Girls' Education Program

Whether or not a girl stays in school is one of the strongest predictors of whether she will stay healthy, make a decent income, be engaged in her community and raise educated and healthy children.

The world has made significant gains in primary school enrollment and even secondary school completion; yet in most low-income countries girls’ progress in these areas still lags behind that of boys.

 

Room to Read Girls' Education Program Results as of Dec 31, 2016

32,396

Girls Supported in 2016

32,396

Girls Supported in 2016

47,870

Girls Supported - All Years

47,870

Girls Supported - All Years

1,010

Program Graduates in 2016

1,010

Program Graduates in 2016

3,476

Program Graduates - All Years

3,476

Program Graduates - All Years

The barriers that girls face are multi-fold and complex. Our Girls’ Education Program addresses these challenges with a comprehensive approach, including:

  • A comprehensive and intensive life skills curriculum derived from the leading international research on the knowledge, skills and attitudes girls and young women need to unleash their own potential and take purposeful action towards personal and community goals.
  • One-on-one and group-based mentoring from a female role model from her own community.
  • Targeted material support such as provision of school fees, uniforms, supplies, or transportation for girls who would otherwise be unable to continue their education.
  • Engagement of families, schools, and communities to help drive sustainable change.

Our life skills curriculum represents the core of our Girls' Education Program. This program supports girls to develop critical skills they need, including critical thinking, decision making, communication, relationship building and self-confidence among others. Combined with support from Room to Read mentors and their families, these skills help girls meet their day-to-day challenges with confidence and perseverance, advocating for the decisions that are best for their futures.

Girls' Education Program Participants to Date
As of the end of 2016, Room to Read has supported 47,870 girls through the Girls' Education Program. You can explore the locations where we've supported girls in the map below.

Progression Through School

For each girl supported through the Girls’ Education Program (more than 30,000 in the 2016 school year alone, and nearly 48,000 cumulatively), we closely monitor her progress through secondary school - tracking her school and life skills session attendance and academic performance.

In 2016, the school dropout rate among girls supported by our program fell worldwide by a third, from 9% to 6%. Nearly every country program had decreased dropout rates.

We attribute this success in reduced dropout rates to a number of factors, including our Risk and Response System that quickly identifies girls at risk of dropping out based on a number of risk factors (poor school attendance, missing a life skills session, failing an exam, and parents missing a parent meeting) and responds with targeted interventions. In African countries, which completed early pilots of the Risk and Response System, the decline was particularly sharp.

Falling Dropout Rates
Dropout rates fell in all three regions where we work—especially in Africa.

The reduction in dropout also seems to reflect the fact that our program has grown stronger over the years by focusing on systemic change. While continuing to support girls’ individual needs, we have steadily expanded our focus to include greater engagement with schools and parents.

We believe this focus on systemic change results in a critical mass of young women who can support one another and who are in turn supported by committed, informed school officials and parents. Our sustained presence in several geographies over a number of years further helps to shift community attitudes and steadily strengthen local support for girls’ education.

Resilience in Rajasthan

Our program data lends support to this hypothesis. Girls who entered the program under this more focused cohort-based model are dropping out at lower rates than their predecessors from before these changes were implemented, particularly in the higher grades. In these final years of secondary school, girls face growing obstacles including high-stakes exams, increased risk of pregnancy and pressure to earn an income or get married, all of which can derail their educational careers. It may be that that the environmental shift facilitated by the increasingly systemic approach has helped to make girls more resilient to these challenges.

Of course, we recognize that keeping girls in school is not always enough. Our program also seeks to support girls in developing strong life skills such as self-confidence, creative problem solving, and perseverance, which will help them to succeed long after graduation. This goal presents a measurement challenge. How can we know whether girls’ life skills are really improving? Further, how can we know how much of that improvement is a result of our program?

