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Education-related programs frequently see confidence and leadership-building as a path to improved grades and lifetime earnings. This is particularly an issue for international education programs that take place in less developed countries, because they are expected to frame their potential impact in terms of its contribution to the country’s economic growth. The emphasis on economic benefits de-prioritizes the transformative role that program activities aimed at increasing participants’ self-confidence and leadership skills have on the participants’ place in the society, which is particularly meaningful for young girls and women in traditionally male dominant societies.
This presentation examines the perceived and real impact of the pilot Higher Education Readiness program conducted by the Institute of International Education in Ethiopia in 2013-2015 on the young female recipients. As a result of program evaluation, the program’s initial purpose of increased GPA and university enrollment was reframed to prioritize participants’ relationship with themselves and others and focus on the outcomes related to participants’ self-worth, esteem, and empathy. The presentation describes the importance of working with the school and families to create a supportive environment for the participants and ensure the enabling atmosphere for the other young females in the community. Drawing on the frames of transformative education theory and the capabilities approach for gendered education, the presentation will argue for the need to prioritize development of soft skills and personal self-worth among female participants of international education programs and for the responsibility of researchers and evaluators of these programs to de-legitimize the constraining focus on the GPA and earnings as the primary goal of education.
This presentation draws on multiple sources of data, including surveys, interviews, and focus groups, collected and analyzed by the Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact at the Institute of International Education. It may be of particular interest to practitioners and researchers working with international education programs that target women as their primary recipients.