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Girls’ Education: Designing for Success

Girls’ Education: Designing for Success - Toolkit

Girls’ Education: Designing for Success is a tool to help policy makers, planners, educations, researchers, managers and other development specialists to create practical county-led and country-specific plans for educating girls.

The tool is available on a CD-Rom. Please contact the  Education Advisory Service for further information.

Why do we focus on girls in this tool?

“Educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment in the developing world. “ Lawrence Summers, then Chief Economist of the World Bank, said in 1992.

Since then, more and more supporting evidence has emerged on the many benefits to nations, families and individuals.  Partly as a result of this evidence when the UN adopted eight Millennium Development Goals in December 2000, two of those goals were about achieving gender parity in education:

  • Goal 2. Achieve universal primary education: ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.
  • Goal 3. Promote gender equality and empower women: eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and to all levels of education no later than 2015.

While meeting all eight goals is critical, recent research has highlighted the importance and knock-on effects of these two goals in particular, showing that at least four of the other Millennium Development Goals—improvements in child mortality, maternal health, reduction of disease including HIV/AIDS, and environmental stability—will not be met or will be severely hindered without progress in girls’ education.

Why?  Study after study shows that getting and keeping girls in school reduces child mortality and malnutrition; improves family health; delays the age of first marriage; lowers fertility rates; enhances women’s domestic role and their political participation in society; improves their functioning in the wage labor force; strengthens a family’s survival strategies; and probably most intriguing to governments, increases economic growth. Even when various studies define these effects differently, the findings still hold.  The pattern of causation is clear: as the work of Abu Ghaida and Klasen (World Bank, 2004) shows, improvement in girls’ education is the cause of increase in economic growth, not the effect.

Their work also shows that the effects of girls’ education are measurable, and large: for example, if the goals for education were met, the number of births per woman would be reduced by 0.6.  Child mortality would also be reduced: one more year of female education reduces it by 18 per thousand.  On the other hand, whether a country’s education rates are high or low, simply having a gender gap in the rates has serous negative consequences, regardless of whether the imbalance is 90-70 in favor of boys, or 50-30.  If the goals were met and gaps reduced, 435,000 children would be saved each year in India; in Mali, it would be 35,000.  The Population Council, and international research organization, has pointed out that while each of these benefits could be achieved by other interventions, only girls’ education achieves them all.

What happens if counties don’t improve girls’ participation?  Research shows that the national economic and social costs of not education girls and not achieving gender parity in education are high, and higher for Sub-Saharan Africa than for any other region.  Some serious negative economic consequences are already clearly evident, and will increase from now on.

Despite this evidence, nearly 60% of the children out of school today are girls, forty million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the numbers are worsening and the gender gap is rising.  In South and West Asia, two-thirds of out-of-school children are girls.

And what about boys?  Most schools in developing countries have been designed with a student in mind; that student is a boy.  This means that those boys still out of school are among the very hardest to reach.  The strategies that have been working best for girls also have the best chance of bringing in these last remaining boys: addressing gamily costs, reducing distance, making school schedules flexible, improving quality, lowering enrolment age, improving employment policies, developing labour-saving technologies, and creating HIV/AIDS support.  They are “gender-neutral.”

So the benefits are clearly documented, and useful strategies for helping girls have been identified (for more information on strategies, see Girls’ Education in Africa: What Do We Know About Strategies That Work? (Kane, 2004).  How can policymakers, planners, educators, researchers, managers and other specialists prepare practical country-led and country-specific plans to use these strategies and achieve these benefits?

This is the challenge.  The issues that affect girls’ participation in schooling will vary from one country to another—in one country, relatively small numbers of girls may enter school; in another, they will enter but not persist because of costs, or because of cultural concerns; in a third, they may persist but do poorly.  And in most countries, even in those that are doing relatively well, the problems may differ in type and scope from one area to another.  Finally, even when two countries have similar problems, the strategies used to deal with them must be tailored to local conditions and resources if they are to work.  This tool helps you to do that.

What the Tool Does

Girls’ Education: Designing for Success is intended to be part of a serous program of planning.  When you use it, you will need to explore issues, perhaps carry out some research, assess and analyze your materials, and assemble them in a set of forms that will help you to address the issues in your country or area.  It will help you, in a step-by-step process to

  • pinpoint the issues
  • consider appropriate strategies
  • design a program, or part of a program

It focused on primary intake, survival to Grade 6 and universal primary completion, but also covers a wider range of relevant indicators, at both primary and secondary level, plus others that educators consider important in reaching gender parity, such as literacy rates, percentage of female teachers, and participation in the labor market.

The process follows a logical, sequential model that is adapted from the work of Hartnett and Heneveld, Statistical Indicators of Female Participation in Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (1993), and Odaga and Heneveld, Girls and Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa (1994).  The tool consists of five steps, which can be used as a complete process, or as individual steps, according to need.

  • Step1: Looking at the Benefits
  • Step2: Identifying Problems in a Country or Region
  • Step3: Identifying Causes
  • Step4: Identifying and Assessing Interventions
  • Step5: Help with Designing a Project
  • Step6: Designing Your Project

It also provides a “tools” section, explaining some research tools, the project cycle, sampling, where to look for statistics, and working with a consultant to get the information you need for your project.

This tool was developed by Eileen Kane from an idea suggested by Adhiambo Odaga and Ward Heneveld: Schools and Girls in Sub-Saharan Africa: From Analysis to Action. World Bank Technical Paper Number 298, 1995. Washington, DC: The World Bank

It was funded by the Norwegian Education Trust Fund (NETF) and the Irish Trust Fund for Education in Africa (IETF).


Abu Ghaida, Dina and Stephan Klasen. 2004.  The Economic and Human Development Costs of Missing the Millennium Development Goal on Gender Equity. World Bank Working Paper. Report No. 29710. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

Hartnett, Teresa and Ward Heneveld. 1993. Statistical Indicators of Female Participation in Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. AFTHR Technical Note No. 7. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

Kane, Eileen. 2004. Girls’ Education in Africa: What Do We Know About Strategies That Work? Africa Region Human Development Working Paper Series, No. 73. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

Odaga, Adhiambo and Ward Heneveld. 1994. Girls and Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Bank Technical Paper No. 298. Africa Technical Department Series. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

The Population Council. The Unfinished Transition: a Population Council Issues Paper. New York: The Population Council.