Inexcusable Absence Q&A with Marlaine Lockheed: Why 60 Million Girls Still Aren't In School and What to do About It

January 15, 2010

Marlaine LockheedRemarkable increases in primary schooling over the past decade have brought gender equity to the education systems of many poor countries. But as CGD non-resident fellow Maureen Lewis and visiting fellow Marlaine Lockheed show in Inexcusable Absence, nearly three-quarters of the 60 million girls still not in school belong to ethnic, religious, linguistic, racial or other minorities. Marlaine Lockheed discusses the findings around these "doubly disadvantaged girls" and how the new analysis can inform practical policy solutions to achieve universal primary education for girls and boys.

Q: What's new about your research on girls' education?

A: Maureen and I discovered that nearly three out of four girls who are not in school belong to socially excluded groups, such as the Roma in Eastern Europe, hill tribes in Laos, indigenous peoples in Latin America, and lowest caste groups in India and Nepal. We also found programs that have worked to help socially-excluded girls get an education. Our book offers new insights into the problems of the girls who are still not in school, and highlights examples of proven, practical solutions.

Q: Why does educating these girls matter for developing countries?

A: Education is a basic human right for all, including for these girls from marginalized communities. More broadly, lack of educational opportunities for these girls has severe consequences for their communities, including increased poverty and poorer health, for both males and females. We all know that women who attend school have fewer and healthier children than women with no education. By educating girls in excluded communities, donor agencies and developing countries can help to improve lives for the entire community.

Q: How have countries been successful in getting socially-excluded girls into schools?

A: Countries have taken a two-pronged approach that focuses on both the supply of and demand for girls’ schooling. On the supply side, countries have attacked discrimination through laws and affirmative action, expanded school options through community and alternative schools and improved the quality of school facilities and teaching. On the demand side, countries have created incentives for households to send girls to school, such as scholarship programs in Bangladesh and school feeding programs in Kenya. Both approaches have helped to boost the enrollments of excluded girls.

Q: What can the U.S. and other major donors do to help get girls from excluded groups into school?

A: Enrolling socially excluded girls and keeping them in school entails both different approaches and higher costs than programs designed for members of the majority culture. Cultural variations, linguistic differences and the special needs of girls drive up costs. Often lower-income countries simply cannot afford the extra efforts required to reach excluded groups. The U.S. and other donors, who have done much to help boost the enrollments of girls overall, should ensure that the girls’ education initiatives they help to fund include resources to take into account the special needs of socially excluded girls. For example, financing remedial or compensatory school work for children who are behind or unable to keep up because they have neither the resources nor the necessary support at home. First-time school children often need some additional investment and it is an easily identifiable and achievable task and we have good experiences from across the world on this.

Q: What about the role of international organizations?

A: The UNESCO Institute for Statistics should report school participation and achievement data disaggregated by gender and by ethnic/linguistic group, to make it possible to identify the role of social exclusion. Disaggregating enrollment by gender--reporting separately on the school enrollment and achievement of girls and boys--was essential in monitoring progress towards gender equity. Having data on social exclusion would be a big help in designing programs to meet the needs of the vast majority of the 60 million girls who are still not in school.

Note: Inexcusable Absence: Why 60 Million Girls still Aren't In School and What to do About It will be discussed on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at a CGD event featuring the authors, U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), and Canadian M.P. Belinda Stronach. The event will be moderated by Gene Sperling, senior fellow for economic policy and director of the Center for Universal Education, Council on Foreign Relations. Complementary copies of the book will be available. See the event listing for more information and to register.