Getting All Girls into School

Author:Maureen A. Lewis and Marlaine E. Lockheed
Position:Acting Chief Economist/Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development

The extent of the problem -Reaching and teaching excluded girls -How to make it happen


New ways are needed to educate "excluded girls" in developing countries

Since 1960, primary school enrollment rates in the developing world have risen steeply for boys and girls, with girls' participation converging with that of boys in most countries. Yet UNESCO (2006) recently estimated that 43 million school-age girls are not enrolled in school, many more complete fewer than six years of schooling, and a gap between boys and girls remains in some countries. This gap is due overwhelmingly to the lag in schooling of socially excluded groups, often minority groups that are on the margins of society (see box and table) and in which girls are at a distinct disadvantage relative to boys. Indeed, we estimate that approximately 70 percent of these out-of-school girls come from such groups.

Where are these out-of-school girls? By far the greatest number are in sub-Saharan Africa (47 percent) and South Asia (25 percent), followed by East Asia and the Pacific (11 percent); the Middle East and North Africa (9 percent); and Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and North America and Western Europe (all close to 3 percent). However, the Latin American and Caribbean region scores highest when the focus is on the percentage of outof-school girls coming from excluded groups (see Chart 1).


The educational consequences for the socially excluded-girls in particular-are real. They range from teachers ignoring students in class to the destruction of schools and violence against teachers and communities. Compounding the problem, socially excluded groups are often less likely to send their daughters to school and more likely to allow their daughters than their sons to drop out early.

Over the past decade, much has been learned about how to reach poor children and those from excluded groups. Most of this experience is from developed and middle-income developing countries. Programs have been designed that raise enrollments, sustain attendance, and equalize learning outcomes of excluded children. Similarly, much is known about how to reach girls. But relatively little is known about how to reach excluded girls specifically. This article highlights some of the lessons from our recent Center for Global Development study, which looks at why girls from socially excluded groups are not in school and what can be done about it.

The extent of the problem

To begin with, it is helpful to think of countries as highly homogeneous (like South Korea and Tunisia, which have a single ethnic group with a common language and a shared cultural heritage) or heterogeneous-with multiple ethnic groups that speak different languages and often have distinct cultures. In the latter group, communities that are "different" from the mainstream society and economy tend to become excluded, and it is the parents in these communities who are likely to keep their children out of school, in contrast to parents in majority communities, who are increasingly sending both boys and girls to school.

Who's excluded and why?

Socially excluded groups are population subgroups that are prevented by discrimination and indifference in their own countries from...

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