Written by: Alice Wekesa, Senior Consultant (Gender)

Educating girls has been recognised as a powerful investment with multiple social and economic benefits beyond the moral value. This recognition has been a critical impetus for education stakeholders who champion the positive outcomes that communities derive from schools and education systems that are responsive to the learning needs of diverse girls and boys. Sadly, the multiple crises currently experienced (climate change, cost of living crisis, conflict and the recent Covid pandemic) risk reversing gains made in girls’ education. In some of the regions where the British Council works, girls are disproportionally represented in the number of out of school young people; female out-of-school rates in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) stood at 4.2 percentage points higher than that of males; with gaps of up to 15 percentage points in Uganda and Zambia. Girls with disabilities, those in rural areas and adolescent girls are particularly affected. In East and South Asia, the number of out-of-school children is gradually reducing, and gender gaps are now in favour of girls with female out of school rate at 3.1 percentage points lower than their male counterparts; however, gender norms and poverty still mediate retention and learning outcomes for girls from the poorest households. Beyond access, gender disparities in attainment and learning outcomes persist and gender stereotypes continue to influence career choices for girls and boys – a fact attributed to teaching and learning environments that are reinforcing gender inequitable norms and attitudes.  

The British Council contributes to girls’ education priorities by addressing gender inequality in education as part of interventions that drive up overall education performance as well as through programmes focused specifically on girls’ education. We promote a holistic and multi-pronged approach to girls’ education that involved working at the school and classroom level with teachers, school leaders and educators - as well as at the systems level with policy makers - to enhance the quality of education and learning outcomes for all children. We also recognise that education institutions and processes do not exist in a bubble, and without intentional efforts, they are likely to recreate and replicate prevailing gender stereotypes and norms in the communities they serve. We therefore also engage with communities to enhance support for girls’ education and tackle social norms that limit girls’ educational potential.

At the school level, teachers and school leaders are at the core of our efforts to promote girls’ education in the countries we work. Our research, (Teachers as Change Agents and Barriers to Girls Education) has shown that teachers and school leaders can be powerful change agents in creating gender sensitive schools that enable girls and boys to reach their full potential. As such, supporting them with pedagogical development as well as tools and frameworks that include a particular focus on tacking gender barriers embedded in classroom and school processes can have a positive impact on both learning outcomes and gender equality. Our in-service Continuous Professional Development (CPD) initiatives include a focus on empowering school leaders and teachers to employ inclusive and gender sensitive approaches in classroom teaching, challenge gender stereotypes in their schools and promote positive gender norms and behaviours among girls and boys. An example of this is our Leading Learning for Gender Equality (LLGE) programme; the programme provides school leaders and teachers in primary and secondary schools with the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and skills to recognise gendered barriers that affect girls’ and boys’ access to education and quality learning whilst supporting them to create gender sensitive schools that enable girls and boys to thrive and realise their full potential. At the school level, our approach also includes a focus on addressing gender gaps in learning outcomes. For instance, as part of the Building Learning Foundations (BLF) programme in Rwanda, we provided CPD to lower primary English teachers’ to embed gender-responsive and inclusive strategies into daily practice. The CPD was delivered alongside a robust monitoring process that enables the use of gender disaggregated data to identify any gendered differentials in learning outcomes that require remedial action. 

At the systems level, we recognise the important role of national and institutional policies that support the delivery of gender sensitive and responsive education. Our partnership with education ministries around the world is built on an evidence-based approach to examining and strengthening policy implementation with a gender sensitive lens that enables an in-depth understanding of how education policies impacts differently on girls and boys as well as women and men in the system. This evidence-based approach also enables the identification of entry points in existing education policies to strengthen national capacity for gender equality within the education sector. We provide technical assistance, convene policy dialogues, support learning visits and broker relationships between policy makers and experts to enabling the sharing of lessons learned, experiences and finding common ground on policy solutions to girls’ education challenges. This approach is being utilised in the Empowerment and Development for Girls Education (EDGE) in Zambia where the British Council is working with the Government of the Republic of Zambia to deliver political and economic commitments to meet the needs of the most vulnerable secondary school students, especially girls and learners in hard-to-reach rural areas using research and evidence, learning visits and policy dialogues as levers for strengthening the Free Education Policy implementation. 

Our approach also includes engaging with communities to address some of the non-educational barriers that impede educational access, participation and attainment for girls and boys in schools. We recognise that social norms, though varied across different context, have a profound impact on the decisions made on educational investments for girls and boys as well as entrench gender stereotypes that constrain the long-term aspirations for girls and boys. Inequitable gender norms that promote early child marriage and expectations on supporting family income have particularly adverse impact on adolescent girls’ education, making their transition to secondary education more challenging. Our approach is focused on building partnerships with local organisations and community leaders to address harmful social norms and negative attitudes with a view to enhancing community appreciation of the value of girls’ education and shift negative attitudes that impact on household decisions on which child should access education. For instance, in Pakistan where over 22 million children are out of school, we delivered the ILMPOSSIBLE- Take A Child to School (TACS) programme that deployed a rights-based and participatory community engagement approach to address harmful gender norms and attitudes towards girls’ education and developed a network of support for out-of-school girls and boys across the country. 

With seven years to go to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the challenge to achieve gender equality in and through education and eliminate disparities at all levels of education remains an important priority for the British Council. We believe the work we do in partnership with governments, ministries of education, school leaders, teaching professionals, students and non-government educational organisations across the globe will make a meaningful contribution to addressing the multiple barriers to girls’ education, improve access to gender sensitive schools where girls are supported to learn and reach their potential.