The Puggle: December 2017 Edition

Dana Schmidt, Echidna Giving 

Welcome to the December installment of The Puggle. This month we are keeping it short and sweet. In the spirit of the holidays and year-end reflections, we are taking a look back at the five greatest gifts of 2017:

  1. THE LEARNING CRISIS HAS TAKEN CENTER STAGE. Why is a crisis a gift? Because you can’t fix a problem unless you admit you have one. And it is now clearer than ever that we have a problem and that it’s a big deal for girls.

  2. THERE IS NEW EVIDENCE TO BRING TO BEAR ON GIRLS’ EDUCATION. To highlight three examples: (1) the World Development Report shows that the learning crisis is not inevitable; (2) a cross-country study by the Population Council reveals where girls face challenges in education and how that differs across countries; and (3) J-PAL’s review of effective ways to increase access to education, disaggregated by gender. This type of evidence brings more nuance to the conversation on girls’ education and helps us to adopt smarter strategies.

  3. WE KNOW MORE ABOUT GENDER THAN EVER BEFORE: how differences that seem biological are influenced by norms, how gender norms are hardwired at a young age and shape what children believe is possible for them, and how those social norms can be changed. It’s clear that gender norms affect boys and girls, women and men alike. They can drive lower educational achievement by boys and preserve male dominance nevertheless. Gender is Not [exclusively] a Women’s Issue.

  4. GOVERNMENTS HAVE TAKEN DECISIVE POLICY ACTIONS IN FAVOR OF WOMEN AND GIRLS. Free secondary education in KenyaGhana and Karnataka should benefit girls. Canada launched a Feminist International Assistance Policy. Governments are getting guidance on gender-responsive plans for education and even The Economist is touting gender budgeting. (Yes, this is the “glass half full” take on government policy actions in 2017—not all policies were so favorable for women and girls and even free secondary education won’t be meaningful unless it offers quality learning opportunities.)

  5. We were reminded over and over and over again the CHANGE CAN HAPPEN WHEN WOMEN BAND TOGETHER and draw strength from one another.

The Puggle: November 2017 Edition

The Puggle: November 2017 Edition

Dana Schmidt - December 4, 2017

Welcome to the November installment of The Puggle, where the Echidna Giving team highlights emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education. This month we are excited to share a piece we published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about the Half-Truths That have Sidetracked Girls’ Education. We hope you’ll read our analysis of why we’re falling short of delivering on the promise of girls’ education and add to the discussion. And we’d welcome hearing your reactions and additional “truths” in girls’ education!

As our article points out, when we paint the girls’ education picture with broad strokes, we miss important details about which problems matter most for which girls. New research from the 2017 cohort of Echidna Global Scholars at the Brookings Institution helps deepen our understanding of the types of issues facing specific communities of girls. This year’s cohort examined rural adolescents in India, Maya communities in Mexico, Maasai girls in Kenya, and school-age mothers in Jamaica.

Other research out of the Brookings Institution provides a framework for linking girls’ life skills education to social change. Christina Kwauk and Amanda Braga argue that in order for girls to translate life skills into better lives, they have to be able to exercise their skills in their contexts. They underscore that we can’t place the burden of changing gender unequal societies on girls alone. (This NYTimes article underscores how dangerous it can be when women are forced to “serve as the leading edge of change” in gender equality.)

Complementing this theoretical framework for life skills programming is a recent rigorous review out of the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) examining the effectiveness of life skills programs and girls’ clubs on girls’ well being outcomes. It finds that programs targeting life skills have been successful in changing gender norms and practices and increasing confidence, knowledge, educational achievement, and civic engagement. But the review points out that we don’t know the relative impact of girls’ clubs versus more system-focused initiatives. The authors didn’t find any studies of institutionalized programs like Girl Guides, only externally funded, time-limited programs. That begs the question of sustainability of the programs and the longevity of the gains for girls. Can system-wide efforts like UNICEF’s work to mainstreaming life skills and citizenship education in the Middle East and North Africa impart the same crucial outcomes for girls at wider scale and in a more lasting way?

The effects of gender discrimination that start at birth and transfer to the next generation. From Plan International's report on Gender Inequality and Early Childhood Development. Click on image to see full report.

The effects of gender discrimination that start at birth and transfer to the next generation. From Plan International's report on Gender Inequality and Early Childhood Development. Click on image to see full report.

