Today, over 115 million children have never set foot inside a school. The fact is that for children living in developing countries, the dream of a first day of school is yet to be realized. The daily realities of poverty, political instability, regional conflict, geography, and cultural or traditional values all play a role to varying degrees—and the issue of gender disparity makes this fact even more staggering. Full and equal access to education, as outlined in the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (Article 26) and "The Convention on the Rights of the Child" (Articles 2, 3, 28, and 29), has clearly been out of the reach of poor children—and even more so in the case of girls. Nearly two-thirds of children who are denied a primary education are girls. In the least developed countries, nearly twice as many adult women than men are illiterate. (Source: UNFPA) If you happen to be a female, you are less likely to have access to a quality primary education and beyond—contributing to the feminization of global poverty.
Hundreds of nations have pledged to meet 8 major Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In doing so, nations hope to improve the social and economic development of all peoples. Included in these goals are those that address education and gender disparity:
- MDG 2: Achieve universal and primary education.
- MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.
Through the activities outlined in this lesson, students will become familiar with the current barriers standing in the way of educational opportunity—especially for girls. They will watch segments from the Wide Angle film "Time for School" (2003) to understand the sense of urgency surrounding this issue, the potential benefits that can result from educating girls, and the ways that local communities are trying to address these problems.
- Identify the circumstances that perpetuate gender disparity in educational opportunity in developing nations;
- Discuss the importance of full educational opportunities for females in developing nations;
- Examine the role of the United Nations and Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs) in promoting educational opportunity for females in developing nations;
- Evaluate the degree to which international efforts to promote gender equity in education have been successful.
Prep for Teachers
Before The Lesson: Additional Resources
If additional background information is needed, review the origins of the project and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The following organizations have extensive information and additional resources on the MDGs:
- The United Nations
- UNICEF Voice of the Youth
- UNICEF Progress for Children
- Amnesty International
- Human Rights Watch
- The World Bank Group
Part I: Introductory Activity
The following activities will help students to identify and discuss the impact of culture, values, and responsibilities on daily realities. Students will develop an understanding of the possibly gendered cultural values operating within their own families. This will provide students with a connection to the lives of the girls we will be focusing on within this lesson.
- Ask students to think about the chores in their homes for which they are responsible. Collect their answers in a brainstorm web chart on the board.
- Ask the students to review the web and consider the following: "Are there any chores here that may be assigned by gender within families?" Students can discuss the stereotypes and cultural values about gender, the division of labor, and their perceptions of the fairness of this division.
- Ask the students to consider the following situation: What if they had so many daily chores to complete that you could not attend school? Clarify that in this particular situation, these chores are very important and help to support their parents and siblings—maybe even extended family. As there is no free, public education system, their families cannot afford to send them to school due to school fees. Instead of going to school, the students would be required to work at or near their homes during the day. Ask the students to write a journal entry in response. Then, ask students to share their thoughts.
- Assign the students to work in pairs or small groups and ask them to research the reasons behind why some societies and cultures choose to keep girls out of school. Ask the students to answer the following questions: (1) How many children do not have access to primary education? How many of these are girls? (2) What do Articles 2 and 28 say about education? (3) Name one obstacle or barrier to girls' education (4) Identity Millennium Development goals 2 and 3.
- Lead a discussion on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, highlighting that education is considered to be a basic human right. Define the term "human right" for students. Tell them that the right to an education may be hindered by a number of factors, and it is important to understand these factors.
Part II: Neeraj from India
First, your class will be taking a look at the situation for girls in India. You may wish to do a brief introduction to India, including having the students identify India on a map.
- Recap the discussion on barriers to education for many girls around the world.
- Play the Neeraj video. After viewing, ask students about the specific barriers that stops Neeraj from attending school.
- Assign students to research how other girls in India are experiencing similar situations to Neeraj. Using the “Here’s My story” handout (see Student Handout section), have students explore these stories and complete the questions in pairs or small groups. Then, ask them to compare the story they found to Neeraj’s story for differences and similarities. Last, have your students present their answers.
- Then, play the Night School video. Ask the students to explain how night schools started and what the night school teacher says about how they benefit girls. Ask students if knowing these benefits could convince Neeraj's parents that she should be going to day school. Have the students write a persuasive essay to Neeraj’s parents on whether Neeraj should attend day school using information from the videos and their own research.
Part III: Nanavi from Benin
Your class will then be taking a look at the situation for girls in Benin. You may wish to do a brief introduction to Benin, including having the students identify it on a map.
- Play the Nanavi video. After viewing, ask students about the circumstances showing that Nanavi's life is changing. Ask them to identify what kind of support is making this possible for Nanavi and wherever they believe that the girls will be able to complete school.
- Play the School in Benin video. In small groups or pairs, have your students talk about the ways Nanavi will be able to help her family and village. Complete the discussion as a class, having the groups give their feedback to the two videos.
- Distribute the "Two Little Girls" student organizer (see Student Handout section) to the groups. Instruct students to write a dialogue that would take place between Neeraj (from India) and Nanavi (from Benin) if these two girls were to meet one day. Ask students to pretend they speak the same language, and to use details from what they have learned about this issue thus far.
Part IV: Culminating Activity
The culminating assignment will be to create a pamphlet that will be used to publicize the issue of girls' education for the school community. Each student is to consider whether or not meeting MDG 2 and MDG 3 will help to meet other Millennium Development Goals. Students should also include what changes they would make to solve this issue. This culminating activity will enable students to learn how to synthesize the knowledge they have gained. Make sure to present the purpose and requirements for a pamphlet to the class. Create a model for your students and provide other samples of different types of pamphlets for their review.
Invite staff and other guests to class for a teach-in session, where the students will present their work and will have photocopies of their pamphlets to distribute to all guests.
Language Arts: Write a play to entertain and—at the same time—educate others about these issues around gender equity in education. Choose an urban or rural setting and develop the characters. Get your message across about the need for universal education and gender equity.
Science: Research which Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) address the issues of health. Prepare a report for a science journal that explains what is being done around nutrition, HIV/AIDS education, reproductive health, or environmental protection.
Social Studies: Create a public relations campaign to inform parents and the community about the great need for girls' education around the world. You may design posters that are creative and convey the urgency of the issue. Make sure you create a slogan for your poster. You may also choose to develop a Public Service Announcement (PSA) and record it on video. Present your campaign to your local school community.
- Write letters to your local public officials to express your thoughts on school budget cuts. Explain how the need for quality education for all is so important. Provide evidence for how this ultimately benefits society and the protection of democratic values and citizenship.
- Organize a teach-in at your school to educate other grades about the Millennium Development Goals around universal education and gender equity.
- Contact UNICEF and invite a guest speaker to your class to talk about this issues.
- Find out what you can do in your local community to help others.
- Volunteer to mentor and/or tutor a student at your school. Educate her/him about the importance of school. Provide guidance and support.
- Start a club at your school that examines the issues of gender or racial discrimination and the need for human rights.