Girls rapidly close the secondary education gender gap in the poorest communities of Uganda.

In the space of just two years, girls attending schools in the PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools) network have transformed their academic performance in school leaving exams from being more than 4% behind the national average in 2013 to achieving results 6% better than the national average in 2015.

The transformation has come about following the implementation of measures to address the barriers marginalised girls face to secondary school participation. School network PEAS saw their cohort of almost 5,000 female students achieve impressive gains in academic performance in the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examinations[1] over the two-year period.

The measures are part of a Girls Education Challenge (GEC) project, funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), which has allowed PEAS to set out bold goals to positively influence female enrolment, attendance, retention and academic learning. As a result of the programmes in 16 of their secondary schools, PEAS found that their female students felt safer and more productive at school, teacher and pupil attendance were higher, and the academic performance of girls in the programme improved.

Girls attending PEAS schools have narrowed the achievement gap with male students, with 95.7% of girls achieving a pass grade. This is compared to a national average of 89.8% for girls and shows that the interventions have contributed to a 6% higher pass rate for girls attending PEAS schools than the national average for Uganda.

Dr Rachel Linn is the Monitoring and Evaluation lead at PEAS:

From the varied measures introduced through the project we have found a few were most impactful. These include: material improvements to school facilities to make them safer, more comfortable learning environments for girls; gender sensitive teacher training and accountability measures to create a more supportive learning environment for girls; and new literacy programming to improve the teaching of literacy in schools.

As a result of these interventions, we now see girls enrolling in and attending school in greater numbers, reporting they are more comfortable in school, and achieving greatly improved learning outcomes.

Focus groups have highlighted the introduction of re-usable sanitary kits as one of the pivotal interventions for improving attendance in particular. Felicitas is in her fourth year at Kityerera High School in Malongo District but, when she began, she did not have access to sanitary pads. Her parents did not have the money to buy the product which left their daughter with rags of old clothes or, more often than not, nothing at all when her period started.

“Whenever I was about to start menstruating I could feel small in class because at first I didn’t have them. I would sit at the desk and look around and see that someone is not seeing me then I rush to the dormitory.”

“Since they brought us sanitary pads, I am free. Sometimes I would even dodge classes when I don’t have sanitary pads but since I had the advantage of having them that has simplified my attendance.”

Sheba Natchia is the Senior Woman Teacher at Pioneer High School in the Mityana District of Central Uganda. She describes her role at the school as being a neutral outlet for the girls, away from the teachers and the classroom, where they can openly talk about issues affecting them in, or out, of school.

“This initiative has kept these girls in the system. Their fear has been erased with the girls failing to come to class because of that problem. In most cases when girls are going through this cycle they get some stress. This sanitary pad has made the girls comfortable.”

Sheba runs the Girls’ Club at Pioneer High School, one of the interventions PEAS has introduced, which allows boys and girls to eradicate the stigma associated with menstruation, learn life skills to increase their potential employability on leaving school and, importantly, empower young people to realise their full potential in life. She takes her role, and the influence she has, extremely seriously.

In addition to PEAS’ regular re-enforcement of the measures, the programme has worked well because it has made tangible improvements to the school environments that have responded to community demands, and shown the school to be actively investing in girls – with noted impact on the behaviour of school staff and boys, and noted change in girls’ experiences at school.

The number of girls reporting harassment from boys in school has dramatically reduced, by over 20%, in two years as the schools become much more gender-aware environments.

PEAS Founder and Chief Executive John Rendel said,

These statistics are fantastic and show the impact we are having on education in Uganda. But behind all the stats are our students. Young people that, due to circumstances out of their control, have not had the opportunity many of us take for granted. Girls in particular face many barriers to gaining an education but we ardently refuse to accept the status quo.”
“Not only have these programmes improved girls’ confidence about attending secondary school but they have put academic gender imbalance to the sword.

[1] The UCE examination is the equivalent of GCSE examinations in the UK and a High School Diploma in the U.S.