Filling the data gap on girls’ education in Liberia

Clara Lindhard Neltoft
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HOPE Liberia
Photo credit: HOPE Liberia
Without readily available and up to date data, ensuring girls’ right to education is almost impossible. With the launch of the online EducateHER platform, HOPE Liberia aims to fill the huge data gap on girls’ education in Liberia.
HOPE Liberia
“We want easy, accessible information in a simple format so that every high school student can pick it up and see where we are when it comes to girls’ education”

The first set of data will be published on the EducateHER website in the beginning of 2022.

The website will be a platform for different types of information on girls’ education in Liberia. On the front page you can find quantitative data at county-level including the enrollment rate of girls, number of girls out of school, female teachers, attendance, retention, and completion. If you go to the ‘Promoting Girls’ Education’ page at the beginning of 2022, you’ll be able to explore analysis and tracking of trends in the areas of adequate systems for evidence-based decision making, coordination and capacity building, and financial investments.

HOPE Liberia has used an online data collection platform to gather data. The platform is downloaded onto smartphones to ensure that the gathered data is accessible for all partners gathering data in the field to see, analyse, and eventually post on the platform.

As part of the project, HOPE Liberia and their partners trained 150 school administrators at the secondary- level and education officers on the effective implementation of policies on girls’ education, and 35 county-level EMIS personnel on data-collection and reporting for girls’ education.

“We assume that teenage girls will be in junior high and high school and therefore focus efforts on sexual education at this level to address the issue of pregnancies forcing many girls to drop out of school. But the reality is that a huge percentage of Liberian girls are teenagers at the elementary level because they start school much later than boys. And there is no hard data informing these trends,” explains Aisha Cooper Bruce, Executive Director of HOPE Liberia and coordinator of the EducateHER project, funded by Education Out Loud.

With the recent launch of the EducateHER website, HOPE Liberia aims to gather and present consistent, adequate, and up-to-date data on girls’ education in Liberia. The lack of up to date and comprehensive data on education in Liberia is a significant obstacle for both policymakers and civil society organisations in the country. The data available on education is often gathered on an ad hoc basis and is largely project- or organisation specific. Most publicly available data on education is also outdated – much of it dating back to 2007.

“When it comes to girls’ education, it’s even worse. There is no real concentrated effort on data collection specifically for girls’ education. How can citizens act if they don’t have information? How do school boards become receptive? How do policymakers ensure that the right policies are being implemented and the right programs developed? That is why we developed the EducateHER website.”

Data as an advocacy tool

Data is an important tool for advocacy. There are, for example, several laws in Liberia aiming to ensure that a percentage of investments from private international companies in the country is allocated to education. The reality is, however, that this allocation rarely happens.

“We want data on where the money goes. How can we push for accountability if we can’t show the gaps?” asks Aisha Cooper Bruce.

As part of the EducateHER project, HOPE Liberia is determined to build advocacy capacity at the community level by training over 450 women and girls across the country to speak up on issues related to girls’ education. While local authorities in Liberia have formal authority to implement policies and programmes on girls’ education, citizen involvement at the community level is very limited.

“While we are advocating at the national level, if they are not advocating at their local council meetings and are not actively involved in the discussions, it will not work. We want to ensure that communities and the public are directly involved in pushing for local school boards and authorities to implement the national policy on girls’ education. We need to advocate at all levels,” explains Aisha Cooper Bruce.

Filling gaps in capacities and resources

The reason for the huge gaps in data on girls’ education in Liberia is not a lack of political will. In fact, Liberia’s National Policy on Girls’ Education outlines high ambitions to close the gender gap and ensure gender parity in education in Liberia. Despite this, implementation of policies and programmes remains a huge issue due of an under-funded education sector. In a context where local education offices and school administrators do not know about the policy on girls’ education, are not trained on it, or lack resources to implement it, the disconnect between policy and implementation is immense.

“The national budget for education is already very low. Additionally, 70-80% of this budget goes towards salaries leaving very little for everything else. Most of the Ministry’s field offices don’t have access to computers or enough transportation capacity to actually go to communities and schools to do the data collection. So, you can understand why there is such a challenge with data,” explains Aisha Cooper Bruce.

After developing data-collection tools and training partners, HOPE Liberia is currently coordinating and conducting data-collection in the field in an effort to develop the first platform in Liberia to consistently gather up-to-date data and provide analysis on girls’ education. As information gaps lead to ineffective policies and implementation, sufficient and relevant data is crucially important for girls’ education.

“We want this platform to, firstly, become a viable source of information for policy makers so data can guide the decisions and efforts being made on girls’ education. Secondly, we want to ensure that civil society organisations have proper information to develop programmes, advocate, and hold the government accountable. If they have access to data, they will have the evidence needed to do that,” says Aisha Cooper Bruce.

Lessons learned

1. Start early. Engaging with the government takes time. Start the conversation even before securing funding for the project.

2. Be flexible. Understand that you may have the right pieces, but that they might not yet be in the right places.

3. Be willing to give and take. Even if you want to partner with stakeholders who have the same goal of improving education for girls and women, everyone has their own priorities. Understand that you must bring something to the table other than just a good idea, your passion, or the shared goal. To create a partnership, you need to ask what you can put on the table that will benefit your prospective partners’ priorities.

Partnering with the Ministry of Education

To ensure that the platform is used by decisionmakers, HOPE Liberia decided to approach the Ministry of Education in Liberia to establish a partnership around data collection efforts. For HOPE Liberia, collaborating with the Ministry of Education was a way to ensure that the gathered data is validated, and national-level information used by policy makers when discussing policies and strategies on girls’ education. Despite the government’s positive attitude towards the initiative, engaging with the Ministry of Education was not without challenges:

“We had to be very clear on how this benefitted them. At times, it seems that there’s an adversarial relationship between government and civil society. We said to them: CSOs are the ones working in the field, we know the realities. We will bring this back to the table so you can be better informed of the gaps, where funding should go, what should be adjusted, and what should be prioritized. We emphasized that this is a partnership. We didn’t want it to be a power struggle,” Aisha Cooper Bruce recalls.

As a result of the engagements, HOPE Liberia managed to secure a partnership with the Ministry of Education on data collection for the platform. However, collaborating with the government is a balancing act for civil society organisations. While collaboration between CSOs and governments is key in ensuring sustainable synergy between policies and implementation, CSOs at the same time work to hold governments accountable.

“It’s a complicated dance and as a CSO, you need to navigate that. Tensions can result in a strained relationship which does not benefit the progress on girls’ education. There needs to be dialogue. Advocacy is not only about protesting and speaking out, it’s also about dialoguing,” says Aisha Cooper Bruce.

Without adequate data and information, advocating for and designing programmes on girls’ education are almost impossible tasks. With the new platform, HOPE wants to push for effective implementation of the National Policy on Girls’ Education. Filling the data gap and using the data for multi-level advocacy is the first step towards addressing and eliminating the huge gender gaps in education in Liberia.

HOPE Liberia and the EducateHER coalition

Helping Our People Excel (HOPE) Liberia is one of the civil society organisations, funded by Education Out Loud, working to strengthen civil society roles in promoting the transparency and accountability of national education sector policy and implementation.

The EducateHER project has been granted 861.000 USD by Education Out Loud and aims to ensure the effective implementation of the National Policy on Girls’ Education (NPGE) in Liberia by 2023.

HOPE Liberia works with CAREFOUND-Liberia and Paramount Young Women Initiative on the EducateHER project.

The EducateHER Coalition is group of civil society organisations, women's rights groups, autonomous social movements, and media institutions committed to leveraging their expertise, resources and influence to promote girls’ education in Liberia.