'Girls vulnerable to dropout': Education advocate highlights the gendered impact of school closures

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"Protracted school closures exacerbate gender inequalities."(Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)
"Protracted school closures exacerbate gender inequalities."(Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)

Education initiative, the Zero Dropout Campaign, is highlighting research from past crises to raise awareness around the impact Covid-19 school closures may have on South Africa's girls.

"Protracted school closures exacerbate gender inequalities," Merle Mansfield, the campaign's programme director tells Parent24, adding that due to increased domestic responsibilities, teen pregnancy and exposure to sexual exploitation, "girls are particularly vulnerable to dropout".

"During the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, adolescent pregnancy increased by up to 65% in some communities, and in numerous cases, the burden of domestic responsibilities triggered dropout among girls in countries hard hit by the epidemic."  

Parents more likely to invest in boys than girls

According to Mansfield, data shows that "school closures exacerbate gender inequalities," and when under financial strain, already poverty-stricken parents are more likely to invest in boys than girls.

In the May 2020 report, the Covid-19 Pandemic: Shocks to Education and Policy Responses, researchers revealed that:

  • Following the 2008 global financial crisis, school dropout probability increased "by nearly 8 per cent, with effects reaching 13 per cent for girls" in Ethiopia.
  • In 2014, following the reopening of schools after the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, girls aged 12 to 17 were 16% "less likely to be in school."
  • In Venezuela, when "economic crisis erupted... the number of out-of-school children increased by 56 percent and the number of out-of-school girls by 60 percent between 2015 and 2017".

Better educational outcomes

"We know from local and international experience that girls face specific challenges pushing and pulling them away from school, so we need to implement strategies to support them," says Mansfield.

In addition to increasing awareness about available state-sponsored services, she suggests government tackle gender-specific vulnerabilities by: 

  • Making key support services available to girls;
  • Sensitising teachers to identify at-risk pupils who are then referred to the appropriate support service such as mentoring, counselling or tutoring;
  • Ensuring schools are easy access points for psychosocial support services;
  • Accelerated catch-up programmes for girls who were unable to access distance learning options;
  • Launch re-enrolment programmes with the buy-in of community members and school management teams;
  • Put measures in place to track absenteeism, behavioural changes and academic performance so that schools can monitor whether a pupil is at risk of dropping out; and
  • Get the buy-in of primary caregivers by helping them to understand their role in the child's learning journey. 

Mansfield stresses the role of a parent or caregiver as vital in supporting a child "through the day-to-day challenges that could lead to disengagement and school dropout".

"When a parent or caregiver shows interest in a child's academic journey, we're likely to see better educational outcomes."

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