Women in Afghanistan: To Be Seen But Not Heard

By Catarina Santos

Visitors to Afghanistan today might see a visible sign of the nation’s progress toward gender equality – women walking to university.  While women were not allowed to attend university under the Taliban, today around 26,000 women participate in higher education. However, despite significant improvements in the past decade, critical challenges still impact Afghan women’s ability to fully participate in society. Lack of female empowerment is still a barrier to sustainable development in Afghan society, economy, and governance.

An upcoming opportunity to discuss further developments will be the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, which will be co-hosted by the Afghan government and the European Union in October. This conference will be a chance for the Afghan government to share their vision, establish plans for the future, and discuss how the international community can help. To achieve the goal of equal access for women, Afghan leadership will need to first understand the status quo of women in Afghanistan and consider two key hindrances to gender equality. First, female government officials are figureheads instead of agents of change. Second, there is an empowerment gap between those women sitting in governmental offices and the majority that is still constrained by traditional conservatism. After looking at these challenges, stakeholders must decide what opportunities lie ahead? What else can be done to advance women’s integration and recognition?

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Can Innovative Financing Bridge the Resources Gap for Girls’ Education?

By Aqlima Moradi

Last month world leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. In addition to serious debates about their achievability, one main concern has been around the issue of financing the SDGs. The goals come with a high price tag of $2-3 trillion annually, and, based on current estimates, almost all of the goals will face serious financing limitations. To achieve SDG 4 on education by 2030, for instance, the world needs an extra $39 billion annually.

While a funding shortfall for SDG 4 will present certain challenges to the goal of achieving “inclusive and equitable quality education…for all,” it will likely affect more vulnerable areas of education, including girls’ education, most harshly. Enrolling the global out-of-school population of girls in school; ensuring they continue through the secondary level; and enabling them to achieve literacy and numeracy are largely dependent on financial resources.

Educating girls often proves more expensive than educating their male counterparts.

Educating girls often proves more expensive than educating their male counterparts.

Economic and cultural impediments often make girls’ education expensive. While the economic incentive of forgoing school for labor harms both boys’ and girls’ education, some cultural expectations such as bride price harm girls’ education particularly. Furthermore, altering the socio-cultural norms that do not value girls’ education and in some instances even do not allow it, requires interventions beyond just building education infrastructure, facilitating curriculum development, and funding teachers’ payrolls. Continue reading

Should Developing Countries Send Their Best Students Abroad?

By Elizabeth Melampy

Iraq’s Higher Committee for Education Development (HCED), established in 2009, provides scholarships for promising students to study at foreign universities, mainly in the US. In 2015 alone, HCED has a budget of $125 million. This program is a long-term investment in improving Iraq’s public sector efficiency and stability; educating the brightest students abroad in the best universities, where they can benefit from new perspectives and better education, will pay off when the students return to Iraq’s public sector. Thus, ensuring that students return home and enter public service is key to the success of this investment. Convincing these students to return home, however, can prove challenging when employment prospects in Iraq seem limited.

There are many critiques of this type of program, especially in a fragile, post-conflict context like Iraq, where $125 million could certainly help fix more immediate domestic issues. For example, critics argue that the health sector in Iraq is in a dire need of money, and rerouting the HCED budget to the health sector could save lives. Why, then, is Iraq investing in this education program?

Road sign to  education and future

Many countries are investing in sending students abroad as a means of securing their national future.

Iraq is not alone in sending its best students to foreign universities.  Many developing countries have similar programs to educate students abroad with the expectation that they will return to work in the public sector. Countless world leaders have been educated in the U.S., and this trend of sending students abroad to developed countries to study is only growing. Continue reading

USAID Focusing on Workforce Development in Southeast Asia

By Elizabeth Melampy

A recent USAID study points out that 80 percent of employers in Southeast Asia want to hire more workers, but only 15 percent think education systems are adequately preparing the workforce for available jobs. This difference between employers’ needs and the workforce’s skills is known as a ‘skills gap,’ and workforce training programs are one of the best ways to minimize this gap. Donors and host country governments have leaned on STEM-AT (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, accounting, and tourism) training initiatives to meet these needs, to meet private sector demand, and to create more competitive economies.

In 2014, USAID established the ‘Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training’ (COMET) program to help meet these needs and help create a more competitive workforce in Southeast Asia. The five-year initiative works closely with the private sector to train students in 12 universities and 90 vocational centers across Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia in STEM-oriented programs to help secure employment in the region. USAID has organized workforce training in the past, but in the last five years has renewed efforts to build a workforce to meet the specific demands of the markets in developing regions.  In addition, the initiative builds on the Obama administration’s ‘Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative’ (YSEALI) and the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) to enable job-ready graduates with practical education.

Students at Saigon International University in Vietnam.

Students at Saigon International University in Vietnam.

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Global Development Forum: Workforce Development Preview

The International Labor Organization estimates that 73.4 million youth were unemployed in 2013, and that youth were three times more susceptible to unemployment than adults. As a result, the role of formal education and training of youth in its influence on the quality and development of the workforce demands urgent attention. Private sector investment, alignment of employment skills, as well as education programs that feed into social stability will play integral roles in creating a more employable youth population and a fortified workforce.

World Youth Day will be celebrated in Krakow, Poland this year.

World Youth Day will be celebrated in Krakow, Poland this year.

Why should the private sector invest?

In 2013, nearly 300 million young people were not in education, employment, or training (NEET). The private sector has a role to play in supporting employment-focused education, but investment in this space should be driven by self-interest—effective workforce development will result in higher profitability in the long run by increasing the overall capability, quality, and efficiency of the workforce. Keeping in mind the relative strengths of both the public and private sectors, there is a clear window to create shared value, allowing both business and communities to jointly prosper. Through increased public-private partnerships and supply of skills training programs, the private sector can offer input where the public sector is unable to through deeper social investment. By financing recruitment, promotion and training, the private sector can better link business and social interests. Moreover, it can make youth more employable by aiding with the management of Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) programs, lowering or removing barriers to entry for disadvantaged students, and alleviating other social obstacles faced by youth in need of further education. Continue reading