This article explores “Why Are Middle East Girls Better in School Than Boys” and reminds us that even when girls perform better than boys they don’t necessarily have more opportunities. Indeed, a lack of opportunity may be part of what drives girls to excel. School is a potential ticket “out of...confinement.” The article also underscores how gender norms are negatively influencing boys, not just girls. “All around the globe, notions of masculinity have not kept pace with the demands of a world that rewards creativity and critical thinking above physical strength."
So yes, Gender Norms Can Harm Kids Everywhere. A recent set of studies in the Journal of Adolescent Health "concluded that between the ages of 10 and 14, children begin to fully embrace and internalize the belief that girls and boys are intrinsically different – and should act accordingly." Perhaps that’s why a role model – even in the form of a movie character – can have a big influence on exam scores.
When it comes to what students should be learning, the WDR makes a compelling case to focus on foundational skills. At the same time, students need to acquire a wider set of skills across a wider span of life. Another study out of the World Bank finds that “noncognitive entrepreneurial skills, such as the will to persevere, optimism, and passion for work play a decisive role [in economic success] – even more so in communities where women face greater constraints to their economic empowerment.” This NYTimes piece argues for changing when we teach. The sequence of “learn early, benefit for a lifetime...makes sense only in a world where the useful skills stay constant.”
The good news out of the WDR? There is nothing inevitable about low learning outcomes. Efforts are underway to figure out how to transform schooling into learning by tackling some of the proximate factors that limit learning like underprepared students and teachers, as well as to tackle the deeper system barriers to learning (since, as the WDR and this blog remind us, “Even interventions which can be proved to work “in principle” with rigorous evidence cannot be scaled up and produce ongoing overall gains unless social, political and organizational forces are aligned with learning.”)
For instance, the Center for Universal Education at Brookings has published a new report on the possibility for leapfrog innovations in education and the Education Commission is working with Pioneer Countries to enable system reforms. Governments in Ghana and the state of Karnataka in southern India are removing the immediate barrier of school fees. Liberia is experimenting with a system reform in the form of Public Private Partnerships, and preliminary evaluation results show big learning gains from more consistent teaching, but "the program has yet to demonstrate it can work in average Liberian schools, with sustainable budgets and staffing levels, and without negative side-effects on other schools."
So there is hope to ensure the next generation is a Learning Generation. And inspiration to draw from women making things happen! If you know anyone looking to make a difference in girls’ education, encourage them to apply to the Echidna Global Scholars by November 16.