Why we focus on secondary schools and on girls and young women
There is little debate that East Africa still suffers from higher than average poverty rates and all of the associated conflict and hardship that poverty brings with it. There is also widespread agreement that we can and have made dramatic progress in addressing poverty over the past decade through partnerships among local community leaders, national governments, and international organizations. Education, and the education of young women in particular has been crucial to East Africa’s progress.
Thanks to the determination of East African voters and governments, with support from the international community, East African children have a better chance of getting a formal education than ever before in history.
Between 2002 and 2011, the number of primary school-age children in East Africa who were not in school dropped from a frightening 32%-8%
We at Growth Through Learning believe that East African countries can build on those successes to improve school access for girls beyond primary school and to make sure those successes reach girls in the most underserved areas of each country. But the challenges are more subtle than you might think.
In rural areas, young students are often forced to leave school in order to help support parents or siblings, particularly in cases where family members have been exposed to HIV/AIDS infection or have been victims of civil conflict. Even where tuition is free (as is now the case with primary education), families often struggle to come up with the funds for required uniforms and exam fees. These factors are exacerbated when the student is a girl or a young woman.
Educators have found that in East Africa, one of the most important ways to keep young women in school is to ensure their safety from sexual harassment and violence. That means not just good schools, but residential schools with appropriate fencing, separate lavatory facilities, and clear policies to protect female students.
When a young woman is given the means to finish high school, her education can make a tremendous difference in her own life and in the lives of those around her. A secondary school education, even without the benefit of higher education, qualifies a young woman for a safe, reliable job that will lift her standard of living and that of her family.
Studies and anecdotal evidence shows that early pregnancy rates and HIV/AIDS rates decline dramatically for young women in secondary schools. For students who attend a secondary boarding school, rather than a day school, those rates decline to near zero.
In fact, UNESCO argues that the next stage of development in East Africa depends on helping students finish secondary school: “The top priority for national and regional educational development efforts after 2015 should relate to offering an expanded, good quality and inclusive basic education to all that relates not only to access but also to successful completion of an extended course of study.”
GTL scholarships include all costs associated with a young woman’s education: tuition, room and board at a safe, educationally vigorous secondary school, uniforms, school supplies and exam fees. Because we will eliminate poverty in East Africa when we give its young women the chance to take the future into their own hands.