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3 Little-Known Facts You Should Know About Education Around the World

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There is lots of talk about how America compares to other countries on a global scale, especially how the US lags behind other developed nations in education quality. However, when it comes to addressing the issues of education worldwide, there is more than just the supposed mediocrity of the US public education system to consider.  

Here are three little-known facts you should know about education around the world:

1. Girls are actually doing better worldwide than boys. Girls are outperforming boys academically in many countries according to a report from Dr. Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Glasgow in Scotland and David C. Geary of the University of Missouri. They found that in 2009, high school girls performed considerably better on an international standardized test in 52 out of 74 participating countries. This includes countries where women face political, economic or social inequalities.

Here in the U.S., we are seeing girls outperforming boys. Thirty years after the passage of equal opportunity laws, girls are graduating from high school and college and going into professions in record numbers. The boys are now the ones who are falling behind their female counterparts.

This isn't just an inner city problem either; it is happening in all 50 states, in all parts of society.

School psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson who writes about academic problems of boys in his books says that after decades of special attention, girls are soaring while boys are stagnating.

"Girls outperform boys in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college, and graduate school," Thompson said.

Geary said he worries about the study's implications for a complex labor market, especially in non-developed countries. He said there's going to be "a lot of boys who are going to become young adults with few employable skills."

He continues, "If you have countries with a large percentage of these types of men, crime rates go up."

In a country where boys and girls are considered equals, it surprises me that there is less urgency surrounding the growing gap between genders. I hope that through bringing these findings to our attention, we will begin to give boys the extra support they need to thrive. This is a very real issue in both the United States and worldwide.

2. 62 million girls are not in school.  In March 2015, President and First Lady Obama announced "Let Girls Learn," a White House initiative that targets global education for young women as a road to more economic opportunity, less child marriages and less violence towards women worldwide. The Peace Corps would partner with the White House and target 11 countries for educational programs in the first year that include Ghana, Moldova, Cambodia and Uganda.

A statement on the initiative from the White House reads:

62 million girls around the world -- half of whom are adolescent -- are not in school. These girls have diminished economic opportunities and are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, early and forced marriage, and other forms of violence.

Yet when a girl receives a quality education, she is more likely to earn a decent living, raise a healthy, educated family, and improve the quality of life for herself, her family, and her community.

Here in the United States we tend to bicker on the details of delivering an education to our kids, but we often forget the binding belief that American children DESERVE that baseline education. Outside the U.S., that belief is not as prevalent and that is especially true when it comes to young women throughout the world.

In some cases young women are treated as second-class citizens, or worse, against their wills. In other cases, young women are not given access to education and therefore have a very narrow view of the world and what role they should play in it. In both situations the U.S. should be at the forefront of extended education as a means for change and other countries should follow suit.

3. Developing countries are 100 years behind in education. The Brookings Institution reports that education quality and levels in developing countries are approximately 100 years behind developed countries. This global gap in education shows that in the world's poorest nations, the average levels of attainment are at levels achieved in developed countries in the early 20th century.

The good news is that in the past 50 years, the belief that schooling is a necessity has spread across the globe (thanks in part to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and now 90 percent of primary school-aged children are enrolled.

Enrolling and progressing are very different things though, as we know just looking at American schools. Getting children into a classroom and seated at a desk is just the start. When it comes to what is actually being learned in these developing nations, the gap is wide, to put it mildly. According to the Brookings Institute, at the current rate of educational attainment, it will take 1.6 billion people more than 85 years to catch up to the current educational level in developed countries.

So then the question becomes: What will this gap look like in another 85 years? How can we successfully narrow it?

Educational attainment is not just a manifestation of what happens in the classrooms, of course. It is much more involved than that. Addressing issues like eradicating child hunger, providing clean water, and expanding access to healthcare worldwide will all help educational levels rise, along with quality of life. Developed countries should care about these issues not just because they are issues of humanity, but because they all impact the global economy too.

Where do you expect the global education gap will rest in another 50 years? 85 years? 100+ years?

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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