New GEM Report photo contest on non-state actors in education

Every year, the GEM Report holds an international photo contest to seek out new and original images to complement its innovative findings and analysis. Last year’s winner, Robert Lamu, addressed the exclusion often faced by learners with Albinism. Before that, Domyson Dulay Abuan won a contest around sustainable development in education with an image of recycling in schools in the Philippines. The best photos from each year’s competition feature in the annual UNESCO GEM Report and associated communications products. The winner will be awarded $500, and the runners up $200 each.  To take part in this year’s contest, make sure to submit your photos before April 30th.

The theme

Due out in December 2021, the next GEM Report will focus on non-state actors in education. While everyone wants to achieve the goal of providing quality education for all, who delivers it, who is engaged, and how they are engaged is a subject of much consternation. Generally, debates on the issue tend to be split between those who believe in the principle of full public delivery of education, and those who do not. The 2021/2 GEM Report aims to inform this debate with evidence-based examples, demonstrating that the matter is not “black and white”, but is one of degrees, and is highly dependent on context.

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Climate strikes by school children, which erupted in 2019, continue

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In the middle of the pandemic, the world’s youth has not lost its focus on the planet’s biggest challenge. School children in Germany are setting up a political party, Klimaliste, standing in local elections. The party has policies aimed at ensuring the Paris agreement climate pledges are not breached. It’s also born out of annoyance at support that the Green party is giving to the local car industry rather than to renewable energy. After years of environmental activism and little change, it seems children’s anger may be the most important and effective campaign for climate action.

As many of the communities most affected by climate change are in low- and middle-income countries, it is unsurprising that climate justice activism by children emerged there. In Latin America, Belizean Madison Pearl Edwards and Ecuadorian Nina Gualinga have stood against threats to biodiversity from climate change and fossil fuel industries since ages 9 and 8. Established in 2006, the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change links the issue with sustainable development, including poverty reduction, and allows youth activists across the continent to share ideas, strategies and lessons.

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Why the uptake of TVET courses is still low in Kenya

By Justus Omondi Olwande, a high school teacher in Kenya with a background in Education in Emergencies

Since the introduction of free primary education in Kenya in 2003, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of learners transiting to the secondary school level. Following the recent introduction of a 100% transition policy, making 12 years of education available to all, primary to secondary transition rates increased from 83% in 2018 to 95% in the first quarter of 2020, according to the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA). This is an important step towards achieving the fourth Sustainable Development Goal, SDG 4, and is in conformity with the Constitution of Kenya article 53(1)(b) guaranteeing every child the right to a free and compulsory basic education. But transition to post -secondary institutions or to artisan courses (for primary school leavers) still remain a big challenge. Why?


As of 2019, only about 17% of the candidates who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) qualified to pursue degree courses in post-secondary institutions. There have been deliberate efforts aimed at boosting technical and vocational training among the remaining, more than 80% of secondary school graduates who qualify for non-degree courses every year. A technical and vocational college has been established in every constituency. To add to this, the government gives a capitation grant of Ksh. 30,000 (US$273) every year for every learner admitted to a TVET institution. To make sure they complete their studies irrespective of their economic status, learners can apply for higher education loans if they are unable to raise the extra fees above the capitation limit.

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Gender bias can be seen in the way families spend their money on education

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The black box of who controls and who decides how a family’s monetary and other resources will be spent has long intrigued social scientists. Gender bias in such decisions can negatively affect spending on health and education. Such findings have influenced the design of policies all over the world in the past 20 years to ensure women are targeted as recipients of social assistance.

Education-related decisions have been a focus of attention. Studies have documented, for instance, variation by birth order: Older sisters often have to look after younger siblings. Continuing on our series of blogs posted since International Women’s Day, this post shows that there is ample evidence a child’s gender informs education spending decisions in certain contexts.

