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For the last few decades, the world has been proudly declaring that it has made big strides in the field of girls' education. Across many countries in the world, particularly those that are underdeveloped, girls' enrolment in school has increased. In many cases, girls have even outperformed boys. Progress has been achieved both in terms of number of enrolments and improved learning outcomes for girls.
However, these gains are currently under threat. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on girls' education has been extensive. If we just look around our neighbourhoods, we will find that we know of someone who has had to drop out of school. Dropping out of school does not just create a learning gap for children, but also increases the risk of never going back to school, particularly in the case of girls. The UNESCO has estimated that 11 million girls may never go back to school. This is a huge number and can have a massive impact on our collective future.
But why are girls dropping out of school? Some of the reasons that affect girls' schooling are:
- Quarantine/travel restrictions
- School closures
- Reduced financial resources of parents
- Burden of household chores.
Of all these reasons, school closures are by far the biggest reason affecting girls' education directly. School closures affect a girl's learning time. She is likely to get more burdened with household chores when she is forced to stay at home. Studies based on past experiences of school closures have shown that children who drop out of school once are unlikely to rejoin.
The pandemic has undone decades of progress achieved in the field of girls' education. The reversal of this progress has resulted in diverse problems such as:
- early marriage of girls
- early/teen pregnancy
- vulnerability to domestic violence
- risk of exposure to sexual exploitation
- lower earnings.
The UNESCO estimates that an extra year of schooling can raise the earnings of a girl by 20% when she enters the labour market as an adult. Therefore, a loss of education for girls can not only affect the cause of women's education but can also bring down a country's GDP.
Evidently, the solution is to bring girls back to school. Governments need to put programmes in place that will motivate families to send their girls back to school. Providing cash transfers to families could help so that they can afford to keep their daughters in school.
It is also necessary to improve girls' familiarity with ICT tools since we know that the post-pandemic classroom will not be the same as the pre-pandemic classroom. Online education is already a reality. We can better the chances of girls' education if we can provide them with the knowledge and the means to access online education.
The task is challenging but needs to be undertaken because history has shown us that a negative effect on girls' education can affect a nation for generations to come. It is true that "we cannot succeed when half of us are held back." (Malala Yousafzai).