Education is one of the most important building blocks of a nation.
As a country aspires to grow and develop, its leaders view the education of its people as a decisive factor in the evolution of their society. People not only learn how to generate their own income, but also how to conduct themselves in a progressive and independent manner. They will find innovative ways of addressing issues within the nation and will be much less reliant on government hand-outs.
For a very long time, women were seen as socially inferior to men and were denied the benefits of education. Traditionally, their places were solely in the kitchen, in the fields or in the nursery. They were not expected to know how to read (maybe only if they were wealthy) and were only educated up to a certain level. This trend is one of the few things that societies around the world had in common in the olden days – men were always more educated than women.
In many countries, the reasons were either religious or simply as a result of poor philosophies. In Ancient China, for example, women were seen as being virtuous due to their lack of knowledge. So if they were not educated like men, then they would retain what makes them women. As more and more missionaries from around the world arrived though, schools for young girls were opened. One of the driving factors for tertiary education for Chinese women was that they were unwilling to be treated by male Western doctors. Thus, there was a dearth of female doctors that was addressed by the establishment of the Hackett Medical College for Women in 1902, and women were finally allowed to be college graduates.
China’s not doing too bad economically now, is it? The early removal of this social taboo definitely contributed to their economic prosperity.
Now, in the history of Islam and countries ruled by Sharia Law since the medieval eras, there are many women scholars. Whilst women did not commonly attend formal classes (the places of education were normally reserved for men), many of them were encouraged to become learned citizens. They did this by taking extra classes and attending lectures and being granted access to books and resources just like men were. By the 12th century, there were several thousand educated females in the Islamic world. These findings were collected by the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies. The trends showed that the educated families were generally the ones who made sure that women were also educated; there was no gender discrimination in education.
However, that has changed in many places.
Several extremist factions or simply poor rulers have banned women from education and brandished severe punishments to those who did seek it. Malala Youfszai is one of those young girls who fought bravely for her rights and had her nose cut off by Taliban criminals. That was a young girl’s punishment for wanting to go to school – a privilege barely appreciated due to its availability in many places.
In the 20th century, women were allowed only the smallest smidges of education in most places. This was almost entirely dependent of their position in the social structure; the richer you were the more educated you were.
It was seen as fruitless to educate a poor or middle-class woman beyond the skills of simple arithmetic and/or reading skills, as she was only destined to serve as her husband’s partner. This was despite education for women having existed long before in many places.
But of course, as things changed and women became more and more active in the workforce and global decision-making, education was broadened and expanded until everybody in the world could get it.
The official numbers are encouraging, but their veracity must always be taken with a pinch of salt.
The gender gap in education has shrunk to only 5%. Women have higher enrollment rates in tertiary education in most places around the world except Sub-Saharan Africa & South-East Asia.
However, more than 54% of the 72 million children who’re old enough to attend school but are not doing so are young girls. Women have less access to the Internet and are outnumbered 3:1 by men in the research fields. The fields of science and engineering still have a rather low female representation, and in many countries there are many more male members of parliament than women. More shockingly, of the 780 million adults in the world who can’t read, 515 million are women. That is more than 60% of the illiterate adult population. Only 30% of all girls in the world are enrolled in secondary education, and in some countries, only a third of college students are women
Clearly, there is a disparity in our historical approach to female education. The quicker and more seriously we focus on equalizing that gap, the sooner will we be able to maximize the output of every nation in the world. Women will also be contributing to the solution of economic, social and political issues. As a race, our strength comes from our diversity and by opening the doors to women to study, we’ll be adding to the giant global brain that’s hard at work to save our planet.
The sooner we meet one of the most important Millenium Goals, the better our world will be.