When making a comparison between strategies employed for the education of girls in developing countries and those outside of them, one aspect becomes clear. In African communities in small countries such as the Gambia, the government have recognized that the education of girls suffered as a direct result of societal attitude and tradition. A Ghanaian United Nations diplomat was quoted as stating “Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.”
Comparing the educational system in other countries with that of Africa, what people forget is that the traditional role of women is defined often by tradition. In the case of African society, the accepted role for a woman is as a caregiver and mother. Girls will get pregnant earlier than in western countries, and have more opportunities to carve out a career. What is often overlooked is that the woman plays a pivotal role in the welfare of the family, and less educated mothers are less able to instill those values which are conducive with good health practice or parenting. African families feared their children being influenced too much by western world values, though the government recognized that something had to be done to address equality in educational opportunity between boys and girls.
The Educational Master Plan, of 1998/2006 included provision to improve the education of girls, and was backed by UNICEF and The World Bank, who play a vital role in the implementation of policies within the school environment. What the idea was founded on was the basis that if you educate girls in an equal fashion to boys, it follows that the family units of future generations will be more empowered and able to structure a society based on educational foundations. The issues touched upon were the rights of women to be educated without sexual discrimination. Parts of the issue which were dealt with included:
♣Increase of opportunities for women teachers.
♣Making the curriculum more relevant to girls.
Not only did the Government see it fit to start to address the problems with legislation and what is provided for the education of girls, but they also had to tackle established teaching practices which discriminated against them.
When comparing educational values in western society and those developing countries, what many outsiders fail to appreciate is that the structure of society differs. Much depended upon young children being able to afford primary education. It’s hard for those who have not grown up within the regime of countries within Africa to understand that it was not always a question of money. Often children could attend school if they possessed a pen and notebooks. As boys were seen as the bread-winning potential, priority went towards their education, leaving many girls who had the potential to learn left out of the system. Neither was it a question of class or social background as appears to be the reason for inequality between the education of children in the western world. Girls simply did not come into the equation in Africa and many other developing countries.
This wasn’t the only hurdle. Families living in unsanitary conditions needed education to overcome the obstacles of everyday life, and educating the girls was seen as being every bit as vital to the standard of living as educating their male counterparts.
The strategies adopted by The Gambia mean that special units have been set up to teach girls to become better mothers, informed citizens, better educated family planners and indeed skillful decision makers. All of these attributes contribute towards a more productive society.
Initiatives adopted within the school system included retraining of teachers to allow for better education specifically relevant to girls. These included basic initiatives the western world may take for granted, but which are essential to growth within a society rife with infectious disease. The survival, development and growth of a country depends upon equal opportunities to learn and included studies on early pregnancy and parenting skills. Since the implementation of the Act, the increase in numbers of girls attending for education is an astounding 59%
What this means in real terms is that more girls are receiving education, though problems still exist with the funding of long term education, and a scholarship system has been in operation and shown an increase in retention figures. Other ongoing issues mean that gender bias needs to be addressed and more specialized staff employed to teach girls.
The Gambia government are trying to address the issues under difficult circumstances. Families still have to bear the brunt of costs of pens, exercise books, school uniforms, etc., and many parents resist sending girls to school, seeing the expenditure as an unreasonable burden. This isn’t surprising since the cost of living increases and the poorer people of the Gambia will often rely upon girls to work at home rather than to be educated. Little by little, the situation is changing, though only when a system which aids poor families to supply their children with necessities for schooling is created can girls be given the equal opportunity to which they are entitled.
Many parents seek Gambia Health and Education Liaison Project offers Internet users the chance to make a difference. In a world of inequality where the cost of education is relatively low, girls are being given a chance by donations. Donors are kept informed of the student progress and sent report cards from the girl’s schools, which means that some measure of progress can be seen.
All over Africa, the education of girls is being given priority. Gambia is one small example, though a good comparison for those of western educational background. The work done by the Gambian government in conjunction with UNESCO, The World Bank and charitable institutions and donors means that human right issues are being addressed and that girls are getting a chance to take advantage of educational opportunities which were formerly beyond their reach.