Most life skills programs target adolescent girls. A new reportfrom Plan International argues for the importance of early childhood programming to end the cycle of gender discrimination. The report documents the numerous ways gender discrimination hampers early childhood development: by limiting women’s abilities to adequately care for their children; by reducing the nutritional and learning opportunities that young girls can pursue; and by making traditional gender norms central to children’s identity as early as age three.

It argues that when early childhood programming is done well, it can help break the cycle of gender discrimination at lower cost than later interventions that have to overcome early childhood deficits. Marginalized children—including girls—that receive high quality early childhood interventions close achievement and well-being gaps with their more privileged peers. And programming can also promote more equal gender relationships (evidence from a small sample of children in Sweden indicates that children who attend 'gender-neutral' preschools are less likely to gender-stereotype). Better yet, mothers are freed up for employment and older sisters have more time for their own education.

Have you seen other research worth highlighting? Are there other girls' education truths we should feature? Let us know in the comments below!

PSISPE 2017 Global Convening

PSIPSE grantees working across eight countries on over sixty projects came together for three-days in Kampala, Uganda to share learnings from their experiences developing, testing, expanding, and scaling innovative interventions in secondary education and to collaborate to drive systematic change in secondary education. In the spirit of collaboration for impact, the Democratic Republic of Congo was able to learn from India, Kenya from Nigeria. With support from the Mastercard Foundation, Echidna Giving, the MacArthur Foundation and Dubai Cares, we were indeed stronger together.

The convening was designed to inspire peer learning, networking, institutional strengthening and commitment, objectives that were achieved through innovative agenda planning and a willingness to embrace new initiatives. The hard work put in by members of the advisory committee was evident in both the agenda itself and in the enthusiasm that shone out in the breakout sessions, many of which were led by advisory committee members.

Inspired by the call to action of Mastercard’s Hajra Zahid and Wellspring’s Joyce Malombe in the opening session, many teams gave great support to their peers with their contributions to the thematic and tools workshops. Indeed the community of practice group on systems change, led by Stir Education’s Sharath Jeevan and Firelight’s Joshua Kyallo, was well on the way to making a fully drawn up plan by the time the convening closed on November 2nd.

One of the key sessions that informed the whole convening was Mathematica’s presentation of its 2016 monitoring report. This highlighted achievements and applauded success but also pointed out areas for improvement and innovation that emerged in the course of their study. Its lessons learned section highlighted the importance of working with men and boys to change attitudes on girls secondary education, and of creating strategic communications plans targeting governments that align with their own priorities. Grantees found the report’s contextual risks and opportunities section particularly useful.

Breakouts were designed to encourage engagement around both themes and country based activities, allowing grantees to take full advantage of all being together in the same place with time and space to collaborate. These were supported by eleven tools-based workshops on Day Two offering hands-on training on topics that included MEL, design thinking, scale-up, data-driven decision making, and more. Throughout the three-day conference, grantees were  also able to sign-up for 90-minute one-on-one coaching sessions with Mathematica Policy Research and Well Made Strategy tailored to their specific projects needs around MEL and Communications, respectively.


Day Three saw the focus change to policy with policy makers from Rwanda, India, Uganda and Nigeria interacting with grantees in a lively debate about scale-up and working in partnerships. We were greatly privileged to have such support from policy makers who gave us a useful insight in to how and why they make decisions.

The convening closed with a vote of thanks from Hawah Nabbuye of Educate! who encouraged us all to continue our support for each other and for secondary education worldwide.

The Puggle: September 2017

The Puggle: September 2017 Edition

DANA SCHMIDT - October 10, 2017

Welcome to the September installment of The Puggle, where the Echidna Giving team highlights emerging issues and findings related to girls’ education.

This month the World Bank released the World Development Report (WDR). For the first time in its nearly forty-year history, the report focused exclusively on education. The first message of the report? Schooling is not the same as learning.

Other recent data back this up. For example, the UNESCO Institute of Statistics did an analysis of learningshowing that at the end of primary school, over half of children won’t be minimally proficient in reading or math. Another study from the Center for Global Development shows the disparity between rich and poor countries. College graduates from Indonesia are less literate than high school dropouts from Denmark - and the gap has gotten bigger over time.

Inequality in learning outcomes is stark. We know that sometimes girls are especially disadvantaged, but the WDR and this Insight Paper from RISE show that gender is not the biggest driver of learning inequality. A recent studyin India by Pauline Rose and Ben Alcott finds that “poverty supersedes all other characteristics as a predictor of learning disparities.” When it comes to gender disparities, they are prevalent in some states but not others. And “gender disparity is occurring primarily among children from poorer households, indicating that disadvantages associated with gender and poverty reinforce one another.”

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.