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To Lean In, We Must Bring Back Our Girls’ Education

What can the kidnappings of 230 Nigerian girls tell us about the state of our own country’s education? While of course comparably better (not to mention safer), it’s still illuminating to take a cold, hard look at what it’s like to be a female student in the United States – especially a student mother enrolled in college.


For a First World country, the systemic odds remain stacked against women with children. Ours is the only developed nation in the world that has yet to offer any kind of paid parental leave for workers. The other two countries guilty of unpaid leave are Papua New Guinea and Oman.


Even Nigeria – for all its well-publicized #BringBackOurGirls troubles with militant groups – offers a whopping twelve weeks of parental leave at 50 percent of the paycheck.


This isn’t just about sticking it to Boko Haram, or sympathetically holding up papers with hashtags. It’s also about unfurling a dialogue about helping women in the U.S. pursue meaningful, higher-wage work. The link (be it correlation or causation) between childcare and women’s education is too strong to ignore. So is the link between quality early childhood education in creating strong citizens and workers for tomorrow’s world.


These problems didn’t begin just recently – they’ve been unfolding for the past few decades. Last year, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) presenting their key findings from 25 years of research about “Child Care, Education, and Job Training: How Investing in Quality Programs Improves Outcomes for Children, Girls, and Women.”


In the past quarter-century, this think tank has released many reports that paint an increasingly big picture about the plight of childcare, ECE, and post-secondary education. What have we learned?


Here are some of IWPR’s chronological highlights:

  • 1988: Using economic theory, IWPR founder and President showed how public subsidies result in outcomes such as reducing childcare cost burden on families.
  • 2001: Found that case managers underestimated women’s interests in “nontraditional” fields like IT. Suggested interventions: Improving access to these jobs, more supports at community colleges, extending TANF training times, and allowing enrollment in programs outside of community colleges for women without a GED or diploma.
  • 2002: Reviewed programs that use tiered compensation to boost child care workers’ salaries
  • 2008: Showed that quality interventions can decrease class size and boost teaching credential
  • 2010: Launched Student Parent Success Initiative with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, resulting in this research finding: 25 percent of college students in the United States have dependents, with higher proportions among low-income students.
  • 2011: Found that in 2008, one in four college students were parents, only five percent of student parents who needed child care supports had access to on-campus child care.
  • 2012: A report women are “substantially under-represented” in community college STEM programs, with declining numbers of women in Computer IT programs.


As many a parent has heard during an excruciatingly long car trip: “Are we there yet?” The sad answer is that we are still far, far from there. But at least closer than we were 25 years ago.


Part of what’s edging us closer to a successful model, is not necessarily the increased nudging towards non-traditional (and higher-paying) women’s career fields, but also the greater awareness of non-traditional education formats. As bandwidth gets bigger and laptops pack even more virtual access memory than ever before, women have more options. Instead of bringing a child to a campus tutoring center, they can get homework help via online tutors.


After all, it is probably more difficult to kidnap (let alone hack) 230 intelligent girls simultaneously over the Internet. And were they to have had well-utilized access to the Web, the potential of even the poorest student becomes nearly boundless.


As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out in his Why Are Smart Girls So Scary? column, “when a country educates and unleashes women, those educated women often become force multipliers for good.”


“We spend billions of dollars on intelligence collection, counterterrorism and military interventions, even though they have a quite mixed record. By comparison, educating girls is an underfunded cause even though it’s more straightforward.”


It’s not just about Nigeria or the U.S. The more educated every country can get, the more tolerant and innovative all societies become.


When we bring back all girls, the world becomes a better place to live and learn.

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