A commonly heard trope is that only the education of girls is a global problem. Selectively focussing on the education of girls, it is argued, will lift countries out of poverty and benefit both sexes. A recent variation of this article of faith can be found on the BBC website ‘what planet are we on’ section. You can find the offending article here.
The authors make the extraordinary claim that one way to reduce global emissions would be to focus on the education of girls. The authors make no mention of boys and cite no evidence that selectively educating girls would affect global emissions. The two underlying assumptions are that girls are selectively disadvantaged in terms of education and that increasing education will reduce global emissions.
So, what is the evidence that girls are disadvantaged compared to boys in terms of global education? A good place to start is Michael Collins’ excellent blog The Illustrated Empathy Gap. The post World Education by Sex is densely written, well supported by statistics and paints a different picture to that implied by Victoria Gill and Matt McGrath. In developed countries such as the UK, girls receive more education than boys. The situation in less developed countries is that neither boys nor girls are as well educated as they should be and the difference between boys and girls is small. There is no pattern of girls being selectively deprived of an education. If you look at the figure below you can see a small general trend for girls receiving slightly less education than boys in developing countries and more in developed countries. The dominant trend, however, is that both sexes receive more education as prosperity increases.
There is a correlation between the average level of education attainment and economic development. The causal arrow probably runs in both directions, prosperous counties can afford to educate more of their children and in turn, a well-educated workforce can be more productive. In the short term, a better educated work force is likely to increase emissions because developed counties emit more CO2 per capita. In the longer term as population size diminishes there should be some reduction in CO2 emissions.
As populations become better educated both sexes tend to delay child-rearing and decrease the number of children they go on to have. I am not aware of any countries that have conducted the monstrous experiment of exclusively focussing on the education of girls (I am sure the UN would love to try it). Consequently, we don’t know what effect keeping girls (and not boys) in education would have on global emissions.
In a just world the education of boys and girls should advance in lockstep.