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“Increase access to education among girls to attack poverty”

Dec 10, 2010

To be poor and a girl serves as a double disadvantage when it comes to accessing education, says international public health consultant, Dr. Cesar Chelala. He argues that promoting education for girls is the best investment towards a country’s development.

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Inequality and unequal access to education holds millions of girls and women back over the world. While the “gender gap” in education has narrowed over the past decade, girls are still at a disadvantage, particularly in their access to high school education.

This gender gap is generally wider at higher levels of schooling. Women in South Asia, for example, have only half as many years of education as men, and female enrollment rates at the high school level are two-thirds of those of males.

Within countries, gender disparities are also greater among the poor, and in some countries those disparities continue among the poor even after they have disappeared among the wealthier sectors of the population. To be a girl from a poor family thus becomes a double disadvantage. In addition, gender bias -- approaches to teaching and the degree of attention from teachers -- puts girls at a further disadvantage.

Overall access to basic education has risen markedly over the past decade in many developing countries. In spite of that, however, poor children are still less likely to attend school, less likely to be enrolled in school and more likely to repeat grades than those who come from wealthier families.

There is widespread agreement that primary school should become universal early in this century, but the differences in educational attendance and attainment according to economic status show that the poor are much further away from achieving this goal than those better off economically.

There are several reasons to explain this gap. It is harder for poor children to have easy access to schools, since schools tend to be concentrated in cities and areas where only better-off families reside. The physical availability of schools, though, is not the most critical factor in most developing countries. It is important to consider not only national averages but also how poor girls in rural areas are faring.

Although expenditures in education have increased over the past few decades in many countries, unless these resources are specifically addressed to those most vulnerable, they will tend to increase disparities rather than decrease them.

Attainment disparities have been attributed to ineffective school systems. Governments tend to spend less on public primary and high school education -- the type of schooling that tends to benefit the poor most -- during economic crises. War, civil conflict, economic disruptions and epidemics alter services and affect school attendance. All of these problems are likely to have a greater effect on the poor.

Elimination of gender bias in education is particularly important when the level of education of parents is linked to their children’s educational attainment. Several studies have shown that the education of the mother is more important than that of the father in terms of children’s success.

In addition, a great deal of evidence shows the benefits of women’s schooling not only for their children’s educational attainment but also for their health, nutrition and survival. Immunisation rates among children of educated mothers, for example, are consistently higher than those of uneducated mothers.

Educated girls can develop essential life skills, including self-confidence, the ability to participate effectively in society, and the capacity to better protect themselves from HIV/Aids and sexual exploitation. In addition, several studies have shown that educated women not only have fewer children but also have better economic prospects themselves.

Girls’ education not only empowers them, but is considered the best investment in a country’s development.

Several factors indicate that special attention must be paid to the poor. Poor women are far more likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. Investments in education for the poorer sectors of the population yield better returns in productivity, income and economic growth. Inequality in the distribution of education holds down growth and per capita income in many countries.
Attacking poverty has become an urgent global priority. And one of the best ways to attack poverty is to increase the educational level of the poor and among them girls.

Source : Gulf Times
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