Measuring empowerment in an educational context: quantitatively or qualitatively?

Written on 30 Oct 18 by Junyu Huo, Mioko Saito
Gender issues in education


“Empowerment is like a software, once it is applied, it acts as a means to reallocate resources and therefore it brings out outcomes such as emancipation, capacity development and equal power for everyone regardless of their sex, ethnicity, socio-economic group and other identity factors.”

-- The definition of empowerment by a participant of IIEP’s Distance Course on Monitoring and Evaluating Gender Equality in Education.

As a powerful means of enriching an individual’s knowledge and skills, education is closely connected to empowerment: how educators recognise gender-based barriers which hinder equal learning opportunities for women, girls, men, and boys, and their efforts to create standards and curricula which embrace concepts of equity, can determine progress in empowering them.

An education system in which boys and girls are freed from stereotypes requires progress towards empowerment to be tangible and measurable. Policies and actions need to be monitored and readjusted as necessary. Measuring empowerment in educational settings has become one of the top priorities for gender focal points in Ministries of Education (MOE).

IIEP’s online course ‘Monitoring and Evaluating Gender Equality in Education’ was a response to this demand. The course took place from September to October 2016 and gathered 76 participants from 28 countries working in MOEs, NGOs, Research Councils, and UN agencies. It has received endorsement from Quality Matters, an internationally recognized peer review process designed to certify the quality of online training and promote continuous improvement.

Introductory discussions brainstormed establishing a measurement framework to capture empowerment progress in educational settings. Based on participants’ contributions, we have:

  • categorised general concerns of policy measurement,
  • developed subsequent research questions,
  • analysed context-specific combinations of the qualitative and quantitative indicators required, and
  • summarised potential pitfalls to be avoided when interpreting gender-sensitive data.

Stage 1: Categorising General Concerns of Policy Measurement

Gender equality means that ‘women and men have equal conditions for realising their full human rights and for contributing to, and benefiting from, economic, social, cultural and political development. Gender equality is therefore the equal valuing by society of the similarities and the differences of men and women, and the roles they play. It is based on women and men being full partners in their home, their community and their society’ (UNESCO, 2003).

Using a gender lens, empowerment, as a bridge to education and as an end in itself, was defined by the participants in three interrelated manners:

  • empowerment for education’ represents external mechanisms and individual recognition that enable equal opportunities when entering the learning process.
    © Patrick Rousseau
    © Patrick Rousseau
  • ‘empowerment through education’ refers to the utilisation of gender-equality fundamentals in teaching pedagogies, learning concepts and the learning environment. These elements help to ensure that the seeds of fairness are planted in a school’s daily interactions, so that no one is left behind due to gender factors.
    © Patrick Rousseau
    © Patrick Rousseau
  • ‘empowerment by education’ concerns fairer competition in the world of work, ascribed to equitable learning outcomes acquired by both sexes
    © Patrick Rousseau
    © Patrick Rousseau

These three interrelated manners are then used as underpinnings when outlining the General Policy Concerns shared, addressing both the opportunity framework for empowerment and the personal agency empowerment (See Figure 1).

figure 1

Figure 1: Conceptual Framework for monitoring and evaluating empowerment in education

Stage 2: Developing Subsequent Research Questions, Collecting and Analysing Data

Translating general concerns into research questions can help educational practitioners select a coherent set of indicators. To demonstrate the variety of possible indicator combinations addressing various research questions, we have centred on three measurement concerns, and three relevant research questions are subsequently analysed in detail. The suggested indicators have been constructed to reflect the data collection practices and knowledge of the contributing participant(s). The indicators thereby are, to an extent, context-specific.  

  • See Research Question 1 - Literacy rates of the two sex groups in the non-formal education sector
  • See Research Question 2 - Broad interests were found around boys’ and girls’ autonomy-building ability through learning, to derive a research question on decision-making ability.
  • See Research Question 3 - In educational settings where gender-responsive interventions are constantly implemented, changes take place more frequently, meaning that there are high levels of empowerment. Therefore, participation in education by both sex groups is a key question for educational practitioners when considering educational equality.

Through the analyses of the three sets of research questions, we have exemplified the function of quantitative and qualitative measures in evaluating empowerment in educational contexts through a gender perspective.

The word cloud of contributions to the discussion forum (in English), shows that the terms ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ appear equally, whereas, ‘quantitatively’ was used more than ‘qualitatively’. This echoes a consensus our participants reached: an integrated set of quantitative and qualitative indicators should be collected to measure empowerment in educational settings through a gender lens. However, quantitative methodologies are preferred over qualitative methodologies, as the quantification of qualitative information makes the empowerment monitoring process tangible and enhances the interpretability of data (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: 'Measuring Empowerment' Word Cloud

Figure 2: 'Measuring Empowerment' Word Cloud

Stage 3: Interpreting and Reporting Data

At this stage, the data collected is connected to policy suggestions. Participants expressed concerns about the inadequacy of quantitative data to self-explain the impact of policies implemented. They advocated for qualitative analysis to be performed around the quantitative results. Qualitative information can help confirm the quality of quantitative information and help depict a fuller picture of the intervention’s empowering capacity.

Future Monitoring and Evaluation actions

We encourage educational practitioners to give prominence to the measurement of gender equality in educational settings at each stage of the M&E process. The sample measurement framework developed in this article, to adopt quantitative explorations and qualitative techniques simultaneously at the policy research phase to measure empowerment of underperforming sex groups for, through and by education, can only function sustainably once it is associated with policy evaluations and policy development.

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