The second e4e keynote, presented by Elaine Unterhalter and Amy North, both from the Institute of Education, University of London, focuses on quality in education, rather than enrollment numbers.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights states:
ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.
Differences in education may be bigger within a given country than between countries. Slide four below compares education poor Tchad with extremely education poor Central African Republic. If you're born in Tchad, your chances at getting an education are roughly twice of what they are if you are born in the Central African Republic. But if these numbers are broken down we can see that what matters even more is whether you are rich or poor, live in an urban - or rural environment, and if you are a boy or a girl.
Rich urban boys and girls are both comparatively well educated. Boys and girls in the countryside are unlikely to get any education, no matter if they are rich or poor. The biggest gender difference is found among the urban poor - in this group, boys' education is significantly longer than girls'. But is it better?
The millenium development goal is a quantification, a way to make education measurable. But simply going to school is not enough. Education is a way out of poverty and to personal freedom for some, but school is also a hellish prison for many children around the world.
In order for universal enrollment (that every child goes to school) to make any sense, we must also consider what is being thought in the schools they go to. Do schools let them develop into what they can be, or do they try to force their unique humanity into pre-fabricated forms?
The keynote explores the concept of a quality education, and the role of gender equality within a such.An education that is inclusive for all must obviously deal with a host of other questions as well, but maybe gender equality is the single biggest obstacle to delivering an universal education that is meaningful, knowledgeable and empowering.
First of all, half of the world's kids are girls. In countries all over the world schools are opening their doors for them. As pupils and students they have rights - the right to not be discriminated, and the right to be listened to. Their voices should be heard and their experiences as girls taken into account.
Many of these girls are also expected to lead their societies ahead, within companies or as leaders on a national- or local level. To carry out this task they will need the best possible eduation, and that will be one as descibed above. Teachers that do not listen to pupils, will fail in teaching them. Schools that do not utilize its pupils competences will fail in entice their ambitions. That is a failure not only to the girls, but also to the society they live in.
To make education accessible for girls will mean different things in different contexts. It includes creating an environment where girls are and feel safe. Clarissa Brocklehurst from UNICEF has brought attention to the need of clean water and sanitation facilities in schools. In an interview on the UN radio highlighted the obvious:
Parents will not send their children to school if they know that there's nowhere for them to go to the toilet, to get a drink of water or to be able to wash their hands.
It is also about the curriculum itself - what is thaught and how it is presented. I can take an example from my professional experiences. I currently teach a class of fifth graders about the Swedish 16th century, a time when male kings married to very strong women, like Katarina Jagellonica, queen of both Poland and Sweden. The pupils' task was to write a few pages about one of the kings, but one of the girls came up to me and asked politely if she could write about Katarina in stead.
Of course she could. Of course it would have been a revelation for many of the boys in the class if they had studied about this impressive Polish-Swedish queen. It would have shed some light on their understanding of Swedish history, but I missed the chance. Tradition, time pressure and the wish to simplify led me as a teacher to present a Swedish history that is traditional and gender prejudiced.
I hope that my mistake can be forgiven, but I don't believe that I am the only one, or that this does only happen in Sweden. Gender biased curriculums, and traditional thinking among teachers is a problem worldwide, as the e4e presentation underscores. Especially so in developing countries, where gender issues in education are seldom dealt with in a systematic manner.
Gender equality never comes at the expense of boy pupils - as my example above shows, it will benefit every pupil in the classroom. Every pedagog knows that it is easy to teach an homogenous group - in generation typically boys with a middle class back ground. In such an environment common prejudices can help in maintaining the group's identity, and they pass unnoticed. In heterogenous groups, whith girls and pupils from different backgrounds, prejudices will be under attack, or oppresively enforced. That makes the educational situation more complicated.
But nothing is as developing for the human min as a complicated situation, and the meeting with individuals with different experiences than yourself. Not only will pupils in heterogenous groups learn about others and themselves. Learning together with others also gives depth and meaning to the knowledge.
That is why we must dare to deal earnestly with gender issues in schools. Gender equality in education is not only an issue about girls' rights. It is a way to build competent societies.
The keynote presentation is avalable on the e4e conference site, where the discussion will also take place. The technical demands for participation are kept model low - slides and audio are available as a google presentation and an m4a file. The presentation can also be seen as an Elluminate-presentation that requires java, this version also includes live annotations.