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Riding to school: How bicycles are changing education for girls in rural Africa

COVID-19 has kept more than 168 million children around the world out of school for more than one year, but as schools reopen it is important not to forget…



By Damaris Seleina Parsitau, Joel Kamoko

COVID-19 has kept more than 168 million children around the world out of school for more than one year, but as schools reopen it is important not to forget another stubborn and powerful barrier keeping children out of the classroomdistance.

According to the World Bank, “The single most important determinant of primary school enrollment is the proximity of a school.” In country after country, from India to Mali, evidence shows that the farther children are from school, the less likely they are to attend. And as we see in Figures 1 and 2, this is especially true for girls.  

Figure 1. Enrollment or completion of grade nine schooling by distance and gender, India  

Source: American Economic Journal, 2017. 

Figure 2. Bar graph of The Effect of Distance on Student Enrollment, Mali

Distance to school is a particular challenge for girls in sub-Saharan Africa, where data from eight countries indicates that more than 1 in 4 primary school children live more than two kilometers from the nearest school, while secondary schools for rural students are often hours away on foot.   

This long walk to school amplifies the already considerable challenges facing rural girls, including poverty, insecurity, violence, and social norms hostile or indifferent to girls’ education. The walk to school can leave girls vulnerable to harassment and assault and can deepen their family’s poverty by preventing girls from helping on the family farm before or after school. When the walk is in addition to daily chores, such as fetching water, girls may be forced to make part of their journey before dawn or after dusk.   

In the face of these challenges, many parentsfearful for their daughter’s safety or concerned about making ends meetpull their daughters out of school. According to UNESCO, just 1 percent of the poorest girls in low-income countries complete secondary school.  

Getting girls to school 

A robust global body of evidence has found that getting girls to enroll in school and maintaining attendance for as long as possible is one of the most powerful levers for empowering girls, sparking economic growth, improving health outcomes, and reducing exploitative practices such as child marriage.  

Until recently, strategies for increasing girls’ enrollment and attendance focused on three levers: building more schools, lowering school fees, and conditional cash transfers to families. Building more schools can be effective, but in many rural areas this can lead to an educational model based on sub-scale, one-room schoolhouses incapable of delivering high-quality education. Lowering school fees and providing conditional cash transfers to families who enroll their daughters in school does not address the fundamental challenge facing girlsmiles and miles of unpaved roads between their home and school. 

Evidence that bicycles help girls get to school and stay in school 

There is increasing recognition—based on research in Colombia, India, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and a high-quality randomized control trial in Zambiathat bicycles can serve as an effective conditional non-cash transfer to help girls get to and stay in school. 

For the last ten years, the Ministry of Education in Zambia has partnered with World Bicycle Relief to help nearly 37,000 rural girls get to school quickly and safely through a cost-effective locally managed program. Girls enrolled in the program sign “service to own” agreements with their community, pledging to complete their studies in return for use and eventual ownership of a bicycle. In addition to providing at-risk rural girls with specially designed bicycles, the program trains local mechanics to keep those bicycles in service for years to come.  

A rigorous randomized control trial and subsequent evaluations of the program found that girls provided with a bicycle cut their commute time by more than an hour a day, reduced their absenteeism by 28 percent, were 19 percent less likely to drop out, and scored higher on mathematics assessments (see Figure 3). They also reported feeling more in control of decisions affecting their lives, ranked themselves higher academically, had a greater belief in their potential to succeed in life, and experienced 22 percent less sexual harassment and/or teasing on their way to school. 

Figure 3. Results of WBR’s bicycle program in Zambia 

figure of impact on girls who received bicycles

Source: Adapted from World Bicycle Relief, 2022. Designed by Brookings.

One father remarked that his daughter, equipped with a durable specially designed bicycle for the rough terrain, was suddenly “more intelligent.” The heartbreak is that we know she didn’t suddenly gain IQ points. She gained time and energy.   

We know all these girls have gifts. Some are brilliant writers, some are creative thinkers, some are math whizzes, and others budding engineers. But when they are exhausted and hungry from their long walks to and from school and fetching water and working on the farm, they are even further challenged to demonstrate or develop that brilliance or talent.  

