Girls’ education: facts and how to help

Updated May 02, 2019
9-minute read
A girl’s education is an investment in her future. It’s also an investment in the future of our world – a thriving, peaceful and sustainable world. Education is a powerful tool in developing the full potential of every child, but it also helps promote understanding, respect and friendship between nations, peoples and religious groups.
 
For all children, but especially for girls, education provide stability for today and opportunities for tomorrow. Learn more about the importance of female education and how you can help protect girls’ education rights.
 
  1. Is education a human right?
  2. How many girls don't go to school?
  3. What is keeping girls out of school?
  4. Why is it important to educate a girl?
  5. What is World Vision doing to help?
  6. What can I do to help keep girls in school?

1. Is education a human right?
No matter who you are or where you live, you have a fundamental human right to education. It’s protected in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Every young boy and girl is entitled to full and complete access to quality education. But many of the world’s poorest children continue to be denied this basic human right.

2. How many girls don't go to school?
According to UNESCO, there are an estimated 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 out of school. 15 million primary school-aged girls will likely never enter a classroom in their lifetime. Those from the poorest families are more likely to be out of school than their peers from more affluent communities.
 
Nine of the top 10 most difficult nations for girls to be educated are in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly three-quarters of girls in South Sudan do not attend primary school. In the Central African Republic, there is only one teacher for every 80 students. And in Niger, only 17 per cent of young women are literate.
Help educate girls
 

3. What is keeping girls out of school?
There are many obstacles standing in the way of girls’ education. Poverty exacerbates issues like famine and drought, health and sanitation, cultural norms and practices, among others – all which collide to form insurmountable barriers to girls’ education.

Girls collecting water.
These girls from Kilfifi, Kenya must walk more than 20 kilometers from their homes to collect water. The laborious task keeps them out of school.

Famine and drought
Food and water shortages are not a new phenomenon by any means, but they have become so severe in recent years that many developing countries have declared states of disaster. Women and children are responsible for water collection in 71 per cent of sub-Saharan households without drinking water. Girls are now spending more time walking longer distances to retrieve water for their families – water that is often contaminated or unsanitary. She might be too tired or hungry to concentrate in school, or too sick from water-borne diseases to attend class at all.

Health and sanitation
While lack of hygiene and sanitation affects all school-aged children, inadequate facilities are most detrimental to girls. Many schools have unsafe latrines or unsanitary water supplies, making it impossible for girls to remain in school when they begin to menstruate. The shortage of safe, separate and private sanitation and washing facilities is one of the leading factors preventing girls from attending school.
 
Cultural norms and practices
Girls are often prevented from attending school even when they’re eager to so. Many families and cultures tend to favour education for boys. Parents and community leaders may not see the value in educating a girl, believing it to be unnecessary for her primary roles in life as a wife and mother.
 
Even for those girls who do start school, cultural practices like child marriage can bring their education to an abrupt halt. Many are forced to drop out in order to focus on domestic responsibilities or to raise children of her own. The numbers show that girls who aren’t in school face a greater risk of becoming child brides: Girls who have no education are three times more likely to marry before 18 than girls who attended secondary school or higher.
 
Impoverished families often have no choice but to resort to child labour in order to survive. Many of these children are “invisible,” out of sight and out of the reach of the laws that protect them. Girls involved in family care or domestic work are perhaps the most invisible of all. There is evidence to suggest that girls make up the majority of child labourers around the world – spending long days in harsh working conditions rather than in a classroom, where she belongs.

Kids standing with their school bags.
 Even those who are fortunate enough to attend school face challenges with access. 11-year-old Sreyneang, second from right above, walks 4 kilometers to get to a classroom in Cambodia. "I always walk to school at 6 am. I am tired and my legs are tired too."

Distance and cost
Physical access to a classroom can itself a challenge. In many parts of the developing world, the nearest primary school to a particular community could be a 4 or 5 hour long walk away. Many parents worry about their children having to travel long distances on their own to get to school. Girls are particularly vulnerable, risking danger, violence and abuse just to get into a classroom.
 
