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Boys vs girls debate: It's not a competition but an issue of equality in education


Westlands Primary School Class One pupils in Nairobi interact with learning tablets. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Today is International Day for Education. And what a timely day to discuss a pertinent gender issue.

There has been endless debate over the recent years over girls having become too empowered and boys being neglected.

Some have even argued that gender parity has been achieved and therefore there should be equal treatment of boys and girls in all spheres of life including education.

Society has unconsciously turned the conversation on women's and girl's empowerment into a competition between women and men, boys and girls, resultantly missing the point of the advocacy for equality and the principles therein.

The terms "boy-child" and "girl-child" are increasingly losing meaning and gaining negative traction especially for the former.

The just-released 2022 Kenya Certificate of Secondary School Education (KCSE) results by the Kenya National Examination Council last week, throw a spanner in the works.

The results show that overall, boys fared well compared to girls. Out of 437,772 girls who sat the exams, only 271 of them scored an A plain (0.062 per cent) while of the 443,644 boys who sat the exams, 875 scored the same grade (0.2 per cent).

On the other end, fewer girls scored lower grades, a fact that has seen some quarters taunt the girls as having outdone their male counterparts in the C, C minus and D minus grades.

It's even sadder to read statements such as "despite girls being the focus of empowerment, boys are still academic giants."

Pregnant candidates

It is unfortunate for any fraction of society to view the empowerment of girls as a form of competition with boys. Huge disparities in the academic performance between boys and girls are a clear indication that there is still a need for a lot more to be done in attaining equality in education and future opportunities for the society we desire.

While enrollment and retention may indicate that gender parity has been achieved, parity is yet to be achieved in academic performance, completion or transition to higher levels of education.

As an alternative to engaging in baseless arguments and debates, it is important to investigate why there is still such a great disparity despite having achieved great progress in enrollment of boys and girls in schools.

Undoubtedly girls are disproportionately affected by social values, and reproductive health issues which negatively impact academic performance.

A significant number of girls sat for their exams while pregnant, some already admitted to hospital ready for delivery. Are there options for these girls?

Is it real fair ground to sit for exams with other students? Solutions to address the disparities need to be holistic and address the gaps within the academic system in its entirety. Is this performance peculiar to this year's performance or is it the trend for the past many years? If it is peculiar, could covid 19 be the reason?

The Forum for African Women Education (FAWE) Africa, a pan-African organisation continues to actively champion equal and quality education for girls in schools throughout Africa. Enrollment, retention, academic performance, and transition to higher levels of education must be at equitable levels.

Strategic partnership with Ministries of Education and other stakeholders to ensure this equality is crucial. To ensure that education systems have a holistic approach to ensuring quality education for learners, FAWE authored the Gender Equality Strategy for the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 16-25 (GES4CESA) and continues to train teachers in Gender Responsive Pedagogy (GRP). These efforts work towards breaking the stereotype that boys are brighter than girls and advance the narrative that girls can perform equally well as boys in the same education systems.

As the world celebrates the International Day of Education today, it is imperative to reflect on the, how best to improve access to and ensure quality education. In the wake of the just released 2023 KCSE results, it is an opportunity to enhance resources to address nuances that affect girls' equal participation in schools. We must address social issues such as competing domestic responsibilities, reproductive health challenges, school-related gender-based violence and teenage pregnancies. We must also address issues such as teaching methodologies and pedagogy to ensure that they are gender responsive and encourage equal participation in class. Rather than pitting boys and girls against each other, identifying the cause of inequalities in academic performance will ensure that women and girls are able to maximise opportunities and boys and men enjoy a society where everyone contributes to the success of the society.

[The writer is Forum for African Women Education (FAWE) Africa Executive Director, [email protected]]

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