Cambridge University researchers: We need to prioritize education of marginalized girls

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This year marks the 5th birthday of the Research for Equitable Access to Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge, launched in partnership with CAMFED.

Speaking at the opening event in 2015, the Hon. Julia Gillard AC, 27th Prime Minister of Australia and Patron of CAMFED, said, “The REAL Centre will make a real difference to the world’s understanding of what best works to educate the most marginalized and most at-risk girls.” Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to roll back decades of progress, REAL Centre research into effective education interventions is more important than ever to inform collective, evidence-led action. 

One such paper, an in-depth cost-effectiveness analysis of CAMFED’s program in Tanzania, was published today in the Journal of Development Effectiveness. It suggests that education initiatives that focus on the particular needs of the most marginalized should become a priority for international aid, because research data shows that they benefit all children.

While it may cost more to reach the most marginalized pupils, the impact of those efforts is far more impressive than we tend to imagine. This research explains why system reforms should focus on those who need the most support. Education systems that function for the most marginalized children function for everyone.

Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the REAL Centre

‘Spill-over’ effect of prioritizing marginalized girls’ education

CAMFED provides a combination of financial, social and learning support to marginalized girls in rural Africa. Girls graduate into the Association of young women leaders educated with CAMFED support. As role models and mentors — many trained as “Learner Guides” to support the learning and wellbeing of the most marginalized children in their communities — these young women then use their lived experience of poverty and exclusion to ensure that no girl is left behind, and all students can learn and thrive.

Researchers, co-led by Professors Ricardo Sabates and Pauline Rose, have discovered that the ‘spillover effect’ of such a multi-dimensional approach reaches beyond target groups, pushing up learning outcomes in the wider school population.

Learner Guide Jamila (right) visits students at home

CAMFED Association Learner Guide Jamila, delivers a life skills session at the home of students during school closures in Tanzania.

Lucy Lake, Angeline Murimirwa, Pauline Rose and Ricardo Sabates during the online REAL Centre seminar

The REAL Centre seminar on responding to the impact of COVID-19 on girls’ education took place online on November 10th, 2020.

Last week, in the first in a series of seminars hosted by Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the REAL Centre, CAMFED Co-Executives Angeline Murimirwa and Lucy Lake highlighted the impact of CAMFED’s Learner Guides on their wider communities, as young women acted with urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CAMFED’s response to the crisis did not rely on deploying large numbers of staff, but on mobilizing local infrastructure — led by Learner Guides and other members of the CAMFED Association.

The young leaders stepped up to address urgent issues — including lack of access to digital learning and food insecurity — which could ultimately lead to school drop-out. They supported rural children and families with practical help — from translating and decoding health information to distributing study packs, food parcels, and hygiene products. Angeline highlighted that most of all, their home visits or phone communications were a beacon of hope to girls awaiting a return to the structures and safety of school.

Strikingly, for every $100 spent per girl, per year, the [CAMFED] programme resulted in learning gains equivalent to an additional two years of education for all girls and boys at those schools.

University of Cambridge Faculty of Education summarizing its research findings

During the seminar, Professor Sabates referenced the REAL Centre research published today — one of the first to measure the value of interventions aimed at marginalized children, which are shown to have wider benefits for all students. The analysis of CAMFED’s program in Tanzania showed that every $100 spent per marginalized girl resulted in learning gains equivalent to an additional two years of education for all girls and boys at her school. The findings showed that CAMFED’s interventions not only improve learning, but also support girls who might otherwise have dropped out of school, or never attended at all.

With COVID-19 threatening the return to school for millions more girls, CAMFED’s Co-Executives joined REAL Centre researchers in underscoring the importance of a responsive, community-owned approach to girls’ education, and targeted investment in education focused on those with the biggest barriers to access, because the data shows: when you get the foundations right, everyone benefits.

Read more in the Cambridge University news release

Read the REAL Centre study in the Journal of Development Effectiveness

Read about recognition of CAMFED’s approach with the 2020 Yidan Prize for Education Development

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