Girls, Too: Improving Administration of Education Policies in Sierra Leone

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wcaro_SL_pessay_edu_Lead(image from http://www.unicef.org/wcaro/2799.html)

Formalized education is an institution of modern society often used as an indicator of development. In Sierra Leone, six years of primary school and three years of junior secondary school constitute basic education and are required by law, but approximately 300,000 children are not in school. While current standards for boys and girls are insufficient, boys are still prioritized as recipients due to costs and other socioeconomic factors.

The country is a decentralizing, developing nation that is still recovering from a devastating 11-year civil war that concluded in 2002. Girls were a disenfranchised population before the war, victimized throughout, and continue to be vulnerable. Education is one precondition to women’s overall progress. It impacts many important dimensions to women’s health and well-being, including employment, and social and political participation.

Although gender equivalence in primary school enrollment has almost been achieved, girls are under-enrolled in schools. In 2007, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MEST) developed a comprehensive blueprint to strengthening the country’s education system – The Education Strategic Plan (ESP). MEST has a Gender Unit whose goals in 2014 were promoting quality education for girls and removing barriers to education for girls and women. Major international agencies and organizations like The UN Girls’ Education Initiative and IBIS also recognize the necessity for undoing obstacles to education faced by girls in urban and rural areas of Sierra Leone, and they promote education as a means of increasing agency and advancing equity. However, despite attention and efforts on the issue, laws and policies lack adequate administration.

It is imperative that MEST, in conjunction with other national agencies such as the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and international agencies like the World Bank, reinforce education laws and the ESP with a set of measures that promote, develop, and enable the existing basic education requirements, especially around the inclusion of girls and hard-to-reach areas. This is a key to women’s social and emotional empowerment.

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4 Responses to “Girls, Too: Improving Administration of Education Policies in Sierra Leone”

  1. edl22 Says:

    Thank you for sharing this interesting policy issue. I agree with your call for the reinforcement of education laws for females in Sierra Leone. Research has proven that education is linked to lower rates of adolescent pregnancy. Half of these pregnancies are in Sub-Saharan Africa. And, pregnancies during adolescent have health risks for both the mother and infant, not to mention the economic and health consequences following the delivery. This policy could have a huge impact on the health of females in Sierra Leone and reduce the fertility rate in the country.

    Check out the WHO’s website for more information and statistics: http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/topics/maternal/adolescent_pregnancy/en/

  2. cmorebmore Says:

    Thank you for the discussion regarding the importance of education of females. As a policy, it makes sense as there could be a significant return on investment for a country when it invests in education for girls. This is true not only for health indicators and its correlation with marriage and pregnancy, but also for society.

    In their paper studying a randomized policy experiment in India (http://economics.mit.edu/files/792), Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo studied villages, 1/3 of which had female leadership, and found that leaders brought about greater investment in infrastructure that addressed the needs of their own gender. Therefore, with greater education for girls, more opportunities arise for women to be represented in decision-making processes, and benefits return again for girls – a positive feedback cycle.

  3. jmhutain Says:

    This is a great summary of one of the issues facing girls in Sierra Leone but I think your approach is too simplistic. The reasons that girls do not attend school, or do not continue attending school, are very complex and may involve issues which are far more important than education laws. I recognize that this blog post assignment had limited word count, but I do not think you can have a conversation about education in a developing country without having a discussion about poverty and social norms. Families may not be sending girls to school because help is needed caring for children, caring for the household, and/or contributing to family income. There may also be a lack of understanding about the value of education for girls among parents and family members. Of course, there are extraneous situations that contribute, like schools being closed for almost a year during the ebola outbreak. While I do not know much about the specific situation in Sierra Leone, I agree with the other commenters that there are perhaps more creative and sustainable ways to think about this issue than enforcing education laws.

  4. mcole35 Says:

    I agree that there are many complex and varied reasons why girls don’t attend school. Maybe simplistic, but this is only one of many angles from which the issue needs to be addressed. It is a healthy start to enact a law promoting education for all and to develop strategic plans, but they need reinforcement and oversight, and folks need to be held accountable. This policy approach is a call directed at one of the leading implementing agencies, the Ministry of Education. But as mentioned, the reasons range widely. The social and political factors involved will undoubtedly take time to change, but if there is recognition of gender disparities by national agencies and actions to promote equality and/or equity, there should be follow through. Some of the cited reasons for the educational gender disparities in Sierra Leone are around men marrying young girls (the legal age of marriage is 18) and not allowing pregnant teens into schools. The latter can certainly be discussed by the Ministry of Ed. Also, the mention of the ebola outbreak closing schools is important, but ideally that should not contribute to gendered educational differences. Boys and girls were affected by the closures, but one group is impaired more than the other in the aftermath. It is difficult to answer the question of which dimension should be addressed first, so actors should be working simultaneously and in conjunction. This actor, the Ministry of Ed, has begun to act and needs to see it through; the call for measures is one suggestion.

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