can benefit whole communities and countries. Better education can lead to a better understanding of interests, which in turn can help in the growth of democracy, conflict resolution, and political stability. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the saying goes, and as the remainder of this paper will exhibit. All of these reasons and more are why this is an important issue to discuss.

In an effort to address the barriers to and opportunities for gender equality in education (and specifically primary education), this paper has three major goals: first, to adequately address the existing literature and forward a specific and valid research design to address the issue of gender inequality; second, to examine the specific example of Guatemalan primary education in the context of global education needs and strategies for encouraging early childhood education and development; and finally, to assess how community-based strategies can work to fulfill the goal of gender equality in education. The paper will use a combination of both literature review and integrated data to forward both its justification and goals. Furthermore, the paper will discuss the relevant data and literature in terms of the specific case study of Guatemalan early childhood education, and how a community-based strategy can be best used to meet the development needs of education.

The paper will first turn to a justification of the development topic. This discussion includes why the topic is important to development as a whole, what an improvement to education can mean for the future, and how the problem of gender inequality can be solved. Second, the paper will turn to its specific goals and objectives in this proposed research project (as outlined in brief above). Finally, the paper will turn to a discussion of the relevant data and literature to forward a specific community-based strategy for improving gender equality in education (primarily in Guatemala). This discussion will include the application of an existing strategy in Malawi. Overall, this term paper will show that gender inequality is a solvable issue, and forwards one specific method of addressing it.

Justification

There are many different priorities and goals within the development world – both from the international policy perspective and the academic perspective. Why, then, does primary education – and early childhood education specifically – take so much prominence on the world stage of developing countries? As first introduced above, education can make or other development-related goals. As one report states, “Education is the springboard for human development, creating the conditions for progress in health and gender equity” (CUEB, 2011, n.p.). More specifically, the report goes on to state that education plays “a key role in helping tackle some of the world’s other pressing challenges such as climate change, food security, and peace building,” and that “economic growth and poverty reduction depend on an educated and skilled workforce” (CUEB, 2011, n.p.). These are just some of the ways that investment in education can benefit development as a whole.

Other reports, scholars, and policymakers have also stressed the importance of education in the international development agenda. For instance, a report by the Center for Global Development has pointed to three specific benefits that come from investing in education: improved health, economic growth, and political stability (CGD, 2015). More specifically, the report states that “In many poor countries, with each additional year of schooling, people earn 10% higher wages. These earnings, in turn, contribute to national economic growth” (GCD, 2015, n.p.). The report also found that early education for young women and girls also “yields benefits that extend beyond themselves to their communities and to the society at large” (GCD, 2015, n.p.). In this way, education as a whole is one of the most important development issues to address.

Now that the reasoning behind the importance of education for the developmental agenda has been established, the paper can now turn to what an improvement in this area can mean for the future. First and foremost, pursuing strategies to address gender inequality in education will go a long way to meeting the Millenium Development Goal of universal educational enrollment (Engle, 2011; Cueb, 2011). Instead of being ‘pie in the sky’, reaching more equitable enrollment would put developing countries that much close to actually reaching universal education enrollment – a goal for the past decade and a half. As the UNICEF reported in 2014, “An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013” (UNICEF, 2014, n.p.). This makes it clear that, despite the effort that has been made and progress that has been seen on this issue in the last decade, there is still an ongoing problem of gender inequality in education systems around the world. A community-based strategy designed to specifically fight gender inequality (rather than improve education as a whole) can mean a future in which countries are better able to provide equitable schooling for all.

The final justification of this specific development topic is that the issue of gender inequality in education has gotten better in recent years, and is therefore solvable in the long run. As the Center for Global Development report states, “Several very poor countries – such as Burkina Faso, Madagascar, and Nicaragua – are increasing their primary school enrollment rates faster than today’s rich countries did during their own 19th century development” (CGD, 2015, n.p.). This statistic alone points to the possibility of solving gender inequality in education, and case studies, like Angola’s Back to School program and Uganda’s publication of funding allocation, work to confirm it. There is plenty of hope.

Goals & Objectives

Now that the why of this research project has been established through the above discussion of justifications for choosing the topic, this paper can turn to the what and how of the research project. More specifically, this paper has three specific goals to address through the assessment and subsequent discussion of relevant literature and data:

Goal I: To identify an adequate and specific research design to address the issue of gender inequality in education

Goal II: To study the topic of gender inequality in education in the context of global education needs, the specific case of Guatemalan education, and community-based strategies and interventions

Goal III: To assess how community-based strategies (as opposed to other interventions) work or do not work in addressing the original issue

The first goal is apparent enough – in order to adequately address the issue of gender inequality in education, any academic or policy-oriented discussion must address how the topic is to be approached, what measures are to be taken, what factors will be considered, how the study will progress, etc. While this is not a research proposal per se, the present paper does account for how future research can be conducted based on the present discussion of the development issue. For this reason, the paper will be taking into account not only the findings of the studies and reports discussed throughout the paper, but also the methods and strategies used without.

