Are Girls Learning as Much as Boys in the Developing World?
For millions of children in the developing world, formal
schooling is often out of reach. Fortunately, many children, shut
out of the formal education system because of gender, ethnicity,
disability, or other obstacles such as annual flooding, do have
access to nonformal education programs.
But how well are girls served? Assistant Professor of Education
Kevin Gee wanted to know.
In a 2012 large-scale evaluation of one such program, SHIKHON in
Bangladesh, Gee found that all students performed on par with
their formally educated peers in Bangladesh. However, he did not
look specifically at how well the program served girls. In fact,
Gee notes that little is known about whether nonformal programs
provide equal access to girls or, more importantly, equal
“Despite the long-standing presence of nonformal schools across
the developing world dating back to the 1970’s, we have
relatively limited evidence about how girls do academically in
those settings,” said Gee. Because girls are disproportionately
shut out of formal schooling, this is an important area of
To answer the question in the context of the SHIKHON program, Gee
focused on the achievements of girls in a set of nationwide core
Grade 5 subject areas, including literacy, numeracy, science and
social science. He analyzed data on over 1,200 SHIKHON students
to ascertain the results for girls versus boys.
According to Gee, because nonformal schools are often located in
local villages, girls can more easily and safely make it to
school. Also, nonformal schools rely on local females to serve as
teachers, and there is ample evidence that having a female
teacher increases enrollment among girls. Finally, because
nonformal curriculum tends to be flexible, these programs are
more likely to develop and implement a more “girl-friendly”
Gee also found that even though boys did slightly better than
girls in Bangla (native language), math, and science, while girls
did better in English, the differences were not statistically
significant. “Girls attending SHIKHON schools, achieve, on
average, comparably to boys,” said Gee.
Though Gee calls for more such studies in other nonformal
programs to widen the understanding of access and outcomes for
girls, he notes that for Bangladesh, his findings are
particularly relevant given that girls in rural areas are offered
tuition-free secondary education if they meet both attendance and
achievement standards. “In this way, SHIKHON can function as a
gateway program, preparing young girls academically for secondary
school and beyond,” said Gee.
Gee will present “Achieving Gender Equality in Learning Outcomes:
Evidence from a Nonformal Education Program in Bangladesh” at the
annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association
on Sunday, April 6. (Read
more on the 2012 evaluation of SHIKHON).