International Day of the Girl is today and a reminder how an open education is critical to the empowerment of women worldwide. In the western world, we often take universal public education for granted. In many parts of the world, however, millions of girls do not attend school and are denied an education.
The recent story of schoolgirl Malala Yousafza from Pakistan, now living in Birmingham, UK, has become a lightening rod for the rights of women and girls worldwide to be educated. Yousafza's world was one of learning. She had dreams and was hungry for knowledge. However, the region of the world where she lived was volatile and subject to political unrest. Girls' schools and girls' education were victims of the Taliban. Yousafza became an outspoken advocate for girls to receive an education and she soon became a target. One day she was gunned down and nearly killed on her way to school by the Taliban.
While Yousafza's story highlights the importance of education for girls, it should also highlight the importance of the availability and accessibility to an open education for girls worldwide. Organizations, such as the UN and The Girl Effect, have argued that girls who get an education are one of the most powerful forces for change in the world. Worldwide, girls who are educated make significant contributions to their families in terms of income, health, and the upbringing of their future children. PBS Newshour has compiled resources for teaching girls' empowerment in the developing world, but perhaps the most significant outcomes for girls who gain an education are less tangible or subject to quantifiable measurements.
What would an open education allow a schoolgirl like Malala Yousafza to accomplish with her life? Math videos from Khan Academy might allow her to advance her mathematical skills in ways that might otherwise not be doable. She might also access various open books or other reading material that would otherwise remain inaccessible and unavailable to her. And the list of open educational opportunities go on and on.
While Pakistan Open Source has many ongoing projects and has been making some strides in education rights, there remains a severe educational crisis in Pakistan. The Pakistani government spends barely more than 2% on education; more than half of the schoolchildren between the ages of 6-16 cannot write or read. Yet this is same country where Benazir Bhutto was elected to be Pakistan's first female prime minister and had educational opportunities more openly available and accessible to her being the daughter of a prime minister and having wealth; as a result she was able to pursue higher education at Harvard University and at Oxford, which was fundamental to her participation in national and world politics.
When countries (and families such as Bhutto's) invest in education and, in particular the education of girls, the results are profound. Poverty is reduced. Infant mortality rates decrease. Health outcomes increase. The economy grows. And, as previously mentioned, there's also the outcomes that are less tangible or subject to quantifiable measurements: a girl's voice and concepts of self. Women gain greater representation and empowerment as a result.
Overall, women receive higher returns on their educational investment. Such an educational investment continues once a mother has a child. In many parts of the world, a mother's education is usually more significant than a father's in helping the educational attainment of her children. A girl who has learned how to read, write, and do arithmetic will more often pass on these skills to her children and help further reduce the cycle of poverty. A girl who knows how to do arithmetic can better handle cash transactions and a budget.
Universal education with open source is key in helping to reduce gender disparities in schooling. Even in the US, gender disparities continue. Despite the contributions women have made to the nation, women are often underrepresented in many fields or offices, for instance, or even invisible. Organizations, such as Equal Visibility Everywhere, are seeking to rectify the underrepresentation of women both in the physical world and in the virtual, such as with Google's doodle banners, which rarely feature women.
How can we help create open educational opportunities for girls both inside and outside a classroom?
- Find and encourage the use of open educational resources (OERs). Girls, for instance, could play educational scavenger hunts where they look to find those missing women who made significant contributions in terms of the arts, sciences, and so forth. Many libraries, museums, and archives have digitized or in the process of digitizing their collections. There are many instances where information about women, such in the field of architecture or engineering, may be more openly available and accessible online than in printed textbooks. But there's also plenty of books, videos, games, and other ways for girls to learn online with open source.
- Encourage the use of OERs as a way for girls to express themselves. There's plenty of ways to empower themselves with the nonverbal communication and the written or spoken word online.
- Find role models or mentors for girls. Many of the links in this article may help and provide some guidance. Malala Yousafza is a born leader and role model for girls worldwide.
- Find support groups and social networks who empower girls with education.
Most significantly, it is critical for all children, including toddlers and preschoolers, to learn about strong females who take a leadership role either from print, online and OERs, and/or storytelling.