Matching educational parity and development : a set of stages

There is an extraordinarily strong link between women succeeding in education and where countries are on global measures of development.  This is pretty well recognised by those who work in or with poorer countries (of which I’m not one).   Whether you choose primary or secondary enrolments, tertiary graduation or adult literacy rates, there is a very close correlation between how well women do and the country’s economic and social trajectory. Within the world of development education the priority is well recognised in the way aid money is allocated: in 2009-10, on average 60% of all the OECD countries’ aid to education in poorer countries (excluding US) was directed specifically to achieving greater gender equality in education.

I’m no development expert, but I’ve been looking at some global trends in education and putting them alongside the  relationship which the PP draws attention to, of a disconnect between qualification, skill and competence on one side and rewards from work on the other.    This suggests to me a very broad outline of a four-stage development process which has been and is playing out across the world over the past century. As with any stage theory it would be absolutely fatal to interpret this as a universal or pre-determined sequence through which every country passes.    But I am rather tentatively proposing that by using this schema  we can add a new dimension to the longstanding policy emphasis in global development circles on the education of girls.  Adding in the PP as a fourth stage is a warning that whilst achieving gender parity in education is a powerful motor for change and development, it only gets us part of the way.


Stage 1      The struggle for gender parity in schooling.

Everywhere girls have started from a long way behind.  In some countries, mainly Sub-Saharan Africa, they still are.   A major initial milestone is for girls to reach some approximation of parity with boys in primary and then secondary schooling.  Older women have particularly low levels of literacy and qualification.

In poorer countries many children never make it to school, always more girls than boys.  But the totals dropped from 107 million in 1999 to about 60 million in 2010, and the proportion of girls in this excluded group from 58% to 52%.  Over half are in sub-Saharan Africa, and about a quarter in South Asia.

The World Bank calculates a Gender Parity Index (GPI), by dividing female by male values (for enrolments, or completion rates etc):  1.0 is perfect parity.  Most regions of the world are close to gender parity in primary education, the exceptions being sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Middle East/ Northern Africa (MNA).   In SSA 74% of boys complete primary compared with 67% of girls; the gap is 6% in MENA.  Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Chad have furthest to go as countries in achieving gender parity at primary level. 


Stage 2.      The emergence of GPIs over 1.0.

Girls achieve parity in school – and then move ahead.   The rates of adult literacy rise, faster for women than men.  Coincidentally, perhaps, the country begins to be ready for economic take-off .

Globally, more countries  now have higher female secondary enrolment rates than have higher male enrolments, ie a GPI of over 1 (85 countries to 71).    Most of the former are in the richer countries.  Latin American and Caribbean countries (LAC) have had higher female than male enrolments in secondary school for some time.   In the decade 2000-2010 East Asia and Pacific (EPA) countries turned a male bias into a significant female one at this level, moving from a GPI of 0.96 to one of 1.06.  SSA has maintained its male bias, with a GPI of 0.8.  Low income is the strongest factor in explaining where male bias still occurs in secondary attainment.

Around 1990 there was a 13% difference in global adult literacy rates (82% male, 69% female).   A decade later this had shrunk to 9% – 89%  to 80%.  Regional variation is strong:  LAC and ECA have gender parity; MNA, and EAP moved above an adult literacy GPI of 0.8, with MNA making particularly rapid progress from 0.64 to 0.81 ; but SSA and SAS stayed quite low at 0.69 and 0.76 respectively.    Remember, these are measures of relative female/male literacy , not absolute measures of literacy.


Stage 3.        The gender crossover confirmed

A clear gap is established between women and men, running through the education system, from school into tertiary education.    Female rates of adult literacy drop to low levels, and few women have no qualifications.   Arguably this stage matches quite closely with the emergence of the country overall as a modern economic entity.

63% of all countries now have a tertiary GPI of over 1.0, and 37% below.    This looks very like a key dividing line in the overall global map of development.   LAC countries have been running tertiary GPIs of over 1.0 consistently for at least a decade, and the LAC region’s GPI is now around 1.20.  EAP has turned a male bias of 0.91 into a female on of 1.08.  By contrast, SAS and, especially SSA, have maintained a strong male bias, with the SSA  GPI actually declining over the decade to 0.64.


Stage 4.       The Paula Principle bites

The female-male competence gap becomes clear and pervasive at all levels .  But there is relatively slow progress in closing the gender pay gap or the gender careers gap.  Any such progress  does not match the way the reverse competence gap is opening up.  Underutilisation of female competence therefore assumes greater significance but not prominence.    Equity reemerges but in a different form from stage 1.

I haven’t been able yet to construct a PP index to match the World Bank’s GPI, but this is where many OECD countries currently stand.

And who knows, there may be a fifth stage:

Stage 5.       Post-Paula

The factors which underlie the PP are tackled, and the country moves towards full use of women’s competences – and fuller use of men’s as new worktime regimes emerge. Not to be thought of as an unrealisable utopia, but no country there yet.



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