We recognize that durable, fit for purpose bicycles will not ensure every girl gets to school, stays in school, and learns in school. But it is a powerful, low-cost, and sustainable tool effective in many circumstances and geographies that too many governments and funders haveuntil nowignored. As schools reopen, the world has one chance to respond with a holistic set of solutions to prevent an entire generation of girls from losing an education due to rural exclusion. In addition to investing in quality learning, let’s reconsider what demands we’re putting on rural girls, lighten their load, and recognize the miles and miles of unpaved roads that stand between them and the world they (and we) want. 

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Clouds of quartz detected high in a distant planet’s atmosphere – here’s what this tells us about other worlds

The atmosphere is a reflection of extreme conditions on the super-heated planet.



Artists impression of what WASP-17b could look like, based on data gathered by Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and other ground- and space-based telescopes, including the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. NASA, ESA, CSA, Ralf Crawford (STScI)

Quartz, also known as silica, is everywhere. This mineral is in the screen of the laptop or phone you’re reading this article on. It’s used to make computer chips, which are in everything from medical equipment to washing machines. It can be melted to produce glass.

Chemically, quartz is silicon dioxide: one silicon atom attached to two oxygen atoms. It’s a major component of the Earth’s crust, the ground beneath our feet.

This remarkable material has now been discovered floating in the atmosphere of a giant planet 1,300 light-years from Earth. This planet is called WASP-17b and belongs to a class of planet known as a “hot Jupiter”. WASP-17b is an exoplanet, which is a world orbiting a star that’s not the Sun.

The new study provides an important insight into the sometimes extreme and unfamiliar conditions present on worlds around other stars. We think of quartz as a hard substance, but the heat and pressure on WASP-17b can transform this mineral into a gas. The crystals then form out of this gas in the upper atmosphere.

Much like Jupiter, it’s composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. However, it orbits close to its parent star, completing a full circuit (a year on WASP-17b) in just 3.7 Earth days. The proximity to its star super-heats WASP-17b to temperatures of over 1,500°C (2,700°F). This temperature is so high that most materials, such as rocks or ice, will exist on WASP-17b only as gases.

We made observations of the planet using Earth’s largest space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). We looked at WASP-17b as it passed in front of its star from our point of view, a phenomenon called a transit. We then measured the starlight as it filtered through the planet’s atmosphere.

By breaking up that starlight into different wavelengths, we could see changes in how the atmosphere absorbs and interacts with that light. Each atom and molecule in the atmosphere imparts a unique fingerprint on the light, and we can use computer models to disentangle these fingerprints, linking them to particular chemical compounds.

Extreme conditions

Using JWST’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which measures light at infrared wavelengths, we revealed evidence for very tiny quartz crystals (nanocrystals) forming high-altitude clouds in the atmosphere of WASP-17b.

The pressure where the quartz crystals form, high in the atmosphere, is only about one-thousandth of what we experience on Earth’s surface. Combined with the temperatures of around 1,500°C, the conditions allow solid crystals to form directly from gas, without going through a liquid phase first.

This shows us that other planetary systems like this one, for example, in which gas giant planets orbit close to their parent stars, can have quite different characteristics to our Solar System.

Transmission spectrum from WASP-17b.
Measured transmission spectrum of WASP-17b from JWST MIRI. The purple line shows the modelled quartz clouds with the yellow line showing what it would look like without them. NASA, ESA, CSA, Ralf Crawford (STScI), data and models: Grant et al. 2023, Astrophysical Journal Letters

The fine quartz crystals in the atmosphere of WASP-17b, which measure just one millionth of a centimetre, can help us unravel more information about this exoplanet and the nature of its atmosphere. Potentially, it could provide us with a detailed understanding of the planet’s chemistry.

We have previously detected silicates in the atmospheres of stars, astronomical objects called brown dwarfs and giant young exoplanets. However, these are often in the form of magnesium silicate and not pure silica. Silica can take on many forms depending on the additional atoms of material that contaminate it, slightly changing its properties.

Instead, on WASP-17b, we are seeing the likely building blocks of silicates in the form of tiny “seed” particles of pure silica absorbing and scattering the light, causing a spike in our measurements.

We combined these measurements with those from the Hubble Space Telescope, which measured the planet at optical rather than infrared wavelengths. When we fed the data into computer models, they told us the atmospheric particles are just nanometres across, 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The prevalence of silicates throughout the universe suggests they should be there in all exoplanets in some form or another, but in the exoplanets that can be most easily examined with current tools they have previously eluded our detection.

While exoplanets have captured the imaginations of scientists and the public alike, of the some 5,500 known today, only a fraction can be explored in detail. But advanced telescopes such as JWST are allowing us to find out more than ever before about worlds located tens, hundreds and thousands of light years away.

