Women bear brunt of in­ad­e­quate school­ing

The Star Early Edition - - INTERNATIONAL - Jackie Car­roll

FUNC­TIONAL il­lit­er­acy rates among South Africans over 20 are on the de­cline. This means that more adult men and women can read and write to­day than 15 years ago. But, this doesn’t point to ei­ther a sat­is­fac­tory ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem or an eq­ui­table em­ploy­ment en­vi­ron­ment, and nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than among women.

Be­tween 2002 and last year, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics SA’s most re­cent gen­eral house­hold sur­vey, the per­cent­age of men over the age of 20 who had ei­ther re­ceived no school­ing or who had not com­pleted Grade 7 dropped from 25.8% to 13.3%.

Among women, the fig­ure de­creased from 28.6% to 15.9%. The pos­i­tive trends, how­ever, don’t nec­es­sar­ily equate to a more ed­u­cated and ca­pa­ble work­force. A Grade 7 lit­er­acy level qual­i­fies some­one for me­nial labour at best, and gaps re­main be­tween the lit­er­ate and the em­ploy­able, and be­tween the em­ploy­able and the pro­fes­sion­ally suc­cess­ful.

Bridg­ing the gaps are or­gan­i­sa­tions that spe­cialise in adult ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing (AET), or­gan­i­sa­tions that have seen shifts over the past 15 to 20 years. Where the pro­file of the av­er­age learner in the wake of apartheid was an il­lit­er­ate man in his for­ties, to­day’s learn­ers typ­i­cally hold a high school qual­i­fi­ca­tion and are younger.

The num­ber of women en­rolled has also in­creased. While this might seem en­cour­ag­ing – it in­di­cates that more young peo­ple are rais­ing their lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion – it also points to the ways in which the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem con­tin­ues to fail them. Il­lit­er­acy might be on the de­cline, but as long as AET is nec­es­sary, pri­mary and se­condary ed­u­ca­tion re­mains in­ad­e­quate.

Women con­tinue to bear the brunt of th­ese in­ad­e­qua­cies. More women than men are likely to be func­tion­ally il­lit­er­ate across all age groups, and un­e­d­u­cated, un­der­priv­i­leged women are of­ten vul­ner­a­ble, and at the risk of un­wanted preg­nan­cies, HIV and other sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases. Th­ese fac­tors re­move them pre­ma­turely from the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and limit their pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence.

Im­proved lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion among women have been linked to the al­le­vi­a­tion of eco­nomic, so­cial and health is­sues. Ed­u­ca­tion en­ables women to par­tic­i­pate mean­ing­fully in the for­mal econ­omy, so reducing their depen­dence on oth­ers – their part­ners es­pe­cially – and im­prov­ing their sense of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

UN Women re­ports that in­creas­ing women and girls’ ed­u­ca­tion con­trib­utes to higher eco­nomic growth, and in­ter­na­tional ev­i­dence shows that if women con­trol a por­tion of the house­hold in­come, spend­ing changes in ways that ben­e­fit chil­dren. Ex­ten­sive re­search over sev­eral decades and across 219 coun­tries also in­di­cates that for ev­ery ad­di­tional year of ed­u­ca­tion girls and women of re­pro­duc­tive age re­ceive, child mor­tal­ity de­creases by 9.5%.

The gov­ern­ment has a sig­nif­i­cant role to play. Th­ese ef­forts in­volve putting mea­sures in place that aim to keep girls in school and push­ing a cur­ricu­lum that pro­motes equal rights and a cul­ture of re­spect. Em­pha­sis­ing the ed­u­ca­tion of women is about ed­u­cat­ing boys and men as much as girls and women, and break­ing cul­tural pre­con­cep­tions that keep women in­suf­fi­ciently ed­u­cated and oc­cu­pied in un­paid or in­for­mal work.

Th­ese ef­forts go hand in hand with mak­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to women that are com­pa­ra­ble to those avail­able to men.

Any so­lu­tion has to be mul­ti­pronged. It’s about com­bat­ing pa­tri­archy, poverty and un­em­ploy­ment that leaves women dis­ad­van­taged and vul­ner­a­ble. It’s about women band­ing to­gether to pro­mote chain re­ac­tions of sup­port and em­pow­er­ment.

It’s about co-or­di­nat­ing ef­forts, among women and be­tween men and women, that em­pha­sise the mul­ti­ple so­cial and eco­nomic ben­e­fits of ed­u­cat­ing women.

With­out per­sis­tent and co-or­di­nated work, th­ese self-per­pet­u­at­ing cy­cles are un­likely to be bro­ken. Co-founder of Me­dia Works, a lead­ing provider of adult ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing for more than 21 years.


LIM­I­TA­TIONS: Im­proved lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion among women have been linked to the al­le­vi­a­tion of nu­mer­ous eco­nomic, so­cial and health is­sues, says the writer.

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