The 2010 edition of the Global Education Digest focuses on gender and education to mark the 15th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women. Shortly after this landmark conference in 1995, the international community pledged to eliminate gender disparities at all levels of education by 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As the official source of data to monitor advancement towards these goals, the UIS has released the Digest on the eve of the UN Millennium Summit (New York, 20-22 September) to present the latest available data to analyse national progress and pitfalls in offering every child and young person equal access to education regardless of their sex.
According to the Digest, boys and girls in only 85 countries will have equal access to primary and secondary education by 2015, if present trends continue. Seventy-two countries are not likely to reach the goal – among which, 63 are far from reaching parity at the secondary level.
“This new data tells us that we need to re-affirm our commitment to education and gender equality,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova. “The advances made in improving girls’ and women’s access to education and training over the past decades risk being undermined by reductions in international aid and national investments as the world struggles to cope with inter-locking crises. Yet, we all know that compromising the education of girls and women will only lead to more vulnerability and reinforce the vicious cycle of poverty.”
Globally, girls are more likely to never enter primary school than boys. In South and West Asia, only about 87 girls start primary school for every 100 boys, according to UIS data. The situation is not much better in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 93 girls begin their primary education for every 100 boys, according to the regional average.
Boys also have greater access than girls to secondary education in 38% of countries, while the opposite is true in 29% of countries. Yet as is the case at the primary level, once girls gain access to secondary education, they tend to complete their studies more often than boys.
Gender disparities are equally marked in tertiary education in all regions of the world. The only countries to achieve parity at this education level are Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Hong Kong SAR of China, Mexico, Swaziland and Switzerland. In countries, such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea and Niger – where the GDP per capita is below PPP$ 3,000 – there are fewer than 35 female tertiary students for every 100 male students.
On the other hand, in wealthy countries, female students clearly outnumber men as tertiary students.
Despite the improved access to tertiary education globally, women face considerable barriers as they move up the education ladder to research careers and in the labour market. At the Bachelor’s degree level, most countries reporting data have achieved gender parity in terms of graduates. Women are more likely to pursue the next level of education, accounting for 56% of graduates with Master’s degrees. However, men surpass women in virtually all countries at the highest levels of education, accounting for 56% of all Ph.D. graduates and 71% of researchers.