Education Blog

Interventions for Girls' Education - Part 1: Make School Affordable

"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." - John Adams, U.S. President, 1785

what works girls educationIn a previous article, The Top 10 Reasons to Invest in Girls' Education, I introduced you to Gene Sperling’s and Rebecca Winthrop’s book What Works in Girls Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment (click on the title to download a free pdf of the book!). We explored Chapter 2 discovering the Top 10 Reasons to Invest in Girls Education.

Now we know why investing in girls’ education is truly worthwhile both economically and socially. The next logical question is to know where and how to invest money and resources, to make it count most. The authors present a list of seven intervention areas which are critical to increasing the number of girls who enroll and stay in school:

  1. Making schools affordable
  2. Helping girls overcome health barriers
  3. Reducing the time and distance to get to school
  4. Making schools more girl-friendly
  5. Improving school quality
  6. Increasing community engagement
  7. Sustaining girls’ education during emergencies

We will examine each of these areas, one by one over time. In this post we will see what it takes to make schools more affordable for girls...

Making Schools Affordable 

For an overview let’s read Sperling’s and Winthrop’s introduction to the issue:

“For many years, school was not free in developing countries. Governments charged students and their families fees to attend school — in part to help offset the high costs of schooling, given limited government budgets. In many countries, students were also expected to buy school uniforms and textbooks, and if they did not have these they were not allowed to enroll. Although the costs were not large individually, if added together across multiple children, the costs would immediately become an insurmountable barrier for poor families. With parents unable to afford to pay fees for all their children, many poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized families were forced to choose which of their children to enroll. More often than not, a preference for boys meant that millions of girls were kept out of school. Indeed, it would be hard to devise a policy more likely to deny girls an education than charging poor families an individual fee for each child they send to school. Though eliminating fees and direct and indirect costs for children going to school is important for achieving universal education for all children, it is crucial for girls.

In developing nations, parents in poor families may perceive that schooling is more costly for girls, both in terms of real financial cost and opportunity costs. To illustrate, for such parents, sending a girl to school means forgoing her labor in the household or the wages she may earn; in some societies, it also means spending more human and financial resources supervising her, concealing her, and keeping her safe on the way to, from, and in school. Thus, even though school may be allegedly free, parents often find that they cannot afford to send their daughters to school.”

The authors cite two publications by Oxfam Great Britain and the World Bank which outline The Cost of Schooling:

cost of schooling

“When understanding how to make schools more affordable for girls, the global education community commonly breaks down the costs of schooling into three main categories:

Direct Costs - Tuition or school fees paid annually or at each term

Indirect Costs - The price of uniforms, school supplies, transportation, parent-teacher association fees and the like.

Opportunity Costs - The “services” lost by a family when their daughter or son attends school - for example, water collection, child care of younger siblings, lower bride price, or the time that an adult must spend accompanying a girl to school.”

KEY Interventions:

1. Reduce direct costs to families by eliminating school fees.

We can easily see that by eliminating school fees we reduce a major barrier to girls enrolling in school. Many countries encouraged by the UN Millennium Development Goals (2000 - 2015) and the Education for All agenda (see June Blog Issue) abolished school fees in order to encourage universal education for all.

tuition feesThe data and research Sperling and Winthrop reviewed, bring to light two important points…

  • Eliminating school fees increased school enrollment and schools systems were not prepared. They did not have enough trained teachers and lacked infrastructure (i.e. school buildings).
  • Eliminating school fees was not enough to keep girls in school… it certainly helped increase enrollment but both indirect costs and opportunity costs caused girls to either not attend or drop out.

Countries which mandate free and compulsory education, must publically finance their educational systems. It does not take much imagination to realize that developing countries may not have the budgets to adequately fund their schools resulting in low quality education where students are not learning. In turn, we see two phenomena occur… girls drop out and private schools emerge, charging tuition for quality education.

2. Reduce indirect and opportunity costs through scholarships, stipends, cash, and in-kind transfers.

The essential message here is to find ways to support families with resources that defray expenses which impact their decisions to send or not send their daughters to school. There are various approaches to do this and not all work equally well. Programs must be carefully designed with sensitivity to the population being served. The authors provide a detailed exploration of various intervention and research studying them. Here are some of their finding as listed on page 119:

gift of education

  • Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have the edge in improving girls’ educational outcomes, whereas unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) may be more effective in improving girls’ health outcomes.
  • The type of condition matters (e.g., if targeting participation, transfers should be conditioned upon monthly attendance; if targeting learning, scholarships should be awarded based on merit).
  • Transfers to mothers may be more effective than transfers to fathers; we do not yet know whether transfers directly to girls are more effective than transfers to their mothers.
  • Incentives need to be appropriately timed with the behavior targeted for change (e.g., if targeting transitions, transfers should be distributed at the time of re-enrollment; if targeting completion, transfers should be distributed at the time of graduation; if targeting seasonal fluctuations in attendance, transfers should be distributed at the time of harvest), with consideration given to the timing of payment and the timing of school costs.
  • Cash transfers can be as small as 2 percent of median household consumption to be effective—although the context matters.
  • Monitoring of recipients’ satisfaction of eligibility and conditionality requirements is recommended.
  • Selection criteria for targeting beneficiaries should focus on those most in need; determining the right target group depends on the context.
  • Eligibility rules should be made public and transparent; unintended within-family and within-classroom consequences should be considered.
  • Logistical measures for transferring funds efficiently and systematically to recipients must be in place, especially in rural areas, where transactional costs to individual accounts can be quite high. In this case, transfers made directly to schools to administer to recipients may be more cost-effective, not to mention add an additional accountability measure to reinforce girls’ attendance and retention.

The authors give several examples of successful programs in countries like Bangladesh, Kenya, Mexico, and India. Resources provided to the families and girls range from simple cash, tuition, textbooks, school supplies, uniforms, bicycles or support for other forms of transportation, lamps and fuel. Read more here: What Works in Girls Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment (click on the title to download a free pdf of the book!).

education resources

Nice to Know

“In 1821, Boston started the first public high school in the United States. By the close of the 19th century, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.” 

Read more about the history of education in the US at Wikipedia.

How much do governments spend on education? Who pays for education and how are the resources spent?

Visit UNESCO Education Finance, to learn how UNESCO is trying to answer these questions.

Fast Facts from the 2016 GEM Report - Chapter 20

  • The Education 2030 Framework for Action proposed two benchmarks as ‘crucial reference points’: allocate at least 4% to 6% of GDP to education, and/or allocate at least 15% to 20% of public expenditure to education. Globally, countries spend 4.6% of GDP on education and allocate 14.2% of public expenditure to education; at least 35 countries spend less than 4% of GDP and allocate less than 15% of public expenditure to education.
  • Aid needs to increase at least sixfold to ll the US $39 billion annual gap to reach the new targets. But in 2014, aid levels were 8% lower than at their peak in 2010. The gap could be lled if donors dedicated 0.7% of gross national income to aid and allocated 10% of their aid to basic and secondary education.

After all this reading, I am curious to know which countries offer free (publicly funded):

  • preschool and kindergarten?
  • primary and secondary schooling?
  • university education / vocational skills training?

Most northern European countries have all three covered and offer fairly consistent quality within their respective systems. In the US, there are great disparities at every level. How is education funded in your country?

Keep an eye open for a future issue of Let’s Get Schooled, when we explore how “helping girls overcome health barriers” improves their school outcomes.


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