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UN: School Gender Gap Still Yawns Wide


School Gender Gap Still Yawns Wide, Threatening 2015 Education Goal, UN Reports

In a “good news-bad news review” on the gender gap in education, a new United Nations report today shows more youngsters than ever going to school, but with millions of girls still excluded, a “quantum leap” – and an extra $5.6 billion a year in international aid – are needed to reach the goal of universal primary schooling by 2015.

The overall increase stems in part from a rise in the number of girls in school, and the gender gap is shrinking globally, but in many parts of the world it still yawns wide, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “Progress for Children” report.

“This report proves that our strategic focus on getting more girls into school is working to increase attendance rates for boys and girls in primary school,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said at its launch in Geneva. “But it also makes clear that a quantum leap is needed both to break down the barriers keeping girls out of school and to make school available to all children.”

Universal primary schooling by 2015 is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that world leaders set themselves at the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, and making it and gender parity a reality will require radical shifts in thinking and policy.

Opening the school gate to all wishing to enter has put a massive strain on already over-burdened resources, hence the need to drastically increase international aid, with UN estimates putting the price tag at an extra $5.6 billion per year.

“The goal of universal primary education with equal opportunity for girls and boys is realistic. It is affordable, it is achievable and what’s more, it’s our children’s birthright,” Ms. Bellamy said. “Education is about more than just learning. In many countries it’s a life-saver, especially where girls are concerned. A girl out of school is more likely to fall prey to HIV/AIDS and less able to raise a healthy family.”

Some 125 out of 180 countries for which data are available are on course to reach gender parity by 2005, a prerequisite for achieving the education MDG, but the global average masks huge pockets of inequity. Three regions – the Middle East and North Africa; South Asia; and West and Central Africa – will not meet the gender parity goal.

At the current rate of progress most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean regions are on track to achieving the MDG. At the other extreme most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and many in South Asia will not come close unless they greatly accelerate their rates of progress.

Barriers include poverty, with children from the poorest 20 per cent of households in the developing world on average three times less likely to go to primary school than those from the wealthiest 20 per cent, and lack of a mother’s education, with 75 per cent of those out of primary school coming from mothers who did not go to school.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS, civil conflict, child labour, child trafficking and natural disasters also have a clear impact on access to schools and all tend to affect countries with already weak educational infrastructures.

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