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Our Fellows' Take on the Girls’ Education Policy Index

The Center for Global Development Girls’ Education Policy Index is a new measure of countries’ efforts to improve #girlseducation, looking specifically at financial barriers, sexual and reproductive health, child safety, labor market opportunities, and role models as indicators.


In December, Fellows from Empowered to Educate engaged in a discussion of how these indicators pertain to girls’ education in Ghana, and we were fascinated by their unique perspectives. We decided to compile their takeaways in the summary below so that stakeholders in girls’ education can read our Fellows’ analysis of the Index; we welcome responses, questions, and dialogue from all readers.


Girls’ Education Policy Index: How it Works in Practice


Introduction:

Empowered to Educate is a global Fellowship program for women innovators in education, who are invested in quality girls education. The program recently launched in Ghana, with its first ten Fellows. The Fellowship includes leadership training, mentors, tuitions to conferences and peer to peer networking. As such, Empowered to Educate finds itself in an interesting position to review and offer suggestions about the new Girls Education Policy Index. We are operating in the interface between policy and practice. We convened a zoom meeting of the Fellows as a reflection on the index’s relevance to our contexts based on our collective and individual experiences in education. The following captures the discussion and presents our conclusions on how the Girls’ Education Policy Index applies to our work.


Critique:

The policies outlined in the Index are indeed essential for increasing access to quality education for girls. In the case of Ghana, many such policies have already been adopted; the problem lies in implementation. Often lacking are governing bodies to monitor whether schools are enforcing these beneficial policies. For example, corporal punishment is banned in Ghana, but our Fellows have witnessed firsthand the use of corporal punishment in schools. Similarly, schools may be building separate washrooms for girls, but the quality is low thus the girls’ needs are still not being met. In order for this index to be an effective measure of what girls truly experience, the discrepancy between policy and implementation must be considered.


  1. Financial Barriers:

We agreed that financial barriers inhibit girls’ access to education. That said, we were particularly interested in the matter of cash transfers. Cash transfers are an important tool, however the Fellows indicated that certain cash transfer systems are ineffective and should not be weighed as highly as others. In Ghana, the cash transfer system called LEAP (Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty) is concentrated in small areas, registers a relatively low proportion of families, and is sometimes late with payments. Furthermore, more stringent monitoring is needed to ensure that parents do not use the money for things other than their children’s education. Therefore, although the cash transfer system is certainly beneficial, the index does not take into account that the inefficiencies in its implementation are impacting how effective it is in encouraging girls' education among the poorest.


Another topic of discussion was the Free Secondary High School (Free SHS) education policy in Ghana. Some Fellows argued that, while this policy does increase access to education, girls have other expenses that require support. Though tuition is covered, girls struggle to obtain other standard school-related costs such as transportation and textbooks, and personal hygiene resources like sanitary pads. . Many are also expected to help support their families, making the choice between labor and school a difficult one. Free SHS certainly alleviates some of the financial barriers keeping girls from school, but not enough has been done to incentivize girls to stay in school rather than join the workforce.


  1. Sexual & Reproductive Health:

We agreed that the indicators measured in this category are very important. The problem of policy versus implementation becomes revalent in this category, though, especially on the topic of child marriage bans. While there is a legal ban on marriage under 18 in Ghana, marriage pledges can begin as early as 10 years old. There are psychological implications for girls that are pledged to be married at a young age; they may be less inclined to attend school because they feel a lack of control over their futures. In this way, the child marriage ban law is not being upheld socially or culturally. Another issue is that the legal age of consent is 16 years as against the age of marriage, 18 years. This creates a window of opportunity for young girls to be taken advantage of, exposes them to danger and impacts on their schooling.


Social pressures also complicate access to contraception, although there is no official legal restriction on its availability. Our Fellows have noticed that girls are afraid of being judged if they buy contraceptives and do not want to publicly admit to having sex as it is taboo. Girls may also be teased or ridiculed in school if their peers and teachers know they are sexually active. Therefore, just because contraception is available does not mean it is accessible; if contraceptives were provided at youth-friendly points, this may be a more effective way to increase safe sex practices.


