Gender parity in education is a critical milestone along the way to universal primary education and gender equality. The previous chapters highlight the reality of accomplishments and challenges as understood by education and development specialists. Like a map, they locate where each region stands today. There is also a need to highlight some concrete measures that are necessary to move beyond present day realities to reach the ultimate destination – a world where all children complete a quality basic education.
Abolish Fees, Cap Total Costs, Provide Incentives
Children’s right to education cannot be held ransom to poverty. First and foremost, governments need to put a ceiling on the total household cost of schooling. This means abolishing tuition fees and implies limiting or eliminating the hidden costs related to education.
- Provide scholarships for all disadvantaged children. Direct costs and school-related expenses need to be covered.
- Cap fees and other school charges. Fees for parent teacher associations could be made illegal, school uniforms could be eliminated and textbooks could be rented rather than the more costly alternative of purchasing books.
- Provide financial incentives to disadvantaged families in return for their children’s school enrolment and regular attendance. Impoverished families must often choose between sending children to school or engaging them in paid work, domestic labour and subsistence activities. Incentives could be in the form of cash or take-home food rations.
- Abolish school fees and other charges as national policy. This intervention has the potential to flood schools with new students, but can be successfully addressed through strategic planning as well as phased-in approaches such as eliminating fees by grade over several years.
Provide ‘Essential Learning Package’
When emergencies strike, the world somehow rises to the occasion and produces sterling results under dire circumstances. Within a short time frame millions of children are enrolled in school and learning because certain essential supplies and services have been widely distributed. The key is to utilize the lessons learned during these crises and adapt them to countries that face chronic problems that require emergency type solutions. Along with major education advocacy campaigns, certain actions are required:
- Quick needs assessments as starting points for rapid progress
- Identification and costing of key elements of supplies and services that constitute feasible ‘essential learning packages’
- Negotiating package elements and costs that are affordable in the medium to long term to ensure sustainability
- Initial infusion of major funding by donors (front loading) to take up the costs involved in the short to medium term
- Technical support for developing, evaluating and distributing the ‘essential learning package’ in a rapid, efficient and large scale manner
- Partnerships between external agencies and governments to make full use of existing national systems, procedures and instruments rather than creating new or parallel systems.
Promote Schools as One-Stop Centres for ‘Learning Plus’
School can be the gateway for ameliorating external barriers that threaten the delivery of essential services to children, including education. Schools that promote ‘Learning Plus’ can be the difference between hunger and nutrition, illness and health, fear and fun, and ignorance and knowledge.
- Provide school feeding such as mid-day meals or take-home rations
- Implement school health programmes that include deworming treatment, micronutrients and immunization
- Provide care and support for orphans and other vulnerable children
- Establish hygiene and health education that encourages practices for disease prevention
- Establish safe and protective environments for children to learn and play.
Date with Destiny
Progress towards gender parity in education has been slow but steady. And while some countries have a long road to travel to meet this goal, cautious optimism abounds. Achievement of universal primary education by 2015 is more tenuous, and achievement of gender equality will be more elusive. For world leaders to be able to hold their heads high, and, more importantly, for all children to attain their right to quality education, definitive action must be taken now. The clock is ticking.