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The Economics of Investing in Girl-Child Education

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Globally, investments are, in simply terms, measured by the returns in dollars. For the investment to be considered successful, the returns must be significantly greater in value than the investment with turnover time, and other related factors, in the picture.

However when the investment is being made by a national government, the outlook changes. Other factors such as impact on Gross Domestic Product, Human Development Index, rate of employment, human capital, social economy, per capita income and more, are added as parameters. While financial returns remain necessary, how the investment decision affects the largest number of the citizens in a long term is paramount to most leaders.

At the moment, the world is sitting on a crisis. With 130 million girls out of school and most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, national governments are faced with a huge challenge, which also is a fantastic investment opportunity.

In sub-Saharan Africa, just 34% of girls complete lower secondary school, while 42% of boys do. Though both figures are not inspiring, aiming for parity provides national governments, especially Nigeria’s, a unique opportunity to get tremendous return on investment at a relatively lower cost.

A recent report on Girls’ Education in Nigeria by the United Kingdom’s British Council found that 54% of adolescent girls in the North East are out of school. In the North West, the figure is 53%, in the North Central, it is 21%, in the South South it is 9%, in the South West 6% and in the South-East, it is 4%.

Another study, “Girl Child Education: Rising to the Challenge” by academics; Grace Nmadu, Solomon Avidime, Olugbenga Oguntunde, Binta Abdulkarim and Mairo Mandara, published in the African Journal of Reproductive Health in 2010 revealed that northern Nigeria’s high gender inequity in education places the majority of young girls at a severe disadvantage.

The study examined enrollment, dropout, and primary school completion rates in three communities in Kaduna State. It found that less than half of young people (6-25 years) living in northern Nigeria are currently enrolled in school and the majority of students are males (60%). The analysis found that there are nearly twice as many boys graduating from primary school as girls, and the dropout rate for boys is just about half  (3%) of the dropout rate for girls (5.4%).

Profoundly the study revealed that only 20% of women in the North West and North East are literate. And it concluded that, “high level of out-of-school girls seen in this study has grave implications that are detrimental to the society as a whole and which can affect girls’ lives negatively in all ramifications.”

The inequality in access to education between boys and girls in Nigeria has wider implications. Uneducated girls are exposed to child marriage. They are forced to raise children while they are still children. These girls often get confined in a cycle of poverty with no skill and are completely unable to fulfill their potentials.

Assuming Nigeria succeeds in educating all boys; that would mean harnessing only about half the country’s potential for economic growth.  Educating every girls brings in the other half to the table and does more. Studies have shown the children – boys and girls – of an educated mother are not only more likely to survive the first five years of life, they are also more likely to turn out educated.

The returns on investing in girl-child education are huge. A report published by ONE, a global campaigning and advocacy organisation, titled, ‘Poverty is Sexist: Why Educating Every Girl is Good for Everyone’, draws attention to the crisis – and opportunity – around girls’ education and demonstrate why educating girls is a smart investment.

The report, published as a part of the #GirlsCount campaign, shows how educating a girl for a day costs less than a loaf of bread or a daily newspaper and that educating every girl to secondary level in sub-Saharan Africa could help save the lives of 1.2 million children.

It states that educating girls to the same level as boys could yield between $112 and $152 billion a year to developing countries.

It’s been found that every dollar invested in an additional year of schooling, particularly for girls, returns earnings and health benefits of $10 in low-income countries and an additional year of schooling for girls is estimated to result in an almost 12% increase in wages.

Not only is investing in girl-child education a smart move, failing to do so comes with great consequences. Studies have projected that by 2050, the GDP, per capita in low-income countries like Nigeria will be almost 70% lower than it would be if all children were learning at current rates. This means low-income countries alone will lose $1.8 trillion and 25% of their population could still be living in extreme poverty. It is also projected that by 2050, the number of lives lost each year because of a failure to provide adequate access to quality education will equal those lost today to HIV and AIDS and malaria; and that by 2030, almost 950 million women will have been married as children, up from just over 700 million today. Also failure to educate girls to the same standard as boys cost developing countries $92 billion a year.

According to ONE Campaign’s Nigeria Director Serah Makka, “It’s a global crisis that 130 million girls are not in school and Nigeria is contributing a lion’s share to this. It costs less than a loaf of bread to send a girl in one of the world’s poorest countries to school each day – a small investment that could save more than a million lives and add more than $100 billion dollars to the global economy every year. #GirlsCount is uniting people to make the scale of this crisis clear and to call on leaders to do more.”

Some of the most inspiring stories of development and economic advancement have been told of Singapore. But many do not know that a part of Singapore’s near miraculous rise could be rightly attributed to its achievement of near gender parity in education.

In the 2015 edition of the MasterCard Index of Women’s Advancement, Singapore earned 97.9 points in the ‘capability’ component, which compared the rates of male and female enrollment in secondary and tertiary institutions.

It is a no-brainer that Nigeria will fare better if all of its 180 million brains are deliberately educated and put to work. A country neglecting about half of its potentials, makes no economic sense.

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