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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2002 Global: Lessons and Implications from Girls Education Activities

Author: Bernard, A.; UNICEF NYHQ

Executive summary


UNICEF identifies full and equal access to and completion of education for girls as part of its core commitment to ensure basic education of good quality to all children. Both require advocacy and action, indicating two broad strategies aimed at enhancing girls' participation: interventions to integrate gender equality into the mainstream of overall education policy and programming; and more focussed affirmative action interventions.

Purpose / Objective

This report provides a synthesis of issues and insights relevant to two objectives: full and equal access to and completion of education for girls. Both require advocacy and action, indicating two broad strategies aimed at enhancing girls' participation: interventions to integrate gender equality into the mainstream of overall education policy and programming; and more focussed affirmative action interventions.


The findings were identified through a review of evaluations conducted of a set of UNICEF-funded projects and programmes in support of girls' education, situated within the broader context of its support to basic education. Twenty-three evaluations of projects from Asia, Africa and Latin America and undertaken during the past decade were analysed. The reviewed materials cover more or less readily available evaluations that met minimum standards. As many good projects may not have been evaluated at all or their evaluations were not available or judged of sufficient quality, the materials do not reflect the full range of UNICEF supported activities in girls' education.

Key Findings and Conclusions

National Policies:
National policy systems continue to be critical in determining whether girls go to school and how well they succeed there. The messages from the review focus on the fundamentals of recognising, accepting and systematically enforcing at all levels the right of girls to be in schools and to learn there. Most specifically, they reinforce the importance of the following elements:

- Good coordination within Ministries of Education and with other government agencies and sectors (particularly those of national finance, economic and social development planning, and health)

- Education systems capable of addressing deficiencies in the training, supervision and compensation of teachers , leading to higher professional morale and commitment

- Stronger, more coherent, systems for monitoring and evaluation as means of bringing data on educational inequity for girls to senior policy attention and to generate public demand for change

The gender focus needs to be made explicit in national systems. Inclusive education for girls requires moving with greater energy towards seamless integration of different types of educational provision and methods of learning and providing equitable public resources to a wide range of approaches, including non-formal programmes and community schools. Developing bridging strategies, which allow girls who drop out of school, or never attend, to come back and be part of a recognised national programme is fundamental to realising Education for All objectives.

There is a need to strengthen linkages between gender-affirmative action and overall national education reform as well as inter-sector collaboration. Outcomes in realising girls' education prove to be more sustained and comprehensive where multi-sector effort reduces broad exclusionary forces against girls/women and reinforces inter-sector collaboration in areas of health, family income security, child protection and care.

A national perspective is needed to enable a broad understanding of the range of barriers affecting girls' access and persistence. There are core responsibilities that should be assumed by national governments. At the same time, empowering local communities is vital as a complementary strategy to ensure horizontal collaboration and integration at the local level. There is, however, a concern that the drive of central governments toward localising responsibility for education is obligating increasing numbers of vulnerable communities to assume responsibilities beyond their capacity.

The traditional school remains the core expression of a nation's commitment to children's education. This is irrespective of efforts to create opportunities for learning at a distance, in non-formal settings and using technological alternatives. The physical accessibility and safety of the school, its sense of psycho-social security and the quality and relevance of its pedagogy are fundamental in determining its status as a welcoming learning environment. These criteria determine whether and how any child, and especially girls, will participate. The review yielded the following findings and lessons in this regard:

- The vocabulary of the child-friendly school as such was not yet strongly developed at the time of most of the evaluated projects. Nevertheless, the underlying principle of schools needing to be more welcoming and supportive to girls is certainly evident as an "assumed" fundamental condition of their participation.

- A key such quality concerns the language of instruction. All children are losing where the language they face in the classroom is foreign, typically delivered by teachers of cultures other than their own. Girls continue to be especially vulnerable, as they often have less exposure to a social environment beyond their immediate families and thus tend to deal with the unfamiliar with less self-confidence.

- School infrastructure is another friendliness factor. Girls tend to be first to respond by non-participation to an insecure personal environment, insufficient or broken furniture, unsafe or unhealthy buildings and a lack of potable water and good sanitation facilities. Attention to these dimensions continues to be seen as an important condition for securing girls' attendance, although not the defining ones. Provision of adequate infrastructure is not enough to keep them in schools where teaching is poor and they do not learn.

- Teachers remain clearly important for creating and maintaining schools that proactively welcome girls. They ensure their best learning performance and enhance their life-skills. They are indispensable especially to provide the interface between the family and the wider society.

- Teacher support and supervision are essential in this regard. Rarely do education systems have sufficient technical resources to make formal supervision viable on its own. Teacher-to-teacher professional linkages, especially among female teachers, is being recognised as probably the only way for sustained support to quality teaching.

- Providing opportunities for girls to support and encourage one another is similarly proving an effective way to sustain participation. Especially important in the case of the more at-risk girls is facilitating their adaptation into the culture of the school. In the early grades most specifically, girl-girl mentoring is suggested as having a positive effect in keeping girls in school, one perhaps more powerful than scholarships.

- Incentives remain a key issue in girls' education interventions . They are assumed to be an effective way to assist girls and their families overcome especially the cost barriers to participation. There is, for example, an indication of risk in concentrating on incentives only, and, in consequence, the failure to ensure a sufficiently comprehensive view of exclusionary pressures in the system or for the child.