Although primary education should be free, there are often associated costs that prove too heavy a burden for struggling families to bear. Be it textbooks, school fees, uniforms or transportation – when a family has more than one child to raise, girls often lose out to their brothers.

Crisis and conflict
War and violence often bring an abrupt end to education opportunities for all children, but girls are particularly vulnerable during times of social or political crises. Many families sustain insurmountable losses in natural disasters or epidemics, after which the need for education pales in comparison to simple survival. A quarter of all out-of-school children around the world live in crises-affected countries.

Girls sitting on steps at a camp for internally displaced people.
Angela, 15, and her friend Innes, 11, are adjusting to life in a camp for internally displaced people in the Central African Republic. They receive food rations from the United Nations and find shelter in empty dwellings. But the greatest adjustment has been to a life without classes. Before the conflict, Angela and Innes went to school together.

4. Why is it important to educate a girl?
Education, for any child, can open the doors to a brighter future that would otherwise be locked tight. But it isn’t just about the future – children who stay in school are better protected from exploitation in the present. When girls have access to education, they develop the knowledge, confidence and life skills necessary to navigate and adapt to an ever-changing world.

Breaking the cycle of poverty
The education of girls not only helps them achieve their individual potential, but also helps to break intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage. When a girl stays in school, she increases her income earning potential and her future is immediately brighter. Education empowers her to build a better life for herself, contributing to the health, safety and prosperity of her family and community. In fact, a one percentage point increase in female education rates raises the average GDP for her country by 0.3 percentage points.

Today, a young girl in South Sudan is 3 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to complete primary education.


Improved health
Studies have shown the positive impact that education of girls has on their overall health and wellbeing. Increasing a girl’s access to education decreases her risk of contracting HIV and improves future child and maternal health. A woman who receives formal education is more likely than an uneducated woman to use contraception, marry later, have fewer children, and be better informed on the nutritional needs of her children.

Girls sitting at a desk with a book.
8-year-old Faith attends Kolol Primary School in Soin, Kenya. She wants to be a businesswoman when she grows up.

Learning to lead
School is the place where children first learn to exercise their agency and make their voices heard. Without access to education, girls are denied the opportunity to learn the skills that enable them to take charge – not only in their own homes, careers and lives – but also in their community and their country. They can more effectively teach their own children, which will help lift an entire generation. When we educate girls, we give them the chance to step up and realize their fullest leadership potential.

5. What is World Vision doing to help?
Wherever we work, we work to champion the rights of girls. We partner with her family and her entire community – men, women, boys and girls – to help them understand a girl’s worth and why her rights must be protected. In particular, we help them understand the importance of supporting girls’ education rights.
 
We work to improve school facilities in developing countries around the world. By ensuring access to clean water and installing safe, private and separate latrines for girls near school buildings, we help keep children safe while they’re learning and encourage their continued attendance. By supplying furniture, textbooks, supplies and nutritious meals, children are better able to stay engaged and focused in the classroom.

Kids enjoying nutritious meals at school.
Children enjoy a nutritious meal at St. Joseph School in Kuajok, one of many World Vision Food for Education programs in Warrup State, South Sudan.

Our work with local and international education ministries ensures that teachers have the tools they need to improve their classroom environments. By creating locally relevant and age-appropriate learning materials, children can learn what they need to know in their native language. And by collaborating with other experienced organizations in the field, we’re able to reach more broadly to help implement successful education initiatives in the countries where we work.

6. What can I do to help keep girls in school?
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have a target to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030. We’ve made progress, but as many as 48 per cent of girls continue to remain out of school in some regions. As kids enter adolescence, higher numbers of girls drop out of secondary school from early pregnancy or the expectation that they should spend more of their time doing household work.
 
You can help keep girls in school by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice that many families face. When you sponsor a girl, you help provide basic necessities like nutritious food, clean water, access to education and health care. For families with girls, sponsorship helps ensure they are protected from child labour or early marriage – and that they stay in the classroom.
 
You can also help support education initiatives directly by helping to furnish a classroom, provide nutritious school meals or supply textbooks for children. Learn more about how you can support girls’ education by exploring the World Vision Gift Catalogue.