By Tokunbo Kujore, Impact Analyst and Founder, Afro Girls
When schools around the world started closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world scrambled to understand the severity of the global crisis. Everyone took to social media for entertainment, the latest data on the coronavirus and to escape from the very real threat to our lives and life as we knew it. While scrolling on Twitter, I came across a post that completely changed the way I feel about the coronavirus pandemic and the work that I have been dedicated to for years. In a thread of coronavirus-related school closure retweets, a father tweeted "even if the [Nigerian] government did not close the schools, I have taken my daughter out." He followed up with, “the one she has done this semester is enough.”
I did my best to look at his tweet objectively. He probably meant no harm in his message by insinuating that his daughter didn't need any more time at school or he may be a caring father, concerned with the health and safety of his child and family. It may have even been an attempt to get some laughs. Who knows? To the people who have spent their entire life's work creating awareness, platforms and organizations about the importance of keeping girls in school like me however, those nine words could quite possibly set the progress we have made in girls' education back years. This could also make the 2030 finish line for achieving the targets of SDG 4, Quality Education, farther to reach.
The pandemic has also brought to light deep-rooted inequalities, especially in the areas of gender and education. In many countries around the world, girls were already vulnerable to early marriages and other unfavorable challenges that young women in underdeveloped countries are susceptible to. During the pandemic, these unfair disparities became worse. I believe in quality education for all, but my fear, amongst the quite obvious fears of health, security and the state of humanity that we are all enduring, is that guardians who were once convinced to advocate for their girls and their wellbeing and those who allowed them to go to school, will now use the pandemic and the state of global affairs as an excuse to restrict their daughters and sisters to go back or to even go at all once we settle in our new normal, post-pandemic.
I quickly realized that education is indeed the great equalizer, but education is not equal. Attaining quality education was and still remains a privilege, especially for girls in developing countries. SDG 4: Quality education, seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030. Achieving this goal for all learners ensures that we contribute to the success of all Sustainable Development Goals - most importantly, eradicating poverty (Goal 1), ensuring the health and wellbeing of all (Goal 3), gender equality (Goal 5), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), reduced inequalities (Goal 10) and peace, justice and strong institutions, (Goal 16).
Let’s take a look closer look at how we can turn the state of education around in 10 years.
Leadership: Pass or Fail?
The foundation for a quality education goes far beyond learning in the classroom, literacy and its learners. Leaders have to do their job.
Quality education is a human right and a public good. Governments and other public authorities should ensure that quality education service is freely available to all citizens from early childhood into adulthood. Quality education provides the foundation for equity in society and ensures that learners are able to fully realize their limitless potential.
Despite the considerable progress on the access to education and participation made globally over the years in developed and underdeveloped countries, pre-pandemic, 2020 has made one thing very clear - we have a long way to go. Pre-pandemic, more than 200 Million children were out of school. Many learners are learning within broken education systems that make it difficult for them to receive quality education. Access to learning in regards to online vs alternative method, materials and qualified teachers during the pandemic is the most noticeable at the moment. Exponential growth in population, has also put an immense pressure on the world’s resources and already overstretched public services and infrastructure. These challenges have dealt a crippling blow to the educational system through, discriminatory practices, decayed infrastructure, weak and obsolete legal and regulatory regime and poor funding - a recipe for disaster for the educational system.
UNESCO recommends that governments allocate 20% of their annual budget towards education. Many governments fall below this threshold. Needless to say, re-budgeting, policy and curriculum reform post-pandemic would be beneficial. A sizable amount of the budget could also support the vetting and compensation of qualified teachers who are invested and committed to the positive learning outcomes of students. Intentional government aid is needed in terms of investing in educational tools of the future alongside a total revamp of many educational sectors. An immediate increase in effective and sustainable budget spending for education would tackle uninterrupted schooling in addition to achieving a number of Goal 4’s targets.
A Group Project
Education is an ecosystem that involves qualified teachers, all potential learners, parents, their communities, governments, CSO's, leaders, the public and private sectors and everyone in between. Despite the challenges, there is opportunity for private and public sector entities to build partnerships now more than ever.
