Back to school: Learning from the Girls’ Education Challenge and CARE’s education portfolio ahead of the UK FIET conference

by 04th Sep 2017
Girls in Somaliland supported by CARE's Girls' Education Challenge programme Girls in Somaliland supported by CARE's Girls' Education Challenge programme

It’s nearly the end of the school holidays and like parents around the world I’m getting my daughter ready for a new school year. While I iron a pile of new shirts, polish school shoes and track down bits of PE kit, I’m also very conscious of how lucky I am to have a good quality free primary school just down the road. My daughter has a well-qualified and caring teacher, she is required by law to be there every day and encouraged to participate fully in classes. There are no school fees and textbooks are provided. She has a healthy meal at lunchtime. Her gender is not a barrier to staying in school or being fully active in class.

Many children around the world don’t complete school

There are 264m school age children not in education globally, including 61.5m primary school age children. Out of school children are much more likely to be from poor families. It is the many dimensions of poverty that prevent them from going to and staying at school. School fees, uniform costs, transport costs, the price of books. But also things we wouldn’t even consider in the UK: the need to support the family, with tasks at home or even at work. For girl children, inadequate toilet facilities at school can significantly reduce attendance rates as they get older. In some places girls are encouraged to marry very young, making continuing in education impossible.

Education reduces poverty – for individuals, their children and whole societies

And yet support to education can have a dramatic impact. A girl with primary education is much less likely to marry early, her income will be higher throughout her life, she is more likely to access healthcare for herself and her family – under 5 mortality is reduced when mothers are educated – and her children are in turn more likely to go to school. In sub-Saharan Africa for each year of primary education a child gets, it’s estimated that their income increases by 13%. Globally increasing primary education by two years would lift 60m people out of poverty. Universal primary and secondary education would more than halve world poverty.

CARE International focuses on hard-to-reach girls

Since our founding in 1945 CARE has supported education. CARE’s education approach is holistic – not just in the classroom, but looking at the wider reasons children can’t get to school, learn in school and stay in school. We strive to increase educational attainment, improve educational quality, further gender equality, and promote empowerment. We focus on the most marginalised groups and attend particularly to the disproportionate disadvantage that adolescent girls face.

We work with schools to ensure that facilities make it as easy as possible for girls to attend – clean and separate toilets for example. We support teachers both at a technical level, but also with gender-sensitive teaching skills to enable girl children to participate more actively in class. When a formal education isn’t possible – with stateless people, marginalised groups, or those that are behind on their schooling – we are able to provide alternative pathways to education that help adolescents develop basic skills, catch up, and ideally get back into mainstream schooling.

CARE’s model illustrates that girls’ educational gains can be sustained and yield even greater returns when combined with explicit efforts to challenge and reshape the socio-cultural forces that limit girls’ lives. Through our holistic model, adolescent girls are not only learning academic skills, but also about financial literacy, business management, self-confidence and reproductive health, equipping them to work and have healthy relationships.

What we achieved with DFID funds in Somalia

With thanks to our many donors in 2016 we supported 6.1m children get an education. We are particularly grateful to the support of UK Aid which through the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund has enabled us to deliver educational support to girls in Somalia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

In Somalia, between 2013- 2017 we were able to support 29,000 girls. Our goal was to increase access, retention and learning outcomes for marginalised girls, addressing underlying causes of girls’ exclusion from education. We worked in 150 primary schools and 20 secondary schools, mostly located in rural and remote areas of Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug.

In a major shift in practices, community members started tracking girls who are out of school and supporting them to enrol. In just the first three years of the project we increased girls’ enrolment by 30%.

We provided practical support to teachers that increased their capacity for sharing knowledge, but also doing so in a way which meant all children – despite traditional cultural restrictions – were able to fully participate in class.

GEC Somalia literacy outcomes table

Consequently, we saw a notable improvement in children’s grades. Out-of-school girls increased their reading scores from 7% to 60%. For children at school, there was consistent improvement in each grade as the project progressed, even in the final year when the severe drought made living conditions and attendance much harder. An independent review of our work stated:

“After 18 months of activities, the performance of girls in grades 4-5 in literacy tests has significantly increased (by 24%), compared to the performance of girls in the same grades at the baseline. The performance of girls in Grade 4 is now 8% higher than the performance of the girls in Grade 5 at the baseline. In practical terms, girls in Grade 4 are performing better than those one grade ahead of them… – they have effectively ‘jumped’ one school year in their learning.” (Demilew, A, Girma, M, Sulaiman, M, and Kim, L (2016) Mid-term evaluation of Somali Girls Education Promotion Programme (SOMGEP) in Somaliland, Puntland, and Central Somalia, Arlington, VA: Zerihun Associates LLC.)

We are very proud of these results and particularly the girls, their families and the teachers that we have worked with in Somalia. We are very happy that we have been able to secure funding to continue our work in there.

If you would like to know more about CARE’s work on education – in Somalia or globally – please do get in touch: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We are currently particularly interested in sourcing match funding to support existing projects in Somalia, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan.

Take a look at the training manual for Community Education Committees in Puntland focused on key issues in school improvement to ensure gender equity and equality in education:


Victoria Wickenden

I am Head of Programmes for CARE International UK, overseeing our development and humanitarian programming in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. I joined CARE in 2016 and am really enjoying scaling up our programming, particularly in the Middle East, on commercial contracts and on cash programming. Prior to CARE I worked at DFID and the Foreign Office for many years, covering a range of policy (trade, economic, business and entrepreneurship) and programming issues (in Africa and the Middle East) and did a stint in private office. Before that I was an ODI fellow in Tanzania. I have two degrees in economics and continue to take a particular interest in economic and entrepreneurship issues.


Twitter: @v_wickenden