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New research finds gender-based inequalities in English-medium education settings

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New research in Nepal and Nigeria, led by Professor Kristina Hultgren from The Open University’s Centre for the Study of Global Development, shows that English-medium education policies can create gender-based educational inequalities.

Professor Kristina Hultgren said, “The research found that girls are significantly underrepresented in English-medium education at secondary level compared to boys. In schools in Nepal and Nigeria, we found that the ratio of girls to boys in English-medium education was 1:3.”

English-medium education is increasingly popular across the world, and many low- and middle-income countries offer it as one way to lift them out of poverty, improve life opportunities and increase social mobility.

Despite parents, students, teachers, headteachers and policy makers all insisting on the importance of educating girls, there were widely held beliefs in Nigeria and Nepal that girls do not need English to the same extent as boys.

Professor Hultgren said, “Where municipalities and schools offer a choice between English- and local-medium education, it appears that parents – particularly those from poorer families and ethnic minorities – tend to send their sons to English-medium education and their daughters to local-medium education. English-medium policies thus create gender- and class-based educational inequalities.”

Girls’ lesser access and exposure to English-medium education limits their opportunities compared to boys and restricts their educational and professional choices. Many careers and university studies, particularly in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering, require English. Thus, girls may be limited to traditional gender roles due to restricted access to English-medium education.

The research produced a report, a policy brief and a set of evidence-based Open Educational Resources that include activities for school leaders, teachers and educational facilitators to include girls in English-medium education.

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