Failing at fairness: How schools cheat girls
By Wachira Kigotho

Girls’ enrolment in primary school has been rising in Sub-Saharan Africa, but gender differences are now widest at the secondary education level, according Unesco global report on education.

Besides emerging pockets of boys’ under-achievement in education in countries such as Lesotho, Kenya and South Africa, only 21 per cent of girls attend secondary school in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 26 per cent of boys. The issue is that nearly 78 million secondary school age children, most of them girls, are not in high school.

Boys outperform girls in key subjects such as mathematics and science. In last year’s KCSE, boys did better than girls in most of the subjects apart from English, Kiswahili and Christian Religious Education.

The KCSE results confirmed findings of a comprehensive research project on school effectiveness and education quality in 14 countries in Southern and East Africa. The study, under the auspices of the southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality, showed that girls had higher academic achievement in reading skills, while boys had higher educational outcomes in mathematics and science.

Whereas the study was carried out in upper primary educational systems, it seemed most of the indicators prevailed through high school. The researchers examined a wide range of key factors that influence learning such as school location and resources, leadership, inspection, homework, grade repetition and teacher and student absence. Other factors that were investigated included school relationship with the community and parents, extra tuition and behaviour problems.

Consequently, the scenario that has emerged is that most school systems in Sub-Saharan Africa have failed to close the gender gap in learning achievement.

“Gender disparities go beyond schooling,” says Dr Ruth Kagia, a director of education at the World Bank.

Access and retention

Commenting on status of girls’ education in developing countries, Kagia says countries in Sub-Saharan African can no longer neglect the education and intellectual advancement of half of their population. Subsequently, the World Bank has called for African countries to erase barriers that hinder girls’ access, retention and achievement.

Top of the agenda is for the countries to increase demand for girls’ education by eliminating tuition fees not only at primary level, but also, in secondary schools. Government are urged to address cultural and social constraints on girls’ education.

In a study, Girls’ Education in the 21st Century: Gender Equality, Empowerment, and Economic Growth, the World Bank says there is urgent need to promote quality of post primary education for girls.

“The issue is that countries with higher levels of female secondary-school enrolment have lower rates of infant mortality, fertility, HIV and Aids and better child nutrition,” reports the study.

However concrete policy options for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve access, retention and quality of girls’ schooling at secondary level, lies on their ability and willingness to establish single sex schools and other gender friendly institutions.

Evidence indicates that single sex schools improve girls’ achievement in science and mathematics.

According to Unesco , girls in single-sex classrooms are engaged in learning more of the time, show more cooperative behaviour and identify better with their female classmates than when they are in co-educational classes.

But whereas research in classroom dynamics indicates there are no differences in what boys and girls can learn, experts say there are different ways to engage and teach girls as compared to boys. “Gender differences are crucial in learning,” says Unesco.

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