- Schools, like national systems, are generally weak in monitoring the status of children within the scope of their responsibility, including both those who are enrolled and those who are not. There is a need to train local education staff to collect and monitor local data on the progress of girls' education in their localities.

Families and Communities:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises families as the first and most important determinants of the protection and development of children. Education systems and schools may push girls out through inadequate conditions, but it is in families - especially through mothers - that decisions are made and resources allocated to send them in the first place. For this reason, education systems and schools must support families and communities in coming to accept children's right to education and in finding ways of enabling girls to benefit from it. The review generated the following findings and lessons in this regard:

- Marginalized families have to find an appropriate balance among often conflicting values, priorities and perceptions in contexts of restrictive traditional cultures, subsistence-level resources and unsupportive societies. Local participation, as a concept and a strategy, is recognised by most interventions as key to ensuring relevance and acceptability girls' education. Families and communities are being more often included as core players in action, which effectively brings girls to school.

- Genuine change in attitudes and actions on the part of schools and education policies to improve supply are proving effective in altering the weight parents give to girls' schooling. Enhanced infrastructure, accessibility and teaching quality, coupled with broad public advocacy for gender equality and local employment generation, can serve to reduce disincentives.

- School-family collaboration is proving especially critical for girls' enrolment and persistence since barriers to their participation are rarely based in the school or family alone. Problems of early marriage and pregnancy are prime examples of the need to involve girls, their families and the school in joint analysis and action. All those responsible for girls' well-being should be supported in finding ways to help them balance home, child-care and academic responsibilities.

- Of particular potential in facilitating this capacity for participation at the local level are the increasing efforts being made to engage women (mothers, teachers, community neighbours) as advocates and role models for girls' education.

Priorities, Strategies and Mechanisms of Intervention:
The evaluations indicate and imply suggestions for best practice in focusing and managing interventions for girls' education. The review summarises the lessons learned from the reviewed evaluations, but also draws on the wider body of global knowledge about girls' education in order to define priorities, strategies and mechanisms of intervention:

- It is important and appropriate for interventions to concentrate on the most excluded and, within these, give priority to gender equality and girls' participation. At the same time, such actions are stronger where they seek to improve the quality and accessibility of education for all children as a matter of their right and society's obligation. For example, national campaigns to remove regulations against pregnant girls in school or requiring schools to have proper sanitary facilities have more lasting effect when incorporated into broader policies aimed at opening schools to any child facing special challenges and constraints to access and persistence.

- There is a need to take a holistic perspective. Interventions for girls are stronger, where they strengthen capacities of all levels (national policy, school and community environments) to understand and remove the barriers excluding girls by promoting linkages in ways that lead to joint action. This is particularly true when dealing with emerging issues, e.g. HIV / AIDS on the education of girls.

- Capacity building and institutional changes are vital. All those involved have to seize the opportunity to learn. This involves acquiring, practising and adapting the new attitudes, behaviours and mechanisms of collaboration and tailored action implied by concepts of inclusive and girl-friendly education. The challenge is to translate the ideas of equity into roles as parents, teachers, and education officers. It is also essential to ensure responsiveness and adaptation to variable and largely unpredictable environments. Success will in many cases depend on a small number of highly motivated individuals or small groups, who will act as change agents and catalyse action and encourage persistence.

- There is a need to balance the need for interventions at the national policy and bureaucracy level and more comprehensive and sustained action at the school and community and family levels. Lasting impact on girls' participation is limited where local initiatives are not accompanied by attention to national policies in education itself and in related sectors. National advocacy and policy should simultaneously address issues of equity in economic and social development, links between education and work as well as management capacity within the bureaucracy for supporting effective teaching and producing relevant curriculum.

- Linkages are critical at all points in the system if gender equality is to be realised. Bridging between formal and non-formal approaches, e.g. community schools, is required to create a sufficiently complete education provision. Various forms of education should be considered as complementary rather than parallel to the formal education and benefit from.8 public support. Programmes based on ownership and implementation at local levels can then provide quality teachers, relevant curriculum and safe conditions.

- The focus of interaction and synergy for girls' education will necessarily be the school. While schools are perhaps the most tangible expression of a community's expectations and hopes for its children's development, they are also the operational arm of national policy and bureaucracy systems. Schools need support in being able to engage with both the family / community and the bureaucracy / policy levels. Interventions need to establish key linkages through teacher training and supervision systems and curriculum development. Such systemic support is especially important in the context of new gender policies, which may require teachers to change behaviours that are part of their traditions and culture.

- Interventions must understand and work within the decision-making processes and criteria that families use in determining their daughters' education and learning. Because families vary greatly in terms of social, economic and cultural context, and in the experiences they have had with schools, projects succeed where they are able to recognise the differences and act accordingly in building on the strengths and mitigating impediments. Most especially, intervenors must acknowledge the "ethics of intervention". They need explicitly to engage in partnership with families and communities in ways, which protect their culture, their psychosocial well being and their economic security.


There has been evident progress in girls' education, especially in enhancing their access, persistence and success. On the basis of the evaluations reviewed here, it is, however, difficult to determine how lasting the progress is likely to be. Moreover, uncertainties remain as to what a gender-sensitive approach means in practice, particularly in different cultures. The overall conclusion of this review is that projects and programmes are most successful where they facilitate capacities and create mechanisms to enable participation and foster linkages.


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