On 20 November, Universal Children’s Day, the Society welcomed leading education campaigner Ann Cotton OBE as part of the latest 21st Century Challenges discussion event – Equalising Education.
As founder and president of the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), an international not-for-profit organisation that believes educating girls is key to tackling poverty and improving health, Ann provided valuable insight into the issues surrounding increasing participation in education.
Ann founded Camfed in 1993 after a trip to western Zimbabwe and the charity has enabled over 1 million girls across Africa to attend primary and secondary school, and improved the learning environment for over 3 million children.
During the discussion on where the opportunities and challenges to girls’ education and empowerment lie, Ann commented: “Poverty is at the root of girls’ exclusion from school in the communities where we work. Providing school equipment in ways that respect the child, training local teacher mentors, offering health services, and establishing and nurturing parent support groups are just some of the ways we help young people to flourish. Successfully supporting a girl means investing in all aspects of her life. Investing in girls’ education also pays enormous dividends and is crucial to addressing other challenges such as child mortality, food security and population growth.”
Ann was joined by Elaine Unterhalter, Professor of Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, London. Elaine’s research looks at gender inequalities and their bearing on education, along with interventions that can expand and improve girls’ access to, and engagement with, education after the UN Millennium Development Goals target date of 2015.
Elaine stressed that while globally the number of children out of school has decreased, there is still a long way to go particularly in Africa and Asia. Successful interventions that generate institutional and cultural change focus on the quality of education and the opportunities available afterwards, not just access. And addressing issues of everyday sexism and listening to the voices of the most marginalised are also vital. Elaine ended on the optimistic note that ‘access to a good education’ came top of the WorldWeWant survey across people of all countries, ages and socio-economic background.
The event was chaired by education and social affairs journalist Louise Tickle.
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