Girls' Education | Women Economic Empowerment | Economic Wellbeing | Development

Invest more in girls' education

When women are educated, societies become richer and more stable

- By Karan Poudel |

Are we really doing enough for our girls? | Karjanha Rural Municipality, Siraha | Photo by: Prabin Kumar Rawat
Are we really doing enough for our girls? | Karjanha Rural Municipality, Siraha | Photo by: Prabin Kumar Rawat

WITHOUT COMPREHENSIVE reforms, Nepal is unlikely to climb the economic ladder. The recent proposal of the United Nations General Assembly to graduate Nepal to a middle-income country from low-income rank—by 2026—shows that Nepal is making economic progress, albeit too slowly. Growth is expected to remain modest, averaging 4.2% (at market prices) in the current fiscal year (FY) 2021-22, up from 2.3% in FY 2020-21, according to Asian Development Outlook 2021 Update, an annual ADB publication.

For continued growth and improved economic development, the country needs to rethink its priorities and policies. Strategies must expedite the process, and have long-term economic benefits.

One of them is—increased investment in girls’ education. A study of eight emerging economies by Citigroup and Plan International found that if all girls were to finish secondary education, GDP would increase by around 10% on average within a decade. 

Educating girls means they are likely to become rich, independent and healthy. When girls learn to read and write, their likelihood of facing early marriage, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence decrease. With better education, they will be able to adopt better strategies to cope with diverse challenges, including hazards and economic shocks, which have most bearing on women. As a result, educated women can lead long and prosperous lives. Their children will also inherit those benefits.

Channeling resources into educating girls also means the country can elect more female politicians—who are more supportive of investment in health and education—and, bring positive impacts on the quality of governance, transparency and accountability.

In Nepal, an estimated 1,200 mothers still die during childbirth every year. This number would fall by two-thirds if all women completed primary education. In 2020, the infant mortality rate was 25.45 deaths per thousand live births. This would halve if all women completed secondary schools. Children born of educated mothers get good nutrition and are less likely to suffer from stunting.

Nepal has markedly reduced poverty compared to other neighboring countries. But the 2015 earthquakes severely impacted this achievement. According to simulations conducted by the World Bank, it pushed at least 700,000 to one million Nepalis into poverty. Educating girls can help to reduce poverty and lessen the effects of different crisis. This is obvious—higher education means higher income and better capabilities to cope.

Women with secondary education earn more than those who never go to school. Schooling gives them the upper hand in gaining financial independence, which means more bargaining power in their families. It will also erode the idea that male kinship groups are the building block of society.

A group of women returning back home after cutting fodder for their livestock | Karnali River, Chaukune Rural Municipality | Photo by: Prabin Kumar RawatEducated women give birth to fewer babies. This way, their children get to spend more time in school and receive many advantages. Children of educated mothers are more likely to get inoculated for preventable diseases; they are more likely to get a good education and good-paying jobs. If people are earning more, the government can collect higher tax receipts, ratcheting up their revenues. 

Nepal is one such country where the working-age female population (11.53 million) outnumbers the working-age male (9.2 million), reports Nepal Labour Force Survey 2017-18. However, women participation in the labour market is considerably low. Only 26.3 percent of the female working age population is active in the market (either working or looking for work). Expanding access to education means girls have education and experience for jobs, which demands more skills, education, and technical expertise than ever before.

At present, Nepal is in a youth bulge period (the proportion of the young population in working age is greater than the proportion that is not). It typically lasts for a limited time frame, after which the course reverses—leading to an increase in the dependency ratio. The dependency ratio is projected to rise again in 2050. Increased investment in education will not only facilitate the current demographic dividend, but pave way for the second one too. When girls are educated and working, savings will rise which could be invested in human and physical capital.

Scale up the investment 

Nepal has made significant improvements in terms of both schools and trained teachers. This has led to increased enrollment of girls and inclusion in educational access. It has also introduced reforms, such as provision of scholarships targeting the poor, girls, and children belonging to marginalized communities.

However, the education sector still fails to deliver needed student learning and key foundational skills at the rate they should be. Because of this, the transition to higher education and education-to-employment is difficult. This can be improved through reforming what is being taught (quality of the curriculum), who is delivering them (capacity of teachers and schools) and how it is being delivered (pedagogical methods and use of technology).

Within schools, reforms are necessary in areas like meals, hygiene and sanitation, safety, commutes and pedagogy and school infrastructures. Outside schools, some of the underlying structural causes are poverty and gender discrimination; social protection measures, such as cash transfer to poor families, who otherwise cannot afford education for their children, can ease those social ills. Easy access to higher education, better jobs and leadership roles can inspire young girls and motivate parents to send their girls to schools.

All these require greater investment.

Between 2012 and 2020, spending on education has increased from NRs 63.9 billion to NRs 163.75 billion. A decreasing trend is observed between 2011 and 2018, though, in terms of the budget allocation for education. At present, the government spends around 11 percent of the budget on education—well below its own target of 15 percent—an international average of 15 percent and the 20 percent proposed by the Education for All initiative.

On top of that, over 80% of the education budget goes to paying salaries, leaving little money for reforms as use of technologies in classrooms and building well-equipped schools. 

It is obvious more funding is needed for educating girls—especially in rural areas—where challenges are even more magnified. Eradication of gender barriers and innovative teaching methods through use of technology can ensure inclusive access, participation and better learning outcomes. Making productive use of human capital is important for a stronger and more sustainable growth path in the future—and this is the way to do it.
 

Karan Poudel is a writer-analyst at the_farsight.

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