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Beyond access: Quality education for life

Special podcast for the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative

© UNICEF/CARA2009-00137/de Hommel
Two girls in a school in a school in Beogombo, north-western Central African Republic, where access to basic education is low, and schooing is marked by strong gender and geographical disparities and poor quality.

In the run-up to the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative and the start of the global conference, 'E4 - Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality,' to be held in Senegal from 17 to 20 May, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories on girls’ education and gender equality. Here is one of those stories.

By Pi James

NEW YORK, USA, 6 May 2010 – The Millennium Development Goals call for universal access to primary education by 2015. However, simply getting children into school may not be enough to improve life opportunities for boys and girls and reduce the gender gap.

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Closing that gap is critical, because girls who receive a quality basic education are better prepared to protect themselves against violence, abuse, exploitation and trafficking. They are also less vulnerable to disease, including HIV and AIDS.
Quality education for all

In 2000, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) was established to support the right to education and gender equality. UNGEI embraces the United Nations system, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector, and communities and families worldwide.

To commemorate UNGEI’s 10th anniversary, UNICEF Radio podcast moderator Amy Costello recently spoke with Simone de Comarmond, Chairperson of the Forum for African Women Educationalists and Pamela Hogan, Executive Producer of the PBS Wide Angle special series, ‘Time for School’.

The US public television series is about providing quality education for children around the globe.

In the podcast discussion, Ms. Hogan explains that ‘Time for School’, a 12-year documentary project, follows seven schoolchildren in seven countries. Over the course of producing the series, she says, its focus changed from getting children into school to the quality of education they received once enrolled – and how to ensure that children stay in school.

Girls face immense challenges

To highlight the immense challenges girls face in simply attending school, Ms. Hogan describes the situation of a nine-year-old named Nanavi in Benin, where there is a large gender gap in education.

As Ms. Hogan relates the story, Nanavi “has to walk two hours each way to the nearest middle school.… She doesn’t get much to eat at home [and] she has to choose every day to spend the 50 cents that her mother can give her to make photocopies – there’s no books – or to eat lunch.”

Ms. Hogan adds: “A quality education for the kids in our show [is] an education which allows them to not only become literate but to allow them to develop their full potential and to get a job.”

With quality education, she suggests, “generation by generation, there’s improvement in economic levels and quality of life.”

Need for political will

Ms. de Comarmond argues that quality education comes down to national priorities and international commitments.

“I sincerely believe it starts with the political will and having proper policies in place,” she says. “It’s an issue that you have to work, and it takes time to sensitize governments.

Despite all the efforts made by UNGEI and others to date, notes Ms. de Comarmond, today there a still more than 32 million girls in Africa who are not yet able to go to school. “So we still have a major challenge,’ she says, “but at the end of the day, to me, it’s the political will.”




21 April 2010: UNICEF Radio podcast moderator Amy Costello speaks with Simone De Comarmond, Chairperson of the Forum for African Women Educationalists, and Pamela Hogan, Executive Producer of the PBS Wide Angle special series, 'Time For School', about providing quality education to girls and boys around the globe.
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