by Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. , editor-in-chief

This month’s feature article is focused on a story featured in The New York Times about a courageous school girl in Vietnam. The story is about her uncommon will to learn, to become educated despite poverty and lack of support from her parents. She is an exception. Nevertheless her story highlights what can happen when a girl from a poverty background gets an education.

There have been vigorous efforts to improve education for all (EFA), and in particular girls, going back to 2000 when the gender disparity of girls out of school compared with boys was 60% to 40% globally. That gender gap in educational opportunity between boys and girls has narrowed considerably and hopefully will reach an equal ratio globally within this decade. Developing countries are becoming more and more aware that investments in girls’ education is one of the best ways to improve the overall economy of a nation.

Research shows that:

■ Educated women are more empowered and better able to demand their rights, as well as having healthier, more economically-secure families.
■ A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.
■ Children born to educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of 5.
■ A 1% increase in the number of women with secondary education can increase annual per capita economic growth by 0.3%.

The EFA’s 2008 global report revealed that gender parity in primary education in Thailand is likely to be achieved by 2015 and in secondary education there are actually more girls than boys enrolled. The EFA’s mid-decade assessment conducted by UNICEF shows that there are fewer girls than boys enrolled in primary education in Thailand. In contrast, there are fewer boys enrolled in secondary education than girls.

In other words, girls in primary education in Thailand may face more disadvantages in accessing education, but are close to parity. In secondary education boys may face more disadvantages than girls in accessing education, but are close to parity as well. However, there is still a lack of research in this area that could determine whether there is systematic gender inequality in terms of accessing education, especially girls from poverty backgrounds.

A study commissioned by PLAN on girls’ education in the north of Thailand shed some light on this situation, but still left many unanswered questions on what happens to girls in the many poverty pockets of the north. The Vietname girl in this month’s feature article who fought to get an education is the exception. Most girls in Southeast Asia, including Thailand , who are born into poverty , by and large, remain in the poverty trap because of a lack of education.

More research needs to be done to measure just how large this problem looms and what effect
the lack of education of girls from poverty backgrounds has on Thai society both in social and economic terms.