On Tuesday Michelle Obama visited a girls’ school in one of London’s poorest boroughs to announce that the US and UK will collaborate on a $180m global campaign to support girls’ education.
Mrs Obama said the lack of access to education for girls was a “heart breaking injustice” and that “girls’ education is a global issue that requires a global response”.
Except it isn’t just girls who face global educational disadvantage, so do boys.
In March international think tank and governmental advisor, OECD, published a study into the educational attainment of girls and boys in 64 countries across the globe.
It found girls are out-performing boys at school in every country it studied — from China and the US, right through to Jordan and Peru.
What’s more, the choice of announcing the project in Tower Hamlets – one of London’s poorest boroughs – was presumably intended to send the message that girls from poor and ethnic minority backgrounds are hit hardest of all.
Except in the UK, poor and ethnic minority boys also do worse at school than girls from those backgrounds – and dramatically worse than well-off girls.
According to a 2012 Children’s Commissioner report, poor black boys with a special educational need are 168 times more likely to be excluded from school than white girls without special needs from more affluent backgrounds.
And when it comes to getting into university, in the UK the gender gap between men and women has never been wider. In a remarkable statistic from the UCAS admissions service, in a quarter of parliamentary constituencies, there are 50% more girls than boys going to university.
Ideology, not education
So why is Mrs Obama solely concerned with girls’ education?
One explanation could be that the fund is intended to target parts of the world in which girls are prevented from going to school altogether.
That’s obviously a valid and important cause, but even if this is the case, why launch a global education campaign that focuses solely on girls in those areas, when boys are doing dramatically worse than girls everywhere else?
What’s more, why hasn’t Mrs Obama – or for that matter Mrs Cameron – launched a high-profile campaign, backed by millions, to tackle the grave gendered educational disadvantage that’s hitting boys hardest in the US and the UK — the countries whose citizens they actually represent?
(In fact, when was the last time you heard any major politician raise a rallying call to tackle the crisis in boys’ education in the UK?)
Who’s worth fighting for?
But to ask those questions would be to miss the point. Because this latest campaign isn’t really about children’s education at all – it’s about ideology.
As Mrs Obama arrived at the school, she was met by students singing “Something Inside So Strong” and “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, while London’s Evening Standard ran the story on its front page under the headline – ‘Michelle: Stand Up For Girl Power’.
At the school, Mrs Obama said: “All it takes is to walk into that courtyard and hear the voices of the young women standing tall and strong and smart. I meet girls like this everywhere I go round the world. That is who we are fighting for.”
What message is this sending to the millions of boys not just in the UK and the US, but across the globe, who are struggling at school, or being kicked out altogether?
I’ll tell you what I think it’s telling them. It’s telling them they’re not worth fighting for.
It’s telling them, that if you’re a girl, world leaders will spend millions to help you, but if you’re a boy, you’re on your own.
By Dan Bell
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