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Final Thoughts on Girls’ Education in Latin America » Education

Final Thoughts on Girls’ Education in Latin America

November 21st, 2008 by mduzon@stanford.edu Leave a reply »

As I look back on my past six posts about girls’ education in Latin America, I try to find some shining star, a beacon of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. But all I can seem to find are more questions. We’ve seen what some of the issues are, but where do we go from here? What is being done to better girls’ education situation in Latin America? What will it look like 10 years from now?

Let’s look again briefly at the statistics. In terms of enrollment, girls aren’t that bad off. Girls and boys are equally likely to finish primary school, with enrollment rates over 90% for both genders in most countries, and in certain areas girls are even more likely than boys to attend college. Enrollment rate disparities exist primarily within indigenous populations; more than half of indigenous girls drop out of school by age 14. Since the gender parity in enrollment has stabilized across the general population as a whole, the focus has shifted to quality of education.

Many barriers exist with respect to education quality. Primarily, how do we measure education quality? Much of the research is questionable and based on anecdotal evidence. We hear of girls being called upon less than boys in class, treated differently by teachers, reinforced with traditional inferior female gender roles. Undoubtedly these practices occur, probably with more frequency than we expect. But how can we know what is truly going on in the classroom?

The fact that girls’ enrollment in primary school has reached the rate of males’ enrollment may undermine the fact that girls’ education is still a critical issue to be addressed. At a Harvard-sponsored conference on girls’ education in Central America, one representative from an international aid organization said, “We know that there is no need to focus on girls’ education in Nicaragua because there are no problems there” (C. Parker). Obviously there are problems. There are problems when women do not earn the same wages as men for equal work. There are problems when millions of women are victims of domestic abuse. There are problems when women comprise the majority of people living in poverty around the world. We are nowhere near achieving the luxury of not focusing on gender as a major issue in Latin American education.

So what is being done to improve the current state of girls’ education? We’ve seen international agencies working toward achieving equal education for girls and boys, such as Save the Children, Centers of Excellence for Teacher Training (CETT), and The UN Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI). We’ve also looked at grassroots organizations working in their own communities, such as Inca Educa and El Centro de la Niña Trabajadora (CENIT). These organizations are certainly making headway, improving education for thousands of girls in different ways. Many Latin American countries are on their way to achieving their Millennium Development Goals by 2015 (although these goals are measured by enrollment rates, not necessarily education quality). But we certainly have a long way to go.

An article by the Gender Achievements and Prospects in Education (GAP) report succinctly states the current situation: “The challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is to translate girls’ education into female empowerment – economically, socially and politically.” I am still struggling with the meaning of “female empowerment”, but I believe this statement poses an essential question. How do we bridge the gap between education and life after school?

Thank you to everyone who’s been reading and commenting on my posts. I hope you’ve learned something and leave with a feeling of hope and determination to make our world a better place, as cliché as it made sound.