This year the education system was turned on its head. COVID-19 affected more than 90 per cent of the world’s student population. This equates to 1.5 billion children and young people. Majority of students have migrated to an online remote learning experience. However, for others, reliable internet is a luxury. Many schools in developing countries closed their schools to protect public safety. For example, in 2019, less than one half of primary and lower secondary schools in subSaharan Africa had access to electricity, the Internet, computers and basic handwashing facilities. Schools in developing countries are not set up to deal with a pandemic. In fact, for 500 million students around the world, remote learning remains out of reach, leading to school closures.

It is safe to say that education is one of the most critical aspects of a functioning society. It can be the difference between job opportunities and living a life on the margins. According to the UN SDGs website, in 2018, 773 million adults were illiterate in terms of reading and writing skills. Two thirds of that population are women. There is an incredible gender bias in the education system, particularly in developing countries. This will be my focus for today. But before we jump into inclusion in the education system, let’s check out the targets.

Targets

  • 4.1 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
  • 4.2 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
  • 4.3 By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
  • 4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
  • 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations 
  • 4.6 By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
  • 4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
  • 4.a Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all
  • 4.b By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries 

Education for all

Focusing on achieving education equity for girls is not just a social justice cause. It can transform communities. Educated girls are less likely to marry young and more likely to get a job amongst other things.. leading to economic resilience and healthier outcomes for both themselves and their families. According to UNICEF, ‘Around the world, 132 million girls are out of school, including 34.3 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67.4 million of upper-secondary school age. In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries.’

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Gender issues in local education

Locally, we may have more gender equality in our education system. However, our subjects that are crucial for the future workforce are heavily male dominated. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) professions are estimated to be 75% of the future workforce.

STEM qualifications are highly skewed against women in Australia. According to Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre,  Males account for 84% of all people who hold STEM qualifications. Only one in four information technology graduates, and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates in Australia is female.

However, it is important to note that STEAM is becoming the new term for future focused skills education. The A stands for Art, which is to recognise the importance of creativity to create a future ready workforce.

Imagilabs

I found an awesome start up in Sweden on my travels last year. They are pairing STEM and creativity to attract girls to learn how to code. I met Alexa who worked at ImagiLabs at Sweden Demo Day. Their mission is to teach girls aged 12-16 how to program. They do this through an app that connects to a keychain that has lights that they can code to turn on. It starts off simple but over time the girls learn Python through a range of creative projects. It brings together mathematics, programming and creativity in a way that makes programming attractive and exciting to girls.

‘We all know that technology is the future. We need women to be an equal part of shaping that future’.

Alexa, Imagilabs

This addresses in an important point. Their website identified that currently, women make up less than 20% of the tech workforce. In order to grow this, we need to look at different and engaging education models to attract diversity into the future wokrforce.

Check out the video here.

Future Education

I also met some amazing students from ESADE in Spain last year. Their facilities, courses and innovative approach to promoting real world curriculum was really interesting. Check out the experience and how they are building future leaders here.

The future of education also needs to promote lifetime learning as the skills required for the future are changing rapidly. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enroll. MOOCs provide an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills, advance your career and deliver quality educational experiences at scale. I have completed a few MOOCs and they are a great way to build relevant skills without having to do a whole University degree. It helps me to keep up to date as well as be able to choose the skills I want to learn.

Overall

There are a range of things we can do to strengthen the education system. If you’re donating to a charity in a developing country, ask how they are empowering young girls through the education system. This really should be front and centre for many charities as there are so many social and economic benefits associated with investing in education for girls. At a local level, we need to promote lifetime learning opportunities. Utilising MOOCs and other online learning platforms is a great way to invest in your own education experience. Also, noticing the gender balance in any formal or informal learning environmetnis important. Asking your teacher, tutor or organisation why there is an imlbalcne promotes a really important conversation. SAying that men are attracted to certain subject over women is not a sufficient answer. We need to focus on innovative, creative models that give everyone equal opportnities to learn! Imagilabs, ESADE and many others show that it is possible.

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