A girl in primary school in Ethiopia. Photo by: © UNICEF Ethiopia / 2018 / Mulugeta Ayene / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — The United Kingdom has revealed details of its plans to expand an innovative funding stream to help keep marginalized girls in lower-income countries in school.

On Friday, during the G-7 Summit in Canada, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt announced an additional £187 million ($250.3 million) in funding for a second phase of the Girls’ Education Challenge. This flagship Department for International Development program launched in 2012 aims to get at least 1.5 million out-of-school girls into education and keep them in school.

This comes on top of two earlier funding announcements for the second phase of GEC, bringing the total pot up to £500 million for projects in 18 countries across Africa and Asia until 2025. In April, the U.K. said it would allocate £212 million for GEC to work with almost one million girls in Commonwealth countries, and in 2016, the department announced £100 million for the program. The money pledged last Friday will target girls in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Nepal, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Over 260 million children, more than half of whom are girls, are currently not in school, according to UNESCO’s latest estimates.

“It is a terrible waste of potential that [at least] 130 million girls around the world are not getting the education they deserve. That’s why with this program alone, U.K. aid is empowering over 1.5 million girls to get a quality education, find a good job, and play a transformational role in their communities,” Mordaunt said in a statement.

“We are also strengthening countries’ ability to invest in their own school systems so that they can become self-sufficient and ultimately provide their own people with a quality education.

Phase one of GEC, worth £355 million over five years, was conceived to support nonstate actors running programs for girls who are either out of school or in danger of dropping out.  

Tasked with increasing attendance and improving learning levels among marginalized girls sustainably, the program was seen as innovative for using payment by results mechanisms to measure and improve learning outcomes in 15 of its 37 projects.

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While GEC initially targeted primary school-aged children, the second phase is mainly aimed at ensuring the same girls continue on to secondary and tertiary education and training, with the aim of having them complete “12 years of quality education,” according to a press release.

It is organized under two funding streams. The girls’ transitional window will work with the same girls targeted under phase one, with DFID funding 27 of the original 37 projects. Of these, 24 will be subject to performance-based results financing. The “Leave No Girl Behind” window will target adolescent girls currently out of school. This work is still in the procurement stages, a DFID spokesperson told Devex.

DFID’s commitment to GEC has been welcomed by education advocates, who praised the program for being broadly effective. However, some pointed out that the latest funding announcement had long been expected and said they would like to see the department make additional commitments to girls’ education, especially in crisis settings.

Romilly Greenhill, U.K. director of the One Campaign, said “we absolutely support DFID funding for girls’ education which is a critical investment for girls themselves, their communities, as well as security and the U.K.’s wider national interest.”

However, she added that One had hoped to see an additional commitment from DFID, explaining that the £187 million announced on Friday did not constitute “new money from our perspective.”

Greenhill said she hoped the G-7 meetings would result in new DFID funding pledges for education, including for non-GEC mechanisms such as Education Cannot Wait or the Global Partnership for Education.

Advocates also said they were keen to see DFID ensure that phase two addresses criticisms raised by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the U.K.’s aid watchdog. In a 2016 review, the commission found that some projects were not effectively reaching the most marginalized girls, and that some interventions were failing to sufficiently improve girls’ learning levels. The review also questioned the sustainability of GEC since it works outside of national education systems.

DFID has disputed some of ICAI’s findings in a written response, especially the suggestion that some projects had “deprioritized” girls. Still, a DFID spokesperson told Devex that a revised marginalization framework has been developed to ensure GEC phase two more effectively targets marginalized groups. This includes options to tailor interventions to the specific, unique barriers different subgroups of excluded girls face. The Leave No Girl Behind window was also set up specifically to reach the most marginalized.

Pauline Rose, professor of international education at Cambridge University, who has been on the GEC steering committee since the beginning, described its results to date as “positive” overall and said it has “helped to push the boundaries of understanding and addressing barriers that girls face both in staying in school and learning.” GEC has also forced NGOs to measure learning in their programs, something which was often lacking before, she said.

Rose said she was encouraged to see DFID’s clearer focus in phase two on reaching the most marginalized, as well as more emphasis on working with governments to ensure sustainability. She called for more research into issues such as gender-based violence and how these affect girls’ attendance and learning.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.