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Girls’ Education in Africa

ACEI Country Liaison Reports from Brookings

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Dr. Adefunke Ekine with Malawian Ambassador Steve Matenje

On 12 December 2013, the third cohort of Echidna Global Scholars presented their research findings at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. After an introduction by the Malawian ambassador for the U.S., Steve Matenje, the three global scholars—Adefunke Ekine and Judith-Ann Walker of Nigeria, and Madalo Samati of Malawi—gave presentations on improving girls’ education opportunities and learning outcomes in Africa.

The Echidna Global Scholars Program is a visiting fellowship hosted by the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution. The program aims to build the research and analytical skills of NGO leaders and academics from developing countries. Echidna Scholars spend four to six months at Brookings pursuing research on global education issues, with a specific focus on improving learning opportunities and outcomes for girls in the developing world. Upon completion of their fellowship, CUE supports the scholars in implementing an action plan to share their new skills and expertise with their home institutions.

Adefunke Ekine, a lecturer at Ogun State University and an Association for Childhood Education International Country Liaison, conducted her research on enhancing girls’ participation in science in Nigeria. She acknowledged that the vast majority of girls and boys in Nigeria are attending school, but notes that questions remain about what they are actually learning. Girls in Nigeria study the sciences at a much lower rate than boys, a phenomenon that can be found in countries all over the world. Ekine points out that excluding girls from science education means half of the world’s human and intellectual resources are not being fully utilized, resources that could be used to solve the world’s greatest problems. As this gap in science education between girls and boys can be identified as early as primary school, Ekine recommends that programs designed to encourage girls to go into the sciences should be targeted at that level. Having spent years working to improve the quality of teaching in Nigeria, she noted the important role of teacher education—ensuring that the teachers themselves are comfortable with the material, and hold no gender bias against girls in science. Ekine’s recommendations for improvement include women-to-women mentoring in the sciences, enacting policies that specifically target girls at the primary school level, and using the Nigerian tradition of oral storytelling to teach science concepts.

Madalo Samati, director of programs for the Creative Center for Community Mobilization-Malawi, and lifelong grassroots advocate for girls’ education, focused her research on the cultural barriers to girls’ education in her country. Samati notes that Malawi has very progressive education policies, yet the view from the villages is less positive. She identified a “triple handicap” for girls in Malawi: poverty, the difficulties of rural living, and gender. Each of these factors works to prevent girls from finishing primary school. Local tribal leaders are very powerful, and tribal initiation ceremonies, performed at an early age, often mark the end of girls’ schooling. Samati made several recommendations aimed at harnessing existing cultural institutions in the fight for gender equality. Her recommendations include encouraging community ownership of girls’ education by identifying local change agents, incorporating girls’ voices into education plans, and developing monitoring systems to ensure that girls are not left behind.

Judith-Ann Walker, managing director for the Development Research and Projects Centre in Northern Nigeria, focused on child marriage as an education issue. In West Africa, government bureaucrats and civil society do not identify child marriage and girls’ education as united issues. Many see child marriage as a health or cultural issue, entirely separate from girls’ education. Walker pointed out that these two issues are intimately related, however. She explained that keeping girls in school longer leads to healthier, more stable lives for girls. Marrying at a young age can have a devastating effect on girls’ prospects for advancement in West Africa, and pregnancy-related complications are the main cause of death among the region’s 14- and 15-year-old girls. Walker has devoted her research and advocacy efforts to increasing understanding of the issues among government bureaucrats, policymakers, parents, teachers, and communities. Her recommendations come out of a call that West Africa should harmonize around the message of ending child marriage through girls’ education. She believes health leaders should engage with education leaders in this effort, and regional actors should focus on using all the tools available—especially education—in ending child marriage.

When these scholars return to their home countries, they will meet with local and national governments and civil society organizations to ensure that their research findings are incorporated into policy decisions. The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) applauds these three scholars in conducting this important research. The organization is eager to see the improvements to girls’ education access, security, and quality that spring from this research. ACEI extends special congratulations to Country Liaison Adefunke Ekine, who has worked tirelessly to advance the cause of universal children’s education and well-being.

Recruitment for the Echidna Global Scholars Program is now open. Click here for more information.