Basic education and gender equality

Quality of education

© UNICEF/HQ98-0980/Pirozzi
Two girls share a book in a class at the local primary school in the village of Kwanawis, Yemen.

Imagine a textbook written in an indecipherable language, or a blackboard without chalk. Imagine a class being held in a loud concert hall, or a child trying to do homework in the midst of a hurricane. Clearly, when key components of the learning process and context are lacking, education itself is doomed to fail.

Indeed, access to education of poor quality is tantamount to no education at all. There is little point in providing the opportunity for a child to enrol in school if the quality of the education is so poor that the child will not become literate or numerate, or will fail to acquire critical life skills.

Quality education, which is essential to real learning and human development, is influenced by factors both inside and outside the classroom, from the availability of proper supplies to the nature of a child’s home environment. In addition to enabling the transfer of knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in a profession and break the cycle of poverty, quality plays a critical role in closing the gender gap in basic education.
The largest obstacle to educational achievement is gender discrimination; girls are the single largest group denied the right to learn. Of the 93 million children who are out of school, almost 52 percent are female.

For parents with limited resources, the quality of education plays an important role in deciding whether or not to enrol or keep their daughters in school. If girls are not learning, if what they are learning is not useful, or if their school environment is unsafe, parents will not send their daughters to school.

Improving educational quality must be high on any agenda to get girls into school and keep them there. UNICEF adapts its education programmes to girls’ learning styles and promotes environments that facilitate their learning. The Child-Friendly Schools model is now the major mean through which UNICEF advocates for and promotes quality in education.

There are at least five key elements that affect the quality of education: what students bring to learning, environments, content, processes and outcomes. These elements provide a baseline for monitoring quality.

1. What students bring to learning. What experiences does the learner bring to school, and what particular challenges does she face? Has she been affected by emergencies, abuse, daily labour or AIDS? Has she had a positive, gender-sensitive early childhood experience within her family, her community and her preschool? How different is the language of her home from the language of her school? Has she been sufficiently oriented to the rhythm of schooling?

2. Environment. Is the learning environment healthy, safe, protective, stimulating and gender-sensitive?

3. Content of education. Are the curriculum and materials relevant? Do they impart basic skills, especially in literacy and numeracy? Do they promote life skills and knowledge areas such as gender, health, nutrition, AIDS prevention, peace, or other national and local priorities? How does the content of curriculum and learning materials include or exclude girls?

4. Processes. Are teachers using child-centred teaching approaches? Do their assessments facilitate learning and reduce disparities? Are classrooms and schools well-managed? Are the methods of teaching, learning and support – whether from supervisors, teachers, parents or communities – enhancing or undermining girls’ achievement?
5. Outcomes. What outcomes of basic education do we expect for girls? How can we document how well girls are learning and how well the curriculum furthers their future growth? Learning outcomes should be linked to national goals for education and should promote positive participation in society.

Quality education is fundamental to gender equality, human security, community development and national progress. It is an enormous challenge – but also a tremendous opportunity. Like a car’s engine or a plane’s wings, it is the difference between standing still and moving ahead, towards the future.

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Key elements for quality education

What students bring to learning.


Content of education.



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