Dr. Rebecca Winthrop discussed what works in girl’s education and its importance on a local and global scale on April 5, 2016. Dr. Ken Bedell moderated the talk.

Rebecca Winthrop discussed her latest book release entitled What Works in Girls Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment, which compiles over forty years of research on girl’s education and argues that the improvement and investment therein has a wide-reaching impact upon the world ranging from the economy, public health, reducing child marriage, and the empowerment of women.

Investing in girl’s education…

Promotes economic growth and productivity:

  • The economies of the world benefit from women being included within the labor market.
  • The more education women receive, the more likely they are to have higher wages/income, provide for their families, and promote their own financial independence.

Saves lives:

  • Correlated with a decrease in infant and maternal mortality; health journals show half a decrease in infant mortality since 1970 has been due to an increase in the education of mothers.

Leads to healthier and smaller families:

  • As young women attain increasing levels of education, they have much fewer children (sometimes even half as much)

Contributes to the mitigation of climate change:

  • Reducing the exponential growth in population through the education of women, thus mitigating the human impact on the environment

Results in healthier and better-educated children:

  • Higher rates of education for women, more vaccinated children tend to be, more likely they are to attend schooling

Decreases the likelihood of child marriage:

  • In countries where girls have little education, they are six times more likely to marry as children in comparison to girls who have completed secondary education

Leads to women’s empowerment:

  • Strongly associated with a reduction in domestic violence (more likely to exit abusive relationships or not enter them, to begin with), greater opportunities for leadership opportunities- participation in community/local decision-making (local councils, allocation of resources)
  • Educated women are more likely to make contributions to political processes that are devoted towards social services, childcare, education, etc.

Reduces consequences stemming from natural disasters:

  • Deaths from natural disasters would be reduced 60% by 2050 if 70% of all 20-39 aged women would complete secondary schooling

A lot of progress has been made in the past few decades, but there are still major concerns in several “gap” areas of girl’s education:

  1. Transition to and completion of secondary schooling
  • 62 million girls are not enrolled in school (sub-Saharan Africa, Southwest Asia in particular); only 8% of girls finish the last year of secondary school in Africa.
  1. Improving the quality of learning
  • Many girls who do attend school receive sub-par education resulting in a lack of basic competency in math and reading skills
  1. There exists a subset of countries where girl’s education is a particular concern (Known as girl’s education “hotspots”).
  • An estimated 80 countries around the world are considered hotspots in which education for women is severely limited and/or constrained.
  • Women in these countries are most affected by humanitarian crises due to natural disasters, civil war, religious/ethnic persecution
  • Ethno-religious minority communities are at the greatest disadvantage

What can be done?

  1. Get girls into school and keep them there
  2. Implementation of conditional cash transfers: initiatives originating in Latin America that involve paying parents to keep their children in school by requiring regular attendance, mandating minimum exam scores, the postponement of marriage, and so forth.
  3. Placing a greater emphasis on girl’s health, reducing time and distance to schools, and maintaining educational institutions during periods of emergency and social upheaval.
  4. Improving learning standards by hiring teachers with better training/credentials or finding individuals from local areas who are familiar with the local vernacular language and culture.
  5. Developing strategies for helping children who are the furthest behind such as tutoring services for improving reading and literacy.
  6. Cultivating “soft skills”: problem-solving, interpersonal skills, and professional networking.


rebecca-winthrop-brookingsRebecca Winthrop is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. She is the former head of education for the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid NGO. Her research focuses on education in the developing world, with special attention to improving quality learning for the most marginalized children and youth, including girls and children affected by extreme violence.