These questions are not unique to Room to Read—as the importance of life skills is increasingly recognized, others in the sector have wrestled with the challenge of robust measurement in this area. In 2016, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation we launched a major research initiative to develop and pilot a range of approaches to life skills measurement across a variety of contexts. What we learn through this work will help not just Room to Read, but others in the global education community to advance their knowledge and improve programs.

Graduation and Beyond

Seeing girls from our program graduate from secondary school is one of the clearest markers of our success. Girls who complete secondary school earn more money for their families, raise healthier children, engage in fewer risky behaviors, and are less likely to fall victim to domestic violence, human trafficking and other crimes.

In 2016, for the first time, more than 1,000 girls supported by the program graduated from secondary school. In doing so, they joined our rapidly growing community of alumnae—now more than 3,400 girls across nine countries.

 

New and Cumulative Girls' Education Program Graduates
2016 was the first year in which more than 1,000 girls graduated from the program.

Beyond Tertiary Education

In keeping with our commitment to understand the long-term outcomes of our girls' education program, each year we follow up with the previous year’s graduates to understand their choices and pathways in the year following graduation. Overall, 70% of all girls surveyed were either enrolled in school or working. The majority of girls had enrolled in some form of tertiary education, with three-quarters enrolled in college or university programs and the remainder in vocational programs. Continued education through such programs can provide girls with opportunities to pursue their dreams in ways that might never have been possible otherwise.

Starting in 2017, we have expanded our alumnae survey to include both 1) girls who graduated more than one year ago, and 2) a greater range of questions on topics including work and income, family, community engagement, and autonomy in decision-making, as well as alumnae’s self-rated satisfaction in their lives. Sample questions include:

  • Work: Do you currently have a job? Did you choose to work in this occupation? Overall, how satisfied are you with your current job? Who decides how you spend the income from this work?
  • Family: Are you married? If so, how old were you when you married? Do you have any children? Who decided when and whom you would marry? Who decides how many children you will have and when?
  • Community: Are you a member of any community organizations, civic organizations, or clubs? What is your role in this organization?
  • Overall Satisfaction: How would you rate your level of satisfaction with your life? How successful do you feel you have been in achieving your goals? How important was Room to Read’s contribution in helping you achieve these goals?

We will report on these broader results in next year’s report.

A Mother’s Journey

The Girls’ Education Program is driven by a team of local mentors, women from the girls’ own communities who act as role models, advisors and advocates for girls in our program. These educated, strong women provide for girls’ emotional needs through group and individual mentoring. They teach life skills classes, an engaging curriculum of lessons designed to help girls from grades 6 – 12 to develop a set of critical life skills that will help them progress towards completion of secondary school, and acquire the skills and associated agency they need to strengthen their own voices and make informed choices about their lives.

Girls’ Education Program mentors are also responsible for outreach to girls’ parents. Keeping parents engaged in their daughters’ education is critical to ensure girls stay in school and are supported in their studies. In an analysis of multiple years of project data worldwide, we found that girls whose parents attended meetings were more than 20% less likely to drop out than girls whose parents did not attend. In a separate analysis in Nepal, girls whose parents attended every meeting were 90% less likely to drop out.

Given the importance of parent attendance, country teams have invested in various approaches to increase participation of parents in program activities. One particularly successful example is from Tanzania, where program teams started hosting their engagement meetings near the farms where girls’ parents worked to make attending easier.

Parent Engagement in Girls' Education | Tanzania

We invest in girls’ education for long-term, systemic change. That means sustaining our programs for years, if not decades, and scaling them to a country’s need. To these ends, we focus on girls’ transitions into and through secondary school — that’s where the biggest and most permanent gaps in gender equality in education take place. We also collaborate with government officials at the local, regional and national levels to promote girl-friendly learning environments. These partnerships ensure that our program is complementary of national efforts, sustainable and nationally scalable. One example of this is in Tanzania, where we’ve trained public-school teachers to co-facilitate our life skills sessions alongside program mentors. This partnership with government has provided valuable insights on how elements of our program could be integrated into national curricula over the long term.

Toward Systemic Change