The second major goal of this paper is to study the topic of gender inequality in education in several different contexts. That is, the context of global education needs (as it is relevant to the development agenda as a whole), the context of Guatemalan primary and early education, and the context of community-based strategies and interventions. The parameters of this paper are not to conduct original field research – however, the paper can conduct in-depth research of existing sources, strategies, programs, and literature on the topic in order to forward and maintain a valid perspective on the topic. For this reason, the paper examines not only academic sources on the topic, but also reports and statistics from agencies and programs relevant to development goals.

More specifically, the present research paper takes three specific steps in addressing this second goal. First, it considers all data relevant to gender equality in primary education around the world, in order to form an informed picture of what barriers and opportunities are found within the issue itself. Second, the paper turns to a specific case study of a community-based strategy in Malawi in order to assess a specific program implementation. This program has many similarities to the objectives outlined in the discussion, and as such proves to be a valuable measuring stick, so to speak. Finally, the paper turns to the primary education situation in Guatemala, and discusses how the previous information and programs discussed can be applied in this specific location.

The final goal of this paper to assess the efficacy of community-based strategies and interventions in improving gender equality for primary education. While no primary or field research is conducted, the sources assessed throughout the discussion prove to be more than an adequate way to assess how community-based programs can (and cannot work). Furthermore, this discussion sets the expectations, strategies, and research model for when the time for field research comes.

Discussion

This paper has already addressed the justification of why gender inequality in education is an important issue to discuss; mainly, that equality in education can translate into benefits for development and community as a whole. However, several other statistics point to the two-way nature of this relationship. For instance, “A woman with six or more years of education is more likely to seek prenatal care, assisted childbirth, and postnatal care, reducing the risk of maternal and child mortality and illness” (CGD, 2015, n.p.). Another, earlier, study on gender inequality in education also found that lack of equity affects long-term economic growth. As Klasen (2002) states, “Such inequality is found to have an effect on economic growth that is robust to changes in specifications and controls for potential endogeneities,” and concludes that the results of study “suggest that gender inequality in education directly affects economic growth by lowering the average level of human capital” (Klassen, 2002, 345). The benefit of addressing this issue is therefore clear; however, the major question of how this issue in education can be adequately addressed.

As the CGD report concludes, “The education of girls, which is restricted in some countries, yields benefits that extend beyond themselves to their communities and to the society at large” (CGD, 2015, n.p.). It is logical, then, that this relationship goes both ways: if improved education translates into better development outcomes, it follows that better development outcomes in other (related) areas may translate into improved gender equality in primary education. For this reason, the present research paper examines gender inequality not only in terms of the issue itself (that is, primary education). Instead, it also addresses the issue in terms of early childhood development as a whole.

This contention is supported by the findings of another report from CUEB (2011), which states that gender and conflict “particularly stand out as they magnify existing educational disparities in many countries and affect millions of children” (6). More specifically, “In at least 49 countries, being poor and female carries a double disadvantage with education attainment for girls in the poorest households, below not only the national average but also below boys in the poorest households” (Cueb, 2011, 6). These statistics point to the fact that, just as the solution to gender inequality in education can help solve other developmental issues, so too can other development factors help achieve gender equality in education.

More specifically, many studies have found that early childhood development can help meet long-term education and gender equality goals. One study from the Global Child Development Steering Group found the following: “Effective investments in early child development have the potential to reduce inequalities perpetuated by poverty, poor nutrition, and restricted learning opportunities” (Engle et al., 2011, n.p.). In other words, by investing in early childhoold development (such as preschool and postnatal care), developing countries can meet their other economic, social, and developmental needs in the long run. The report found specific benefits of focusing on early childhood development: increasing preschool enrollment to 25% in every low-income country resulted in a benefit-to-cost ratio of, at the very least, 6 to 4. The benefits of focusing on early development and education, such as preschool enrollment, are clear. But now that this has been established, what are some of the specific community-based strategies that can be used?

There are, of course, many different ways to approach the improvement of early childhood development in developing countries (and, subsequently, primary education and gender equality). Some of the proposed interventions found in the relevant literature include poverty alleviation as one of the most direct means of improving this area of development: “Since poverty is a root cause of poor child development, some approaches to improving early child development are aimed at making those improvements through poverty alleviation” (Engle et al., 2011, n.p.). Therefore, any community-based strategy for addressing early childhood development as a means of reducing gender inequality in education ought to at the very least include poverty alleviation as a consideration.

