Making girls’ education programming inclusive and relevant: using data to adapt and strengthen initiatives that empower girls to prosper


 Presenter (s) Maggie Shergill, Plan International; Mbuso Jama, World Vision; Chris Martin, Link Community Development International; Sally Rosscornes, Girls' Education Challenge; Samantha Ross, Link Community Development International

The UKAid-funded Girls’ Education Challenge-Transition (GEC-T) is a global programme which helps over 1.5 million of the world’s poorest girls receive a quality education, improving their lives and transforming their future. The GEC-T programme follows successful GEC phase 1 projects as they support the same cohort of girls through secondary school, vocational training and beyond.

The presented projects implement complex interventions that seek to improve learning outcomes and support girls as they transition from primary to secondary education, to employment or professional training by developing girls’ agency and improving teaching practices in literacy and numeracy and transforming gender and power relationships affecting marginalised girls at the household, school and community levels thus creating a positive environment for girls in school. Sustainability is central to all interventions, yet these interventions are set amidst an ever-changing world where environments, economies and ecosystems shift requiring projects to evolve.

The projects, informed by an extensive baseline study, ongoing monitoring data and using EGRA and EGMA testing, analyse the multiple barriers that affect girls’ learning, attendance, transition, completion, participation in class and relationships and agency with peers, teachers and the wider community. Baseline results indicate that marginalised girls’ learning outcomes were negatively affected by the complex intersection of traditional gender norms, religious practices, limited ability to engage with the language of instruction, teacher absenteeism, being disabled, widespread poverty and changes in their immediate world. For example, issues such as gender based violence, distance to school, weather patterns/seasons and household chores all contributed to absenteeism and dropout.

Across all three contexts, the baseline data showed that learning levels for female primary student beneficiaries are poor, particularly in the case of numeracy. In Sierra Leone, basic addition and subtraction skills were low, with only 1% of children proficient with shapes and spaces. In Link’s Ethiopian project, across grades four, six and eight, on average 65% of girls demonstrated limited subtraction skills. In Zimbabwe 51% of beneficiaries were not able to perform multiplication or division. The literacy findings show that in Sierra Leone simple text and word recognition was a challenge for most children, whilst in Ethiopia (Link’s figures are averages) only 37% of girls could understand simple texts in their local language and just 26% of grade 8 girls in English, their medium of instruction. In Zimbabwe, only 23% of the female students were able to understand simple texts. The use of a second language (English) as the language of instruction in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone remains a major barrier for reading comprehension, particularly for girls for whom limited mobility restricts their exposure to a second language not spoken at home or in their community compounded by poor teacher competency in English.

In order to respond to this complex scenario, the projects have been deliberately designed to be holistic and sustainable and include interventions that address issues at the household, community, school and government levels. Engaging community and religious leaders, as well as school and government staff, generates a broader dialogue about gender, marginalisation and education. The projects are also cognizant that in a world of constant change, our approaches must consider the wider environment and how the communities and our interventions must engage and evolve within it.

The combination of these components had a powerful effect on learning outcomes as demonstrated in our phase 1 GEC projects. In Sierra Leone, the country and project were devastatingly impacted by the Ebola crisis. However, the project demonstrated the foundation is stronger in intervention schools (as opposed to control schools) to support girls’ learning, as well as better access to learning materials. In Ethiopia, Link’s project girls showed a 197% increase against the target set for improvement above the control group in literacy scores and a 301% increase against the target set in numeracy. In Zimbabwe, girls who joined leadership clubs in project schools had a significantly higher average reading fluency – 77 words per minute (wpm) compared to 61 wpm for the control group, and their average numeracy score was five percent points higher than the control.

Thus, the first stage of GEC (2013-2017) demonstrated effectiveness in improving education outcomes (reading fluency and numeracy) in comparison with control groups. Projects also contributed to deeper changes in attitudes and practices influencing girls’ social status and participation in school and society, as well as major shifts in the participation of communities in school governance. Girls and communities are breaking the silence on cases of gender based violence and girls’ increased self-confidence enhanced their participation and learning in class. The first stage also allowed for education intervention learning in response to health crises and the subsequent changes in education practices and spaces as a result.

This panel will explore how three projects use their baseline, ongoing monitoring and participatory data, to adapt and refine their programming to meet the specific needs of all their beneficiary girls. The projects will demonstrate a variety of methods for capturing and exploring the evaluation data to make adaptations and ensure these adaptations are inclusive. Plan International has implemented participatory monitoring approaches to surface themes and stories rarely discussed, and allow ownership of issues that are not often expressed through more conventional monitoring approaches. Link Community Development made concrete programming changes to focus on local language needs, household support, classroom practices and pedagogies to ensure an intersection of barriers were addressed. World Vision has applied participatory monitoring to collect information from teachers, in school and out of school-girls on perceptions of their leadership skills, factors affecting school attendance and knowledge on issues that affect them, including gender-based violence. The panel will present how baseline findings and ongoing monitoring approaches and data have influenced project interventions to ensure sustainable learning, attendance and transition for adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa and within ever-changing environments. Presenters will examine how their interventions may influence policy, pedagogies and practices at the local and regional levels through project evidence and how these practices can ensure marginalised girls are empowered to thrive in a modern and prosperous world.

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