How girls’ education is the next great driver of human capital

“It is absurd that half of the world’s eight billion population, being women and girls, are still treated as discretionary human capital”

In a world where the rate of population growth is steadily declining, it is alarming that so much human capital potential is wasted due to a lack of embracing girls in education. Visionary governments, supported by NewGlobe, are overcoming this wasted opportunity – by transforming their entire public education systems.

World Population Day, July 11, aims to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues. A theme for this year’s event is “how to safeguard health and rights of women and girls”, one that should draw attention towards education as both a fundamental human right and a means to uphold and advocate for one’s rights.

With more than eight billion people in the world, it is absurd that half this population, being women and girls, are still treated as discretionary human capital – and it is costing the world. World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap report finds that “globally, women account for only 38 percent of human capital wealth versus 62 percent for men. In low- and lower-middle income countries, women account for a third or less of human capital wealth.”

Accompanying these figures is the stark estimation that at the current rate of progress, it will take 132 years to reach full gender parity – change is not happening fast enough, we need systems to transform rapidly.

When it comes to investments in human capital, there is none greater than education; especially when trying to address gender inequity, as learning outcomes for girls, particularly in low-middle income countries, can be very poor.

This is particularly important in Sub-Saharan Africa, which as of 2023 is the region with the largest population of young people (age 0-14), and is growing substantially faster than anywhere else. It also happens to be the region with the highest rates of Learning Poverty – defined as the percentage of 10-year-olds unable to read a simple sentence – in Sub-Saharan Africa the rate of Learning Poverty is 90%.

But what does gender equitable human capital investment in education look like? Historically, much of it has been focussed on inputs, often through individual initiatives that aim to slowly chip away at a specific issue.

The problem with such interventions is that gender inequity in education is not a result of a single factor, rather a collection of barriers that when together can make education exclusionary. When trying to deliver a solution, focusing on one hurdle will not make the meaningful changes we need to see for millions of girls.

A recent report by Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel backs this up, highlighting that investments in individual inputs – things like laptops, textbooks, school buildings, and specific grants are not as cost effective as investing in outcomes and holistic interventions.

The solution is whole-system transformation.

NewGlobe supports visionary governments to invest in human capital through education. Utilising the bold methodology of whole-system education transformation, governments in Africa and India are embracing young people through a focus on learning outcomes.

When NewGlobe partners with a government to rebuild an education system, it does so ensuring every part works together to support every person. This principle promotes gender equality in education, as the new system is built to ensure all students thrive – and guarantee girls receive this benefit by engaging them in all components of education.

A great example of one component contributing to all other areas of education is data. A UNESCO GEM report highlights that there is no data on the learning levels of two-thirds of African children. Whilst data is missing for both girls and boys, girls are impacted more as learning inequities are more common.

Capturing data is a core part of the NewGlobe model.

And, research shows how it can be used to advance equity. Technology and data capture enables monitoring that evaluates the progress of all girls across indicators like attendance and academic performance. Using these insights, education can be shaped to strengthen areas where there are cracks.

Another barrier girls are facing in education is attendance and dropout rates, as schooling progresses these increase, revealing that many current systems lack the support for girls to access and stay in education.

A recent study of the EKOEXCEL program, for which NewGlobe is the technical partner, showed increased engagement from girls – being 8% more likely to attend school when compared to government schools. An outcome attributed to pedagogy that has equity and learning built into its foundations.

These parts of education intertwine with numerous others, all contributing to how girls are engaging and progressing with education. A few other examples of NewGlobe-supported programs whole-system gender equity transformation include:

  • Commissioning all artwork and creative stories in textbooks and workbooks to ensure equal visibility of male and female characters, ensuring female characters are in powerful and unconventional roles.
  • Introducing school leadership roles for both girls and boys.
  • Approximately 60% of NewGlobe teachers are women, providing role models within the classroom and community.
  • Fostering partnerships, such as coding programs, aiming to close the gender gap of girls and women in STEM.

It is important to recognize that these interventions on their own are not enough to enact meaningful change to gender equity in education – but when delivered as part of a whole-system change the effect is transformational.

This is backed up by a study led by the Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Michael Kremer that found that NewGlobe methodology was achieving equitable outcomes that goes against the trend in Sub-Saharan Africa. Learning gains were equally large for girls and boys in NewGlobe support schools. The findings contrast with established research which shows girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are consistently disadvantaged in education.

Education has the potential to unlock an immense human capital opportunity, but for girls to gain the benefits of learning, governments must ensure every part of the system involves and engages them. And, holistic transformation is the key to delivering education that will support all students to learn.

About the author: Enoh Ugbona is managing director of EKOEXCEL and NewGlobe Africa director.