Female education: For better childcare, educate the elder sister


Investing in an elder sister’s education has a far-reaching impact on a household, increasing the learning outcomes of her younger siblings and improving childcare in the family, suggests a study.

“Investing in the elder sister’s education has bigger and better implications in the long run,” said Dr Javaeria Qureshi from the Department of Economics, University of Illinois, Chicago. She was presenting the findings of her study, “Returns on Investing in Female Education: Impact on Younger Sibling Human Capital” at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Thursday.

The study is based on a three-year survey on Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) carried out from 2003 to 2006 in three districts, 112 villages, covering 1,800 households and 820 schools.

Qureshi said in developing countries, often the eldest sister shares childcare responsibilities in the household and plays a more important role in learning, if she is relatively educated as compared to other childcare providers, especially mothers.

The elder sister influences the younger siblings’ learning by improving the quality of time she spends with them. Moreover, if the mother is working, an educated elder sister can better help raise siblings.

“In Pakistan, when parents are not the ones helping with studies, an elder sister is fulfilling that role 70 per cent of the time, because she is likely to spend more time at home as compared to an elder brother,” she said.

Qureshi urged policymakers to look into the fact that increasing the eldest sister’s education will have the unintended consequence of increasing the education of her younger siblings.

Female literacy between the ages of 15 to 24 stands at 61 per cent while male literacy rate stands at 79 per cent. Fewer than half of women have ever been to school, and just 35 per cent of those living in rural areas. In Pakistan, a half-kilometre increase in the distance to school decreases female enrolment by 20 per cent.

Qureshi said data reveals that increase in 1km reduces a girls’ schooling by 0.4 years. There are 154,000 primary schools in Pakistan, of which merely 51,000 cater to girls (33%). The child survival rate is higher for educated mothers.

Two-thirds of out-of-school children in Pakistan are girls, making it the world’s third largest country with out-of-school students, reveals the study.

According to Alif Ailan, the most effective investment for achieving long-term health benefits is educating girls. Only 38 per cent mothers with no education immunise their children, compared to 69 per cent with a middle school education, while 80 per cent provide prenatal care to their children compared to 50 per cent of uneducated mothers.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2013.

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