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Empowering girls through education

Accessibility of basic and gender neutral education in our societies is critical to socio-economic development and political stability. Investing in equitable education not only helps girls and young women to make decisions that will influence their day-to-day lives but also gives them a greater sense of socio-economic freedom and guide them to contribute to their community’s social, economic and political growth and development, writes Alem Asres.

It is truism to state that girls do grow up to be women and women do produce, nurture, educate and replenish the workforce need of the nation. Any person, who thinks logically, will agree that women are not only providers of workforce, but also are the first and the most important teachers of men and women. Yet, against these undeniable truth, girls, if not denied, they are not encouraged, for various reasons and through various mechanism, to pursue higher education throughout developing countries. There is no denying of the presence of gender discrimination in the institutions of higher education throughout the continent.

It is a well-documented fact that girls, throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, are often denied the right to equal opportunity to peruse higher education and develop their latent talents. Many girls and young women throughout the continent are unable to attend schools as to make important decisions governing their socio-economic life.  It goes without saying that lack of education not only limits their prospects for meaningful employment, decreases family income, reduces personal health, and puts them at risk of various types of exploitation but also may have negative impact on the social, economic and political advancement of the entire country.

As noted by Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, “The persistent constraints and deprivations that prevent many of the world’s women from achieving their potential have huge consequences in individuals, families, communities and nations. Expanding women’s ability to make decisions and take advantage of opportunities is critical to improving the lives as well as the world we all share.” Moreover, improving and making education accessible for girls and women the society may help itself and its female citizens to develop skills which allow them to make informed decisions and live a more productive and satisfying life. The promotion of economic well-being of any society, especially African society, is connected with the empowerment of women through education.

To quote one study: “Girls and women continue to be discriminated against in accessing education… In developing countries, adolescent girls are more likely to drop-out of secondary school than boys, particularly in rural areas… Poverty, pregnancy, gender-based violence, child marriage and discriminatory gender norms are some of the major obstacles to girls’ education worldwide.  School fees, the threat of violence on the way to and in school, and the perceived benefits of girls’ domestic work also keep girls out-of-school.” Added to the above list, geographic location, minority status, disability, and traditional attitudes about the status and role of women all serve as obstacles to girls participating and completing their education and developing their untapped talents.  Lester F. Ward tells us, “There is no fixed rule by which nature has intended that one sex should excel the other, any more than there is any fixed point beyond which either cannot develop further.”

Accessibility of basic and gender neutral education in our societies is critical to socio-economic development and political stability. Investing in equitable education not only helps girls and young women to make decisions that will influence their day-to-day lives but also gives them a greater sense of socio-economic freedom and guide them to contribute to their community’s social, economic and political growth and development.  Most economists and supporters of gender equality argue that education plays an enormous part both in forming a woman’s personality and in her work. “As her educational level rises, a woman’s spiritual and material needs grow, her ideals in life change, her outlook on the world evolves and her attitudes to social and working life, her family and the education of her children alter.”

Kim Kerr of MasterCard Foundation wrote, “For Africa, the question is no longer “if” students are taught, but “what.”  Unfortunately, while access to education has improved significantly in recent decades, school curricula have changed little since the colonial era, when secondary education was an elite privilege designed to advance the careers of a select few.” To answer “what” African students have been and are taught, forces one to raise fundamental question about the roots of African educational system. The remainder of article will examine the history and the philosophy of that system.

An educational system, formal or informal, does not exist in a vacuum.  It is created and influenced by both the objective conditions and subjective visions of the society in which it is to function. The developed as well as the developing nations recognize the connection between an appropriate educational system and stable social, economic and political advancement.  Educators everywhere argue that education, when accompanied by other measures encouraging human development, is a vital weapon for reducing poverty, disease, illiteracy and social inequalities of every description. Unfortunately, African people did not have the opportunity to crate the educational system reflective of their reality.  Even though Africa has been decolonized but its institution of higher education and its curriculum remains to some degree unaltered.

Some six decades have passed since African people achieved the political independence.  Until the end World War II, the continent was ruled by seven European powers. With Italy and Germany out of the picture, the rest of the continent was divided and ruled by the Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal and Spain. Thus, Africa, once an independent continent, came to be known as oversea territories while the African peoples became subjects of these five colonial powers.

For hundreds of years, colonial powers turned the continent into a supplier of raw material, cheap labor, and agricultural products for the development their industries as well as a market place for dumping European products.  Colonial powers deprived the African people the opportunity for independent social, economic and political development. Under years of colonial rule, Africa developed neither forma nor informal indigenous educational institutions capable of helping the continent during its transition from colonial rule to independent states.

Let me conclude by stating up-front, that I am painfully aware of the fact that every society in any stage of its historical development must acquire tools of knowledge, both foreign and indigenous, which may be used to help translate the social, economic and political dreams of its members into an active reality.  There is no society that I know of that can boast of having developed its social and economic structure independent of foreign influence of one sort or another. No country can develop its industry, advance culturally, socially and economically without acquiring the knowledge and skills to make effective use of its human and material resources. An investment in transformative and decidedly gender-neutral education throughout the continent is an investment in African human capital and in its future.

Ed.’s Note: Alem Asres (PhD), (former Alemayehu Wondemagegnehu), earned his Doctorate of Philosophy in Social Foundations of Education with emphasis on Comparative and Multicultural Education from the University of Maryland, College Park. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]  

 

Contributed by Alem Asres
Contributed by Alem Asres