Education as a platform for economic participation: thinking beyond 2015

Posted on 23 April 2012


Be mindful of the post-2015 agenda.

This was Amina Az-Zubair’s closing message of her keynote address at the recent World Bank Colloquium, Getting to Equal in Education: Addressing Multiple Sources of Disadvantage to Achieve Learning. With much of the focus on the 2015 deadline of the MDGs, Az-Zubair raised an important and often overlooked point: what happens after 2015?

While achieving universal primary education by 2015 is certainly no guarantee, one cannot deny the progress of the last decade. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s countries have reached gender parity in education. In many places girls outnumber boys in secondary school enrollment. Assuming this trend continues, the future of girls’ education (and boys’) looks hopeful. So what challenges remain, and what opportunities can we anticipate as more children, and girls in particular, go to school?

Even if the universal primary education target is met, ensuring girls’ persistence through secondary school is likely to remain a challenge beyond 2015. Many girls drop out to assume household responsibilities or because of early marriages and childbirth. Cash transfer programs have proven effective in increasing school attendance, particularly for girls. Other programs focus on complementing traditional schooling with community education programs. In rural Guatemala, Girls Clubs, using a unique curriculum designed by the World Population Council, offer educational sessions on topics ranging from self-esteem and leadership to reproductive rights. These are all designed to encourage girls’ persistence in school.

With progress in school enrollment, the focus is shifting away from the quantity of children in school toward the quality of the education they’re receiving in the classroom. After all, what good does it do for children to show up at school if their teacher is frequently absent, or if the language of instruction is one other than their own? Measuring and ensuring quality education has proven an elusive challenge even in the United States, and this is sure to be on the global education agenda beyond 2015. A quality education, in addition to addressing teacher absenteeism and language barriers, means a curriculum that is not gender biased. It means teachers who do not favor boys over girls. And it means recognizing that what works for one community or country may not be as effective for another.

If education is a platform for a productive adulthood and economic participation, one of the most important challenges post-2015 will be creating the environment to invest in the newly educated population. This is particularly relevant for girls. We need to make sure that policies are in place to support women’s integration into the formal economy and to ensure equal employment opportunities for men and women alike. We need to focus on improving women’s legal status and increasing women’s access to finance and property rights. Only when these issues are fully addressed will the link between education and economic participation be strongest.

Finally, we need to ensure that girls’ and women’s advocacy continues through 2015 and beyond, that women’s empowerment is not relegated to simply the “flavor of the day” in development discourse. We need to transform campaigns into a community of dedicated people committed to solving the problem of gender inequality and in doing so build momentum to last beyond 2015. By keeping the post-2015 agenda in mind, together we can support the integration of the Third Billion into the global economy.

Emily Cook-Lundgren is a graduate student at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service concentrating in International Development and a La Pietra Coalition Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.

Pictured Above: Amina Az-Zubair addresses participants at last week’s World Bank Colloquium ‘Getting to Equal in Education: Addressing Multiple Sources of Disadvantage to Achieve Learning.’ Photo courtesy of the World Bank Education team.