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Scholars Say COVID Represents ‘Teachable Moment’ for Girls’ Education in Crisis

December 15, 2021 by Kate Michael
Scholars Say COVID Represents ‘Teachable Moment’ for Girls’ Education in Crisis
(Photo by Sean Kong via Unsplash)

WASHINGTON — With the pandemic just one crisis affecting girls’ education globally, the Brookings Institution gathered a group of young scholars from around the world for a symposium to consider new ways to protect and promote the rights of women, especially in times of crisis. 

While crises can’t be avoided, these inspired minds believe what comes out of emergency situations can be either moments of disruption or reinforcement, and COVID may be just the moment of disruption to effect some change. 

Among the scholars invited to Brookings were individuals working on projects that connected directly with young women on topics that matter most to them as they navigate crisis situations, whether this is losing a leading family member, political changes in their nation or a global health crisis. Some of the projects included digital mentoring ecosystems, economic empowerment through lesser traditional pathways — like agriculture — and developing women’s interest in entrepreneurship.

“Crisis itself as a concept is constant,” said Edem Dorothy Ossai, founder and executive director of MAYEIN, a teenage lifestyle and entrepreneurial mentoring initiative in Nigeria.

The loss of protective networks and the interaction of gender and economic factors renders girls’ education vulnerable in moments like emergencies, natural disasters, and pandemics. Cultural and societal norms and lack of knowledge also often keep girls from turning threats into opportunities when in crisis. 

“Gender plays a strong role in how we learn,” Ossai said. “During a crisis, [what is] relevant takes on a broader meaning than just formal [educational] subjects. Education in emergencies [should] not just be interested in making sure that young people can safely access qualitative learning that’s relevant to their needs, but also that those young people who face higher risk are able to gain psychosocial and physical support in these times.”

While females have clearly and persistently identified schooling as a pathway to the fulfillment of their dreams and aspirations, factors out of their control sometimes prevent them from taking advantage of educational opportunities. 

“This plays out even more strongly in times of crisis when typical schooling is disrupted and young children have to learn from home,” said Ossai.

For example, families in some cultures serve as an impediment for a variety of reasons, including setting time management priorities for female youth that focus on family tasks over education and distrusting the tools used for online learning.

“Schools are sites for enforcing existing societal biases so we were curious to see how moving to broadcast-based forms of school … would present to girls in forms of existing biases,” Ossai admitted. She said that, regrettably, online schooling seemed to reinforce these predispositions.

“Girls have said, ‘If the government wants us to learn from home, they have to tell our parents. Otherwise, our parents will continue disturbing us,’” Ossai recounted.

“[Girls also] need a program to equip them with technical knowledge and skills that … transform their mindset and increase self-efficacy,” Train Thi Ngoc Tran, co-founder and managing director of the ProPath Education Group and Vietnam country manager for Girl Rising, suggested. 

Other advice put forward included physical mentoring to help young women with skills, networks, and transformative gender norms, and increasing the number of female teachers and role models to assist in career decision making and emotional management. 

Overall, however, simply listening to girls’ needs and placing them at the center of the effort was the strongest suggestion. 

The scholars identified that having resilient systems in place to deal with crises would require a long-term system of planning for which some hoped to see a specific mandate to deal with education in emergencies including access, training and funding.

“If we envision societies in the future where girls’ potential is fully harnessed and tapped, we have to adopt a different way of dealing with crisis and education in general,” said Ossai. But for now, “COVID represents a teachable moment.”

Kate can be reached at kate@thewellnews.com

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