As the movement to reduce global gender inequality is gaining speed with international agencies like the UN (it is one of eight Millennium Development Goals), it is becoming increasingly apparent that improving the global education system is key to lessening the gender gap. Dr. Shirley Miske, who has worked with USAID, UNICEF, and CARE-US in over 30 countries reforming educational systems, presented conclusions on USAID funded educational projects in Malawi, Africa. The power-point presentation and roundtable discussion examined both obstacles and successes in USAID education projects in the region since 1991, and emphasized the inter-connectedness between gender equality and the quality of a country’s educational system. Initial challenges in Malawi in 1991 included the extremely poor literacy rate of females (a mere 28%), and cultural norms which lead teachers to believe the males were superior to females, thus hindering female scholastic success. Cultural norms had substantial effects on safety for females in school, as girls were harassed, beaten, and in some cases impregnated by their male teachers. This treatment garnered little or no reaction among leaders to ensure female well-being. USAID’s subsequent educational projects in Malawi sought to reform both schools’ environments (addressing safety and social health concerns) as well as academic programs, which were showing little success at the time. The following is a list of USAID projects in Malawi since 1991:
-Girls’ Attainment in Basic Literacy and Education, 1991-1998: This project sought to increase female attendance and completion by funding school construction and new materials. It engaged the school-district community by educating them about gender equality and its positive effects.
-Quality Education through Supporting Teachers, 1998-2003: QUEST focused on school-level changes, mainly better teacher quality and infrastructure. It resulted in decreased drop-out rates and better student retention rates.
-Malawi Education Sector Assistance, 2003-2006: A key component of this program was HIV/AIDS education. Engaging community members in education proved successful, as did using locally available resources for learning.
-Malawi Teacher Training Activity, 2004-2008: MTTA made great strides by training over 6,000 primary teachers, building networks where teachers could conference about methods and techniques used in the classroom.
-Primary School Support Program, 2006-2008: A pilot program under a US Congressional mandate to reduce school fees in Malawi.
The round table discussion debated on ways these successful programs could be implemented on a wider geographical scale, as well as extend beyond primary education to encourage equality in the work force. The positive ripple-effect that women’s empowerment has on community health, infant mortality rate, and poverty reduction was discussed in depth, and the discussion concluded with the agreement that further dedication from international organizations and governments is necessary to keep gender equality in educational systems in the foreground of international policy.
Sponsor: U.S Agency for International Development
Representative Attending: Emma Gring