The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a small island country located in the Western Pacific, known primarily as a tourism destination. Despite its travel appeal, the Marshall Islands deserves to be recognized for another aspect: girls’ education.
In most developing countries throughout the world, a common theme exists of girls being underrepresented in schools and having lower levels of education when compared with males. In the Marshall Islands, this is not the case.
Gender Parity in Education
According to a 2014 study by the Ministry of Education, gender parity is present at nearly all levels of the Marshall Islands educational system. Regarding primary and junior high enrollment, the study comments on the ‘absence of a gender gap’ by stating that there is equal enrollment between boys and girls. This trend is continued through secondary education systems, where women are even overrepresented, comprising 51.5 percent of those in high school despite only making up 48.3 percent of the total base population. Regarding the final rung of the educational ladder, college education, the study found that college enrollment is essentially gender neutral in the Marshall Islands.
These enrollment numbers are significant in appraising gender parity between males and females in the Marshall Islands. But how is the education affecting men and women? Could there be a discrepancy between the scores of men and women on standardized tests?
The answer is found in results from the Marshall Islands Standards Assessment Test (MISAT) during the 2012-2013 school year, which shows that girls outperformed their male counterparts in nearly all segments of testing. This indicates another success for girls’ education in the Marshall Islands. Women are not simply being enrolled and ignored, but are actively learning and receiving equal attention when compared with their male classmates.
Despite these positives, there are worries that gender parity in schools is not translating into complete gender equality. One such worry is manifested in the tendency for most high school girls to choose electives with a traditionally domestic application, such as sewing or cooking. This leads to women being underrepresented in the more “marketable” subject areas, such as mechanics and computer-related courses.
Such an imbalance can create problems for gender equality down the road, as women may fall into traditional gender roles in which they have fewer means and less independence. The study by the Ministry of Education asserts that these sort of differences are not due to a discriminatory educational system, but are simply the result of broad traditional social values.
Whatever further approach the Ministry of Education takes, it is clear that they have been successful in reaching educational gender parity between girls and boys in the Marshall Islands. This not only applies in the academic setting but also in the greater environment of the country, evidenced by increasing general literacy rates. The same study by the Ministry of Education indicates that for those who are 10 years of age or older, the literacy rate was 97.9 percent for males and 98.0 percent for females.
Looking to the Future
The progress made in girls’ education in the Marshall Islands deserves acknowledgment. Educational parity between girls and boys is no small feat, especially in a developing country. Furthermore, all signs point to a promising future for The Marshall Islands after the election of Hilda Heine, the first female leader of any Pacific island nation.
There is still work to be done. How the Marshall Islands moves through the more advanced steps of changing gender inequality and social attitudes remains to be seen, but much optimism can be drawn from what the country has already achieved.
– Taylor Pace