Image:  Scott Wallace / World Bank

Households decide (a) which children to send to school and (b) how much to spend on those enrolled. In the 1990s, for instance, households in most Indian states spent more money on education for boys aged 5 to 14 than for girls, as more boys were enrolled. Pakistan showed a similar bias concerning primary school-aged children for the same reason, while in secondary education, the bias resulted from both higher enrolment rates for boys and higher spending on boys once in school. By contrast, intra-household bias in Sri Lanka favoured girls across age groups, in line with higher completion rates for girls.

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Christophe: A COVID-19 learning hero for blind learners in Burkina Faso

Christophe Oulé from the Blind Association UN-ABPAM Burkina Faso trains a student in accessible technology on the computer.

Christophe Oulé became blind when he was 43. “It did not happen immediately,” he said. “It took six months. At first, I felt useless. When I first knew, I told myself, a person who is blind has no access to work, to school, no access to life… I wasn’t at all happy to be like this and to be dependent on my family. I wasn’t contributing to the family. It was so difficult for me.  

The biggest challenge when you’re a person with a visual disability is access to information and understanding what’s happening around you. My major difficulty was not being able to read books. You see, when you’re unemployed, not being able to divert yourself by reading is a great burden.

I really wanted to read. My wife had an uncle who is Director of UN-ABPAM (the National Union of Burkinabé Associations for the Promotion of the Blind and the Visually Impaired). So, we went there to see what they could do.

They helped me learn to read in Braille. I received training to become a trainer in computer science adapted to visual impairment in France.”

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Sign language in education is oft forgotten

About 34 million children worldwide have disabling hearing loss. Nearly 95% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, for whom sign language knowledge is crucial. Sign language introduces deaf children to basic expression and communication skills. Since most deaf children in low-resource settings start primary school with little or no language, the role of sign languages is essential for opening the pathway for progression in formal education, as it fosters access to the curriculum.

Image: Dana Smillie / World Bank

In 2018, however, just 41 countries worldwide recognize sign language as an official language, 21 of which are in the European Union. Moreover, there are hundreds of national sign languages, each with its morphology, phonology and syntax. For instance, Dutch Sign Language has seven dialects. The task is not straightforward.

Laws and policies count

There are several conventions and rules on the use of sign language in educating deaf children, including the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Article 16 of the legally binding 2018 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa.

Our review of laws and policies on inclusion, documented in the PEER country profiles, showed that a number of countries recognize sign language for instruction, including Ethiopia in its 2016 education law or Latvia, the Republic of Moldova and Slovenia. In the United States, 45 of the 50 states do.

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Countries are still falling short of developing textbooks free of gender stereotypes

By Nicole Bella, GEM Report and Matthias Eck, UNESCO

Textbooks are powerful factors in the construction of gender identities. They transmit knowledge and present social and gender norms, shaping the world vision of children and young people. In some contexts, textbooks are the first and sometimes the only books that a young person may read and can have a lasting impact on their perceptions. And yet they still often perpetuate discriminatory social norms and values. This must be challenged.

Under its strategic objective B.4, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a blueprint for women’s rights signed by 189 countries in 1995 called upon countries to develop curricula, textbooks and teaching aids free of gender-based stereotypes for all levels of education, including teacher training. Twenty-five years after the adoption of this objective, girls and women are still under-represented in textbooks or, when included, depicted in traditional roles in many countries, a truth found in in teaching and learnings materials from all corners of the globe as new analysis in the recently released 2020 GEM Gender Report shows.

Image: UNHCR/Roger Arnold

A review of 95 primary and secondary compulsory education textbooks in the Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, showed that women accounted for only 37% of images. There were no images of women in about 60% of textbooks for Farsi and foreign language, 63% for science and 74% for social science. In the United States, a study of introductory economics textbooks found that 18% of characters mentioned were female, mostly portrayed in relation to food, fashion or entertainment. A report on the way that women’s history was reflected in pre-primary, primary and secondary social studies found that 53% of mentions of women referred to domestic and family roles and 2% to entry into the workforce.

