Mihret is from a semi-rural area of Ethiopia where she passed her 10th and 12th grade national exams successfully. She is now studying at Adama University, pursuing her dream to be a doctor. In her own words: “In 7 years’ time, I will be a doctor and work in a hospital and save lives. I also plan to go abroad for a graduate degree and visit my country to help orphan children.” Mihret is one of a 100 girls in Ethiopia that IIE is helping stay on a pathway to success through the Higher Education Readiness (HER) program. HER is just one example of the Institute’s targeted approach to increasing female access to education and developing leadership skills. Last year alone, IIE-managed programs directly impacted the lives of 20,000 women and girls all over the world.
And while our work impacts women every single day, today is International Women’s Day and a time to pause and reflect on what we have learned about the impacts of education programs for females who make up almost half the human population yet remain one of the most marginalized groups globally.
Why are we focusing on girls when many of our other programs target postsecondary education? Because awareness and change needs to happen early, and because the transition from high school to postsecondary education is where the breakdown often occurs for many young women, particularly for those in societies where the value of educating females is still being questioned. While it is true that over the past four decades women’s enrollment in higher education globally has grown almost twice as fast as that of males, women’s participation at higher levels of learning declines and falls behind that of men. Which means that even when girls have successfully enrolled in a college, persistence and completion is not a given and many support systems need to be put in place to help them stay the course.
Despite overall progress at the global level, persistent gaps and challenges remain in many developing countries. As you read this, there are still 62 million girls out of school globally. Of these, 1.5 million girls are out of school in Ethiopia alone, and women account for only about 29% of Ethiopia’s university student population. Which is why we need programs like HER in Ethiopia, and theVerizon Innovative Learning Program (VILP) in India and the Philippines which has helped 800 girls from 25 public schools pursue their education. Both these programs also leverage the role of female mentors, recognizing that girls’ education can be successful only when other key players are involved—VILP has provided training to 50 science and mathematics teachers and connected students with female mentors at Verizon who encourage and inspire them to pursue their dreams.
The second reason for focusing on girls and women is the sheer multiplier effect of such interventions. Educated young women are less likely to marry early and against their will; more likely to have healthy children; and are more likely to send their children to school, thus ensuring positive educational and social outcomes for future generations. Our soon-to-be-released findings from a quasi-experimental evaluation of the HER program will demonstrate the significant impact that the program has had not just on the girls who benefited directly from it, but on their parents, their teachers, their communities and—most importantly—on the next generation of girls that now looks to these 100 young women as role models.
The ripple effects of programs that target females are evident at all levels of education. In another evaluation that IIE’s Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact carried out of the Schlumberger Foundation’s Faculty for the Future program, which focuses on early career female faculty from developing countries, we found that over the course of a year, 75 percent of the Fellows that were employed taught 331 classes and over 16,000 students—a third of these students were female. The Fellows also mentored 654 students, close to half of whom were women. And over a third of the alumni mentored more than 200 junior faculty, of whom 53 percent were women.
But for us to be able to observe and understand these sorts of multiple impacts, we also need the right measurements in place. IIE has been carrying out in-depth evaluations of programs that focus on girls and women, and along the way we have learned just as much about HOW to assess such programs while also understanding WHAT the impacts are. Here are some key lessons that we have learned:
- Understand the local context and deep-rooted issues that impact girls’ education in the first place. Girls’ and women’s educational needs are unique and so are the barriers to an adequate education. Understanding these issues is important not only from a programmatic perspective, but also from the view of designing a culturally sensitive and nuanced evaluation.
- Stay flexible and be willing to adapt. While rigor is important, ground realities are the litmus test of a well-designed evaluation. A truly effective evaluation needs to evolve with the program, thus providing critical feedback that is useful.
- Encourage programs to stay in touch with their grantees and provide opportunities for alumni to create their own networks. Building an alumni group from the onset is essential for a successful evaluation, particularly one that examines impact over time. Even for the 100 HER girls, the full impacts of the program will not be manifested today or even tomorrow, but will in fact be observed several years down the line when these women will be key change agents for their communities and societies.
- And last but not the least, our evaluations of programs that target gender and education have taught us that an exclusive focus on immediate academic outcomes misses the big picture, and obscures the significant impacts such programs have on girls’ sense of self, their feelings of independence and empowerment, and their emerging leadership skills—outcomes that lead to lasting impacts, setting girls on a pathway to future success.