Public-Private Partnerships have been identified as an efficient approach to meet the changing demands of the education sector to build or transform existing schools. These partnerships deliver leadership and management solutions, school improvement, skills partnership and education reform to make a tangible difference in the lives of children, communities and their countries.
These partnerships could help aid the demand weighing heavily on educational institutions and goals 4A and B which seeks to build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all and helps expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, enrollment in higher education, respectively.
Who Run the World? Girls.
My grandmother was the most important woman in my life. She was bold and encouraged me and my siblings to pursue education in the fiercest of ways. The irony of this was that she was a child bride and never got the education she deserved. Instead of going to school to learn about herself, the world and various subjects, she was at home, learning her new role as a young wife. Sadly many cultures still practice early marriage for girls as young as 11.
The targets of Goal 4 are admirable. Ensuring that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development (4.2), affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education (4.3), and relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship (4.4) are key and beneficial for a just society.
Over the years, I’ve taken a personal and professional investment in achieving targets 4:1 and 4:5 which seeks to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes and eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations, respectively. Due to the pandemic however, an estimated twenty-million more secondary-school aged girls may never set foot in a classroom again. I was fortunate enough to go to school for 12+ years, but I can not say that I was immune to bias’ simply because of my sex or the color of my skin through my entire educational career. I started Afro Girls to combat the issues affecting little brown girls like me, who face unfair bias’ for attempting to get an education, talk less one of quality.
According to the 2019 UNESCO Institute for Statistics report on education, about 52 million primary to secondary school age girls were out of school across Africa pre-pandemic. Inclusivity is a major challenge across the continent despite progress in several countries. Societal gender norms discouraging girls from attending school, political agendas and religious ideologies are major factors causing their absence from school. Long distances, increased school fees, violence in schools, lack of menstrual hygiene support, food deprivation, early child marriage and early pregnancy are also some of the critical challenges keeping our girls out of school and ultimately contributing the cycle of poverty.
In the United States of America
Despite the high achievements and major accomplishments of Black women around the world, Black girls in America still face significant barriers to quality education. Barriers like stereotypes, racism and adultification, adversely impact the experiences that Black girls unfairly endure simply because of the color of their skin. Studies have also shown that adults view black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than other girls of the same age, especially between 5–14 years old. Additionally, they are viewed as needing less nurturing, protection, support and comfort; being more independent despite their age; and knowing more about adult topics, including sex. All of which impact their education and well-being.
In the United Kingdom
Despite established policy protecting minority students in education, Black girls in the UK face challenging experiences in school due to the lack of understanding about cultural traits and practices according to research done by the Independent. Representation of girls of color in media, especially Black girls is a major challenge, which indirectly affects overall well-being, including education.
Through programming and partnerships, we are on track to lending our work to Goal 4's targets. If providing quality and inclusive education for all girls regardless of skin color or disability, ensures a solution to climate change and increases the annual GDP an average of 3 percent, then we can’t afford to overlook these quite obvious disruptors of learning that girls endure. We must make educating our girls and providing safe and inclusive education spaces a priority as well.
Education impacts health, well-being, poverty, job opportunities, environmental behaviour and values towards gender equality. It underpins stability in developing nations and drives economic prosperity. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified existing inequalities, furthered the digital divide and exposed our leadership. It hasn't been easy for everyone over the last couple of months to say the least, but we have a rare opportunity to reimagine learning outside of the classroom and how we define and measure quality.
As schools begin to open up, it’s evident that the necessity for leadership commitment and participation, innovative and inclusive education models and safe learning spaces is critical to achieve the key targets and indicators to achieve quality education for all. The current climate of education, especially during a pandemic has left learners and the education system worried about the future - online learning vs. in-person learning, incorporating curriculum that reflects social equity, compassion and empathy, how will learners get meals and other resources they previously depended on. In trying to establish a new normal for education, it is imperative that organizations, institutions and governments redesign methods of learning to cater to the learners out of school because of the pandemic and to the millions of children who were never enrolled in school due to a host of other reasons or the lack of resources.
Our future literally depends on what our children will learn. What role do you play in the ecosystem?
Check out more posts in the SDGs in 20/20 series here.