Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Call for Background Notes: Girls Education—Can the Promise Be Fulfilled?

In 2021 the Global Education Program at the Center for Global Development (CGD) will publish a new report on girls’ education and female economic empowerment. Among its objectives is to contribute to a more constructive dialogue among donors and policymakers about what the evidence tells us on the relationship between girls’ education and life outcomes for women. CGD wishes to commission a series of background notes of approximately 3,000 words that address one of the four core areas outlined below.

To propose a background note, please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words, outlining the topic, the proposed analytical framework, and a characterization of the data (quantitative or qualitative) that will be used. Please also include a one-page CV. Compensation of USD 3,000 will be provided for each commissioned note. If you would like to propose a full paper (rather than a background note) on one of these topics, please submit a one-page proposal and a budget. Proposals should be submitted by 16th August to Sharmili Satkunam Commissioned background notes must be submitted by 31st October.

This opportunity is aimed at postgraduate development economics students (i.e., students in PhD or Master’s programs). We particularly welcome proposals from Black researchers and other underrepresented groups.

Background on the CGD report

Education for girls has long been hailed as one of the best investments in development by researchers, politicians, activists, and celebrities alike. This investment case is supported by numerous studies examining the positive impacts of girls’ education across contexts. In addition to its many positive impacts, we also know an increasing amount about how to get girls into school and how to help them learn while there. Yet as evidence grows more rigorous, some of the claims related to girls’ education have become more nuanced and gaps have emerged, particularly as it relates to reaching the most marginalized girls who often face multiple vulnerabilities including extreme poverty, exposure to gender-based violence, minority status, and displacement.

In addition, after decades of progress and research on girls’ education, gaps in evidence related to the relationship between education and later life outcomes—including labor market participation—remain. Evidence examining whether more education leads to improved economic outcomes and broader equity for women and girls is currently mixed, with some evidence suggesting that improvements in girls’ education has not been sufficient to move the needle toward equalizing other outcomes. This raises questions both about the nature of the relationship between education and broader equity, but also raises questions about whether and how schools can better prepare girls for productive and equitable livelihood opportunities. A majority of the research to-date has focused on more traditional measures of schooling including participation, literacy, and numeracy. However, it’s possible that more needs to be done inside schools to support equity outside of schools perhaps including efforts to combat bias in curriculums, empower girls, and foster a broader range of skill development concretely linked to employment opportunities.

A small but growing evidence base also suggests that girls’ education may require additional reforms outside of schools to fully deliver on its promise. This includes both long-term reforms aimed at structuring the labor market to expand equitable and safe employment opportunities for women, as well as shorter-term reforms including childcare, land, and social protection policies.

While many challenges remain, decades of progress has demonstrated that successful reform is possible. Pushing girls’ education to the next level will likely require addressing persistent political, financial, cultural, and other policy constraints as well as thinking outside of traditional education responses.

Potential topics

1. Who is left behind?

The progress made in girls’ education is well documented. However, most reforms thus far have targeted—and benefitted—the ‘average’ girl. This raises questions about who reforms work for and who is left out. We know far less about how we can reach the most disadvantaged girls and those facing multiple vulnerabilities. We also know little about how these existing constraints are likely to be exacerbated by shocks like COVID-19. We welcome background notes that discuss these questions using a combination of rigorous reviews and original research, including (but not limited to):

  • Evidence reviews on:
    • Last-mile enrollment/access to primary (i.e., hardest to reach girls).
    • Girls’ participation in secondary education
    • Access & learning for girls with multiple vulnerabilities (eg, conflict settings, displacement, disability, rural, extreme poverty, and orphans)
  • Constraints analysis for girls with multiple vulnerabilities in specific development contexts
  • Examine the potential for unequal impacts of shocks (like COVID) on girls vs boys

2. Why have gains in education not consistently translated into better labor market outcomes and broader economic, social, and political equality for women and girls?

We welcome background notes that explore this relationship through a combination of rigorous review and original analysis in an effort to try to understand the conditions under which girls’ education improves economic outcomes. We are particularly interested in labor market structures and connections between education systems and work opportunities; the role of migration in facilitating opportunities for women; gender-based considerations for improving equity in high-growth sectors. We welcome proposals that include:

  • Cross-country quantitative exploration of why we see pay offs in some areas but not others (e.g., structure of economy, legal frameworks)
  • In select countries, mapping of women’s participation across labor market sectors and school disciplines to understand how much labor market outcomes are driven by school opportunities, curriculum, norms, and choices.
  • Studies of the education-migration-labor market nexus (both within-country and cross-country) with a focus on understanding how this is mediated by access to and quality of nearby labor markets.

3. What more can and should education do to promote gender equality?

To achieve gender equity beyond school enrollment and completion, we may need to expect more from education. Girls’ education may need to foster the development of additional skills including those linked to changing gender norms which extend far outside of schools. Despite substantial increases in participation, evidence suggests that there are many areas for improvement within schools including combatting teacher and curriculum bias, reducing school-related gender-based violence, changing norms, and strengthening girls’ empowerment which may continue to serve as barriers to broader gender equity if left unaddressed. Many of these barriers likely shape early experiences with gender bias and could impact school-to-work pipelines. We welcome proposals that include:

  • Review of cross-country evidence on gender stereotypes in education in connection with gender gaps in performance
  • Examination of the ways in which education propagates gender norms (eg, examine teacher bias, curricula, textbooks, standardized tests)
  • Review of empowerment programs as well as livelihood and skills training programs
  • Review of aspirations literature
  • Examination of the link between academic tracking and outcomes for girls
  • Review of evidence related socio-emotional skill development

4. What reforms outside of education will support the promise of girls’ education?

We’re interested in complementary reforms which can support girls’ education and economic outcomes in the short- to medium-term; and long-term structural reforms which may be needed in order to foster the conditions necessary for girls’ education to deliver on its full promise. We welcome proposals that cover:

  • Maternal labor force participation and girls’ aspirations
  • Analysis of gender-differentiated impacts of informational interventions
  • Examination of the impact of laws on both life aspirations and educational outcomes. Relevant laws could include those related to child labor, pregnancy and school participation, early marriage, land ownership/inheritance, and child care, among others. This will likely consist of a series of studies.
  • Examination of the role and potential of social protection programs to support school and labor market participations. This will incorporate both original and existing work.
  • Analysis of the role, potential, and need for longer-term structural reforms related to the labor market, persistent cultural barriers, etc which may be needed to create the conditions under which girls’ education can foster broader social, political, and economic equity.