November 2, 2007
By Brette Ehalt
Lillian Sankhulani “grew up in an environment where gender discrimination occurred all the time,” and she wanted to do something about it.
To uncover what she describes as the “unfavourable issues” behind the schooling experiences of pupils, especially girls, and to see if the tenets of the Capabilities and Social Capital theories were applicable in these experiences, Sankhulani traveled to Malawi and conducted research in two rural schools not too far from her hometown, Blantyre.
While there, the graduate student in Educational Administration in the College of Education collected data from student questionnaires, pupils’ and parents’ focus groups, teachers’ structured interviews, and class observations; the study engaged 59 students, 41 parents, and four teachers.
Overall, Sankhulani found that “basic and internal capabilities of girls and social capital were limited.” Most girls, she said, dropped out of school for a variety of reasons – poverty, overwork at home, early marriage, the absence of female teachers, the long distance between home and school and a general lack of motivation.
Sexual harassment, by teachers and older boys, also played a role. “It led to early pregnancies and a lack of institutional trust by parents, who were reluctant to leave their adolescent daughters in school,” she said. Fortunately, she adds, “the UNICEF mothers’ group, established in these schools is helping to alleviate this problem.”
Of course, Sankhulani’s thesis also focuses on how the Malawi government and Aid agencies might improve the situation. She suggests they invest in building more decent classrooms and teachers’ houses in rural areas, reduce the teacher-pupil ratio to ensure adequate interaction, and encourage female teachers to take teaching positions in rural schools.
Plus, “teachers and boys should participate in sensitization programs to enable, then develop, social capabilities of care and support for girls.”
Sankhulani’s research was published in the International Education Journal and earned her an International Peace Scholarship in 2003 from the Philanthropic and Educational Organization, which promotes women and girls’ education.
On Nov. 5, Sankhulani is leaving her position as research assistant in the College of Education to return to Malawi. While there, she hopes to “influence policy in education” by working with the Ministry of Education or on one of the university campuses. But mainly, says Sankhulani, “I hope to be a role model and mentor to the students and young women who are pursuing education.”
Brette Ehalt writes profiles of grad students for
the College of Graduate Studies and Research.