The most pressing issue with Education

Feeling the pressure to do something during the summer I continue applying for internships and recently send in my application for one at the Education Policy Institute. After filling in my personal details I braced myself for another round of questions of the type "Give examples of where you demonstrated skill x" or "Show how you have effectively worked in teams before", but instead of standard questions that are frankly a pain to answer they came up with more specific scenarios. They did ask me where I saw myself in 5 years (President of the world, obviously) but one of the questions was "What do you think is the greatest challenge facing education today?". Intuitively I sighed at the thought of having to write another 400 words, but the question did get me thinking. What *is* the greatest challenge facing education today. From inequality in access to education around the world as well as a difference in the quality of education on a broad scale to the divide between private and public education in the UK, there are many to choose from.

Channeling my all time present feminist rage I decided to write about the gender differences in education. First, in many African countries, boys are still more likely to go to school than girls. The reasons for this are diverse, but the combination of poverty and persistent gender stereotypes provide us with a good starting point in trying to explain this gender gap. Girls might be expected to stay at home and help with chores (because who could be better at washing dishes than a woman???) or families can only afford to send one of their children to school, favoring the sons. Even when girls do attend schools the expected years of education and quality of education can be ridiculously low (check out this amazing visualized data thing I found on the UNESCO site to get a better picture of what's going on). Increasing the quality of education is a general concern that will require investments, but we need to take on a gendered perspective to ensure girls can benefit from this, too. Incentive schemes such as this one award cash payments to families whenever their daughter reaches a milestone in education. These types of programs should be coupled with increased awareness of the value of girls education. On an individual level education can change lives, it can open up opportunities for girls to pursue their own career, become independent and realize their own potential. The effects education has on a person's life are long-lasting and can influence not just the type of work they do but how engaged they are with politics for example. Furthermore, an increase in women's education is correlated with the development of a country. Crucially, whether education causes development is unclear, but intuitively investing in the brainpower of half of the population and giving them an opportunity to develop and apply their skills seems like a good recipe for development (at least to me). 

While it's easy to point to places where women's education still looks bleak, gender stereotypes and inequality persist in the developed world, too. On the surface, education seems to be equal between the genders, but there is a difference in the socialization between boys and girls that shapes their expectations of a future career and education plays a role in this, too. The gender wage gap persists in many countries, and we still have a particular gender in mind when we think of doctors, CEOs or managers (as opposed to flight attendants, nurses, and caregivers). As I have previously pointed out this is an issue for economics, too. So what does education have to do with this? Think of the textbooks and examples of jobs you've seen when you are a kid. How many of the doctors were female, what types of jobs did women and men have in the examples? More directly how were you advised in your career plans? Were you suggested/ encouraged to take part in science fairs and math modules or philosophy and writing? These links seem less direct or evident than hard data but what we communicate to young girls (explicitly or inexplicitly) on what type of career they can or should pursue can have a lasting impact, and education should play a role in equalizing the expectations kids have for their career. This can be done through direct encouragement of girls to get engaged in fields that have been historically male-dominated but most importantly, we need to reject the notion that education is "gender-blind" and instead take a gendered perspective on how we educate boys and girls differently. 

Education is one of the most important factors in any person's life and it's crucial that we fully recognize gender inequality in education. 
Thanks, @Education Policy Institute for giving me an opening to rant about gender, I will now return to answering more questions about situations where I have demonstrated time management/ organization/ responsibility/ determination/ focus...

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