Furthermore, the literature shows that more localized efforts are the most effective. As the Global Child Development Steering Group report states, “Most effectiveness studies that we have reviewed reported substantial and positive effects on child development, but results from assessments of scaled-up programmes were more variable” (Engele et al., 2011, n.p.). In other words, as the scale of a specific program or intervention goes up, its efficacy eventually declines. Therefore, one option is to target community-based interventions in early childhood development at the poorest populations in an effort to see a better benefit-to-cost ratio. But what can some of these interventions be?

One report in the relevant literature makes specific recommendations for strategy in reaching universal education, and first among them is to focus on early childhood development and early schooling. The Brookings Institute report states, “Quality early childhood development activities have long been shown to have a lasting impact on learning,” and that these interventions, which include “health, nutrition, and stimulation” can “lead to cost-saving efficiencies in primary school by increasing overall retention, reducing attrition, and increasing primary school completion rates” (CUEB, 2011, 18). Furthermore, the report concludes that these “returns are often greatest for the most disadvantaged” (CUEB, 2011, 18). In order to achieve this, the report forwards two specific strategies: to extend quality ECD opportunities, and to make all efforts to see students start schooling at the correct age. Within these strategies, there are specific actions.

The recommended actions from this report are worth quoting at length: “to invest in nutrition, health, and livelihoods support; to develop comprehensive ECD frameworks and plans; to provide support to parents and caregivers; to strengthen program standards, support, and professional training for ECD educators and caregivers; to encourage on-time entry though public policies, campaigns, and tracking; and to develop and support multigrade and multiage teaching approaches” (CUEB, 2011, 18). This paper sees all of these actions as desirable (and even necessary) for any effective community-based strategy to be accomplished, and would therefore use them as a guideline for designing and implementing a research strategy to assess effectiveness.

More specifically, the main take away from these strategies and actions is that any community-based intervention ought to focus on preschool. Both high enrollment and high quality engagement in preschool facilities are the two primary goals in common with the actions above, and would therefore be the primary goals of a specific community-based intervention in the future. Each of the actions outlined above – from an ECD framework to providing adequate training for parents, caregivers, and educators – support the idea that developmental reform in education has to begin at the earliest stage. Therefore, any effective program would include these elements at the very least.

One ongoing project that supports this is a randomized trial by the World Bank in Malawi. The evaluation “of an early childhood program in Malawi aims to provide evidence on the effectiveness of different interventions to improve children’s development and school readiness by improving the quality of the centers and giving parents information on how ot suppor their children’s development” (World Bank, 2014, n.p.). In order to assess this, the study implemented the program in nearly 200 childcare centers around Malawi. The independent variables included a UNICEF play and learning kit, specialized five-week caregiver training, and parental education. As of 2014, the program has found that all of these efforts have been beneficial to “child growth, health, and development, caregiver knowledge, parents’ knowledge, behaviors and stress levels, childcare center quality and staff retention” (World Bank, 2014, n.p.). It is therefore apparent that even minimal efforts made at bettering early childhood development can help to better education as a whole. These early results help lead towards cost-effective programs.

Finally, this discussion can turn towards how the specific designs discussed above can applied to another specific nation, culture, or community. In this case, that people group is Guatemala. UNICEF estimates that more than half of the children less than 6 years old in Guatemala live in poverty (for a totally of 1.6 million) (UNICEF, 2013). Therefore, the need for the strategies and actions described above is quite clear. Thankfully, the enrollment rate for primary school is 95.5% – however, the report states that “much needs to be done to overcome exclusion and provide ample educational opportunities for all” (UNICEF, 2013, n.p.). The strategies outlined above can meet these two statistics in the middle – raising the 95.5% enrollment rate to near 100% by providing for the specific developmental and community needs of Guatemala’s poorest. Namely, one of the best ways that this can be accomplished is in the preschool provisions described above.

Conclusion

This term paper has covered the issue of gender inequality in primary schooling as one of the most important topics to be addressed in the developmental agenda. In addition to forwarding the topic as a key issue to be resolved, the paper has identified several existing strategies for meeting the needs of gender equality in education, which were found in contemporary literature and data. The paper first presented why the issue of gender inequality in primary education is such an important discussion for the developmental world. The paper then turned to the expectations and goals for the discussion, including identifying effective community-based strategies. The discussion then turned to the relevant case studies and literature on the topic to identify effective strategies, and forwarded the notion that focusing on preschool and early childhood development would be most effective.

This term paper was designed to be a sort of ‘foreword’ to what kind of research design and development goals can be seen in the future. Rather than a road map or blueprint, this term paper ought to serve as an orientation or tutorial to the issue of gender inequality in primary education around the world. Following this tutorial, one should be able to move forward with relevant field research, data analysis, and strategy implementation. Some of the future implications of this paper are as follows: a renewed focus on programs that simultaneously address early childhood development and poverty alleviation; specific programs or strategies that include the prioritization of preschool facilities and the training of educational staff; and community-based efforts that seek to educate and prepare caregivers, parents, and educators on the needs of the young. If these elements are met, the future of gender equality in education will look bright.

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