Hannah Wakeford is an Associate Professor at the University of Bristol and receives funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee formerly ERC Starting Grant (grant number EP/Y006313/1). HRW acknowledges the significant harm caused to members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the Department of State and Nasa, while under the leadership of James Webb as Under Secretary of State and Nasa Administrator, respectively.

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Euro slips as Eurozone inflation falls to 4.3%

Eurozone CPI confirmed at 4.3% Markets eye Fedspeak, with four FOMC members speaking today The euro is considerably lower on Wednesday. In the European…



  • Eurozone CPI confirmed at 4.3%
  • Markets eye Fedspeak, with four FOMC members speaking today

The euro is considerably lower on Wednesday. In the European session, EUR/USD is trading at 1.0525, down 0.48%.

Eurozone inflation falls to 4.3%

The inflation rate in the eurozone for September was confirmed at 4.3% y/y on Wednesday, down from 5.2% in August and the lowest since October 2021. Services, food and energy prices were all lower. Core inflation, which excludes food and energy prices, was confirmed at 4.5% y/y in September, down from 5.3% in August and its lowest level since August 2022.

The positive news follows last week’s German inflation release for September, which showed headline CPI falling from 6.1% y/y to 4.5% and the core rate easing to 4.6%, down from 5.5%. Inflation remains well above the ECB’s target of 2%, but the central bank’s tightening is clearly showing results, as elevated rate levels continue to filter through the economy.

In the US, four FOMC members will be speaking today. Their comments will no doubt provide some headlines and perhaps some insights into future rate policy. This will be followed on Thursday with remarks from Federal Reserve Chair Powell at an event in New York.

The Fed has consistently preached a ‘higher for longer’ stance on rates and Tuesday’s hotter-than-expected retail sales report supports this stance, as does the September inflation report. Consumer inflation remained unchanged at 3.7%, higher than the market estimate of 3.6%. The future markets have reacted by raising the probability of a quarter-point hike in December – just one week ago, the odds stood at 26% but have jumped to 41% at present, according to the CME FedWatch Tool.


EUR/USD Technical

  • EUR/USD is testing support at 1.0548. Below, there is support at 1.0456
  • 1.0600 and 1.0648 are the next resistance lines

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AUD/USD edges lower, China data beats expectations

China’s GDP beats expectations at 4.9% Australian job growth expected to fall The Australian dollar started the day higher but has reversed directions….



  • China’s GDP beats expectations at 4.9%
  • Australian job growth expected to fall

The Australian dollar started the day higher but has reversed directions. In the North American session, AUD/USD is trading at 0.6357, down 0.13%.

The US dollar has steamrolled the Aussie, which hasn’t posted a winning week since September and dropped close to a one-year low last week. The Australian dollar has bounced back this week, however, gaining 1.08%.

The situation in the Middle East remains perilous, with the risk that the Israel-Hamas war could spread and ignite a regional war. President Joe Biden has arrived in Israel, a move intended as a warning to Iran and others not to enter the conflict. The fighting has not affected risk sentiment, as investors haven’t panicked and snapped up greenbacks. Still, the Middle East is a powder keg at present and if the situation worsens, we could see a flight to the US dollar.

Australia will release employment numbers on Thursday. Job growth has been solid and posted a strong gain of 64,900 in August. Employment is expected to fall sharply to 20,000 in September. Unemployment has been at low levels and is expected to remain at 3.7% for a third straight month.

China is Australia’s number one trading partner, which means that Chinese releases can have a significant impact on the Australian economy. China’s post-Covid recovery has been much weaker than expected, and deflationary pressures and a property crisis could have negative implications for the global economy.

Chinese released key data on Wednesday and all three releases beat expectations. GDP for Q3 rose 4.9% y/y, above the consensus estimate of 4.4% but well shy of second-quarter growth of 6.3%. Retail sales for September climbed 5.5% y/y, up from 4.6% in August and above expectations of 4.9%. Finally, industrial production was unchanged in September at 4.5% y/y, compared to the consensus estimate of 4.3%. China’s economy may be in better shape than expected, but the road to recovery is likely to be a bumpy one.


AUD/USD Technical

  • AUD/USD is putting pressure on support at 0.6343. Below, there is support at 0.6240
  • 0.6399 and 0.6430 are the next resistance lines

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