  1. Child Safety:

In this category, too, we noted the issue of implementation. Corporal punishment has been officially banned in Ghana, but often teachers are not respecting this policy. A monitoring body is needed to enforce the law and offer students outlets to report violations safely and confidentially. Some NGOs are offering training in alternative correctional measures that teachers can use as a substitute for punishment; such efforts are very helpful in making real changes in schools.


Another idea we put forward is that access to separate bathrooms and changing rooms might be included under Child Safety rather than Sexual & Reproductive Health. There is a very important link between sexual health and child safety, particularly when we consider rates of girl students being violated by male teachers. Often times, when girls refuse male teachers’ sexual advances, the male teachers react with corporal punishment. Providing girls with separate spaces, as well as with female teachers in whom they can confide, is thus an essential component of child safety currently excluded from the index.


  1. Labor Market Opportunities:

We discussed certain contradictions within the category of Labor Market Opportunities. While we agreed that it is important to provide equal access to the labor market for women, we also noted that providing more jobs can potentially incentivize girls to drop out of school earlier and join the workforce. Here this category intersects with female role models, as the presence of female teachers and educated women shows girls that staying in school is worthwhile and will contribute to financial success. Girls may also enter the unfortunate cycle of having to work to afford school expenses, but being unable to attend school because they are working. The half-day schedule (“shift system”) previously implemented posed a possible solution to this dilemma by allowing children to work one half of the day and attend school the other half. However, the system was abandoned as some argued that children were too tired to focus in school after working all morning. It seems that some assessment of child labor and how many young girls are working while attending school is needed to increase the accuracy of the index.


  1. Role Models:

This category was of particular interest to us, since mentorship is a key component of the Empowered to Educate program. We agreed that having female teachers is an exceptional way to make female students feel safe and capable of professional achievement. One possible addition to the index could be regulations about confidentiality; can female students safely and privately report instances of abuse? discuss feminine issues such as menstrual health and pregnancy? Female teachers are often a girls’ primary outlet for such discussions, but many fear that they will be exposed to the public. Therefore, official policy mandating confidentiality could be a dealbreaker in whether or not a girl chooses to seek help from a female role model.


  1. Early Childhood Education:

Finally, we noted that one additional factor missing from the index is availability of quality early childhood education. Girls who lack a strong educational foundation often drop out of junior high school when they are not doing as well as their peers or as their teachers expect. On the other hand, those that are successful right away, at the very youngest levels, are praised and encouraged to pursue higher education by both teachers and parents who witness the success. Policies that regulate access to quality, accessible early childhood education can be strong predictors for a girl’s success in the long term.


Conclusion and Recommendations: We recognize that the Girls’ Education Policy Index is “a curated set of indicators to measure the policy effort of countries, which governments control, rather than their education outcomes, which are measured in other ways.” Overall, we believe it will be effective in accomplishing that goal. However, we question whether implementation should be excluded from this index, because the enforcement of policies entails governmental effort. The provision of monitoring bodies to oversee policy application should not be considered an outcome but rather another element of the Index. We suggest that implementation measures be added, either as a category of its own or as supplemental indicators within each category. Not only would this garner a more accurate interpretation of a country’s effort to increase girls’ access to education by ensuring that their policies are making a real impact on the ground, it would also sharpen the focus on the indices and allow them to be tested in practice.


Content Contributors:

Empowered to Educate Fellows: Agnes Ayariga Atanga, Fatimah Hallu Alhassan, Grace Amponsah, Jennifer De-Graft Ninson, Nimatu Siisu, Rose Aba Dodd, Saraswati Efua Arthur, Saudatu Mohammed, Shine Dewovo, Vida Konadu Agyeman

Intern: Ariel Derby


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