Lately, we’ve been discussing whether we should build products for boys and girls alike, or narrow our scope and focus on girls. I’m inclined to push us towards the latter. Though our mission is to democratize and ease educational access for all children, data unequivocally shows that educating girls has exponential impact.

In terms of literacy, the basic numbers are striking: of the 250 million children around the world who are still illiterate, two thirds are girls. As a direct parallel, two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are also women. Optimizing our products for girls means enhancing our experience for two full thirds of our target learners. Not bad. [1]

In addition, focusing on girls triggers a host of other positive externalities. As Larry Summers, the former Chief Economist of the World Bank and Director of the National Economic Council under Barack Obama, noted:

“in part because of what women do with the extra income they earn, in part because of the extra leverage if affords them within the family, and in part because of the direct effects of being more knowledgeable and aware, female education has enormous social impact.” [2]

First, let’s focus on the learner herself. In addition to developing her mind, priming her brain for further learning, and increasing her chances of higher education, educating a girl has a tremendous positive impact on her self-confidence. In so many societies around the world – particularly in those societies we aim to target in India and sub-Saharan Africa – so many girls are expected to mould themselves into traditional gender stereotypes in service of men. Males are often given priority over females in access to nutrition, studies and other opportunities – perpetuating what becomes a deep-rooted and hard-to-dislodge feeling of inferiority. But access to basic education with literacy and numeracy skills has been shown to give girls more agency, empowering them to resist gender discrimination, abuse and exploitation. [3] & [4]

Second, and as a near direct consequences of increased confidence and access to information, we see a direct inverse correlation between percentage of females enrolled in schools and HIV prevalence. While girls comprise over 75% of HIV and AIDS cases in African youth, the Global Campaign for Education has also shown that a girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV. [5]

Third, girls education has been shown to decrease child and maternal mortality rates. Since girls tend to spend a larger proportion of their income on family than the male counterparts, educating girls leads to increased vaccination and medical care for their children, for themselves and for their family. [6] UNESCO demonstrated that a child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5 (every extra year of education beyond literacy reduces the probability of infant mortality by another 5% to 10%). [7] On the maternal side, every additional year of schooling for one thousand women will prevent two maternal deaths. [8] This is partly due to better nutrition, which improves alongside girls education. Astonishingly, practically half of the decrease in child malnutrition between 1970 and 1995 was attributed to girls education. [9]

Finally, the economic impact itself seems to be more significant for educated girls than educated boys. We highlighted before that each additional year of primary and secondary education boosts eventual wage rate by 5 to 25 percent. Perhaps not surprisingly, the return is generally higher for girls than for boys. [10] Partly as a consequence, every 1 percent increase of women with secondary education boosts a country’s annual per capita income growth rate by about 0.3 percent. [11] That may not sound like much but make the math: in the case of India, for example, a 1% increase of girls in secondary school would mean a GSP increase of $5.5 billion.

Combine all of those consequences, and girls’ education may be the single most effective strategy to ensure the long-term success of developing countries.

“We know that if you get girls into schools and keep them there, you can change the course of a nation.” 
– Her Majesty Queen Rania

[1] Educating Girls Matters, http://www.educatinggirlsmatters.org/challenge.html
[2] Lawrence H. Summers, “Investing In All People: Educating Women in Developing Countries,” EDI Seminar Paper, No 45, http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED380360
[3] UNESCO & World Food Program, Defeating Hunger and Ignorance: Food Aid for the Education of Girls and Women, http://collections.infocollections.org/ukedu/en/d/Jh1748e/6.html
[4] US Department of State, “Educating Women and Girls,” E-Journal USA, volume 15, no 12, June 2011, http://photos.state.gov/libraries/korea/397355/072011/EducatingWomenandGirls_Vol15_No12.pdf
[5] CNN, “By the Numbers: Benefits of Educating Girls,” http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/11/world/gallery/girls-education/index.html
[6] UNESCO & WFP, Defeating Hunger and Ignorance
[7] CNN, “By the Numbers”
[8] Summers, “Investing In All People”
[9] UNESCO & WFP, Defeating Hunger and Ignorance
[10] US Department of State, “Educating Women and Girls”
[11] CNN, “By the Numbers”

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