The Promise of Education
Imagine the first day of school for an adolescent girl in rural, sub-Saharan Africa. Let’s call this girl Adah, and now, let’s imagine what the start of a new year of school is like for her. The excitement. The newness. The opportunity to return again for more education. To learn! For Adah, it is the most exciting time of her year.
What makes this year particularly special for Adah and her community is that it is the first year young girls are able to continue their education at the secondary school level. Things in her community are moving slowly, however, so while there is a state commitment for young girls to access secondary education, not all girls her age will be attending this next level of school. Right now, only a select group of girls with high enough grades were chosen this first year. Still, this is an exciting step forward. Transitioning from childhood to adolescence is never easy for any young girl, but Adah feels new confidence in herself and her capabilities. She is the first of the five girls in her family to go to secondary school.
Adah has two brothers and four sisters. While she is very close to her older sisters, their daily lives are very different. They have husbands and children. Life has never been easy, but now positive changes are emerging within their community and the impact is slowly starting to be felt.
“Girls with a primary education are twice as likely to marry or enter into union as those with a secondary or higher education. However, those with no education are three times more likely to marry or enter into union before age 18 as those with a secondary or higher education.”
Adah is very fortunate to have completed primary school. Because of her country’s improving commitment to early and lifelong learning for every adolescent regardless of their circumstances, soon there will be as many young girls as boys in both primary and secondary school in her community, so everyone will be able to read, write and count.
Better education allows more members of the community to utilize creative problem-solving skills and to responsibly exercise freedoms. As more girls join boys at the secondary level, their opportunities expand. Adah and other girls like her are provided with the chance to gain new skills and knowledge. As developments in education increase, the government will need to ensure that there are more opportunities for vocational education and training, and create work-directed learning to benefit girls and contribute to a growing economy. These investments clearly pay off, since girls who don't attend secondary school are three times as likely to become child brides and experience adolescent pregnancy, which compromises their health and safety, and limits their potential and opportunities.
“Growing female literacy correlates with healthier families and stronger economic growth.”
Many governments in Sub-Saharan Africa have started campaigns to teach and prepare young people for their sexual lives. By providing adequate, gender-sensitive and comprehensive sexuality education, they are empowering youth to make responsible and autonomous decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. In addition to secondary school, this will help Adah and girls like her to achieve their full potential.