Research Kevin Gee

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 learning outcomes.

“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 research.

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” learning environment.

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).

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