Debunking Education Data: UNESCO’s Mind the Gap tool

If you are anything like me, the thought of reading a UN report filled with numbers and statistics is daunting. However last week, UNESCO released “Mind the Gap“, an online interactive tool that demystifies education data and illustrates the gaps that exist worldwide between men and women’s education. Today, I decided to try it out, and  the tool was fun to use. After selecting my age, gender, and location, I was given a corresponding women figure that I dressed in a purple top and skirt.  Dressing my figurine was so fun that I almost forget that I was doing something serious! With the click of a button, the program illustrated education statistics for a woman of my education in my country, the USA, shown below.

Mind the Gap USA results

As you can see, from primary to tertiary education, the levels for women and men’s education are virtually the same for people living in the US. Yet, the program does not give you a moment to feel pride for your country because next it shows you the statistics of countries in the global South. After seeing the percentages of education attainment for men and women living in Mali and Malawi (below), I was reminded of the privilege of being born a women in the US and any pride I had quickly faded away.

Mind the Gap MalawiIn Malawi, for example, the gap between men and women’s education starts at primary school and gets progressively worse with each level. While 11% of women started in primary education, 0% have a tertiary education; while 29% of men started in primary school, only 1% have a tertiary education. Girls and women in Malawi and across the global South are at a significant disadvantage for education because of their gender. But don’t just take my word for it. The last part of the program shows my figurine at the front of the line, while the female figurine from Malawi and Mali stand behind me, a big gap separating where they stand from where I am. After clicking the next button, the level ended.

Overall, I enjoyed the Mind the Gap program. Already familiar with the gaps that exist in gender and education worldwide, I was impressed at how UNESCO Institute for Statistics illustrated the gap with color, cartoons, and figures. However, at the end of the simulation, I wanted to know how I could decrease this gap as an educated woman from the US. Thus, one suggestion I have for UNESCO is that they add a list of actions that users can take to decrease these disparities in education. I was also disappointed that the program did not show the effects of class on education. Last week, Rebecca Strauss of the New York Times wrote an article, “Schooling Ourselves in an unequal America” in which she discusses the growing education gap between rich students and poor students in the US. From my experiences in Ghana, I have also learned how crucial class can be to education attainment and is not captured properly in statistics. My second recommendation for UNESCO is to add class to the list of demographic data captured in the beginning of the program because it also has a significant effect on a child’s education or lack thereof.

On my last trip to London, I remember seeing the ubiquitous “Mind the Gap” signs painted in the Tube. As I stepped on the train, I made sure to jump over the space between the platform and the train. UNESCO’s Mind the Gap program somewhat accurately portrays the gap between men and women in the global north and their counterparts in the global South. But I challenge all of us, those with education on the other side of the gap to not to mind it but instead close it.

Let’s all close this gap.

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