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New gender gaps are developing as a result of school closures

It is an entire year since lives have been disrupted worldwide due to COVID-19. School closures continue to impact more than 990 million students. UNESCO estimated that by the end of January, on average, schools had been closed or partially closed for 5.5 months (22 weeks). As children stay home to learn remotely, one thing is becoming clear: the brunt not only of domestic responsibilities but also of the additional home-schooling responsibilities has fallen on women rather than men. Gender equality is under threat.

Credit: © Aisha Faquir/World Bank

Today, marks International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate great progress in advancing women’s rights over the last century. However, new global data from UN Women suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic could roll back 25 years of gender equality. With schools and day-care centres closed, women are spending increasing amounts of time in unpaid work such as taking care of their children, helping them with their schoolwork, cooking, cleaning, and other household tasks. All while trying to hold down a job.

We are now starting to talk about a care crisis affecting women and a real risk of roles reverting back to 1950s gender stereotypes. Before the pandemic, women were doing three hours of unpaid work compared to one hour by men. The pandemic has dramatically increased the burden and cemented these gender divisions along the way. Women are now delivering at least six hours compared to one hour of unpaid work undertaken by men.

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Son preference and girls’ education in India and Bangladesh

By M Niaz Asadullah, Professor of Development Economics at the University of Malaya, Malaysia, Nazia Mansoor, lecturer, University of Paris, Dauphine (London), Teresa Randazzo, lecturer University of Venice Cà Foscari and Zaki Wahhaj, Reader in Economics, University of Kent, UK.

Gender inequality is a global issue. Worldwide, women are excluded from multiple social and economic opportunities. The latest GEM Gender Report focused on two specific gender imbalances in education: the gender gaps in schooling and learning. Globally, 31 million girls of primary school age are out of the education system and half of them may never enrol in school. Over 53 million young women in low and lower middle income countries are unable to read a single sentence.  This blog explores our analysis looking at the far-reaching implications of these imbalances in the case of India and Bangladesh, showing the association between women’s education and how many children they would like and of what gender.

Image: GEM Report/IKON Productions

Differing progress rates in closing gender gaps in education in India and Bangladesh

While there has been tremendous progress in South Asia in closing the gender gap in education, significant challenges remain. In India, where the parliament passed the landmark Right to Education Act in 2009, making education free and compulsory for children between the ages 6 and 14, gender parity in secondary school enrolment was achieved by 2013. at the expense of boys. Contrary to India’s recent achievement in secondary education, girls throughout Bangladesh have outnumbered boys in classrooms since the mid-1990s. 

Could these historic education disparities explain the large difference in excess female infant deaths between India and Bangladesh? 

In India, sex discrimination has led to millions of girls ‘missing’ from the population, primarily due to higher mortality among female infants and sex-selective abortion. India has the highest rate of excess female deaths in the world at 13.5 per 1,000 under-five female births. In stark contrast, this figure is less than 3 in neighbouring Bangladesh.

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#AllmeansALL a call to action from 40 million European youth to mark Zero Discrimination Day

To mark Zero Discrimination Day 2021, the GEM Report team, the European Students’ Union, the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions and the Global Students Forum came together yesterday, March 1, to host an interactive webinar on the findings and recommendations from the 2021 regional report on inclusion and education in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Image: ESU

As with the 2020 GEM Report and the 2020 regional report on inclusion and education in Latin America and the Caribbean, this new regional report highlights the need to recognise young people and communities as partners for change in the implementation of Agenda 2030. Young people’s involvement, engagement and development in strengthening the foundations of inclusive education systems is an end in itself, as well as a means for young people to actively influence and shape education reforms.

The discussion, which was supported by the GEM Report’s partners in this regional edition, the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education and the Network of Education Policy Centers, led to the following joint youth statement calling on governments and regional organizations to fulfil their commitments to ensure the right to education for all, highlighting the essential role of students and youth to act as a watchdog to monitor government commitments for the right to inclusive education.  The statement will form the backbone of the group’s joint advocacy initiatives and campaigns throughout 2021 and beyond.

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