Education is just the tip of the iceberg.
Education is one of the keys to escaping the cycle of poverty. Yet 58 million children are still out of school, many because their families can’t afford the fees, or because they need to work to help their family survive. For half of those children out of school, war has put a stop to their studies, meaning they are falling behind and may never catch up. No matter where a child lives in the world, poor nutrition, gender inequality, poverty, or conflict can end their education before they even walk in the classroom.
Tackling these barriers to education is a more sustainable way to improve education access and outcomes than just focusing on building more schools. Here’s how:
Equality and Power
Hidden school fees are common in many countries, making education too expensive for children from poor households. If that child is a girl, she is even less likely to go to school because her family may not value education for her as much as for her brother, or her parents may keep her home to care for her siblings. In Canada, less money is spent per student on education for First Nations students than for non-First Nations students, setting these children back before they’ve even started.
Challenging racism and sexism in our societies, and supporting programs that re-balance the scales to reach the most neglected children is what’s needed now to ensure education for all.
If you’re hungry or sick, it’s tough to focus in class. This is more than just a distraction; without enough safe, nutritious food a child’s brain can’t develop, and their ability to learn takes a nose dive. It may sound odd, but having clean water and toilets at school is essential to reducing gender inequality in education, as it’s common for girls to drop out at puberty if they can’t find safe, private toilet facilities nearby.
By fighting for food justice, clean water and sanitation for all, we can make sure that every child who has a chance to go to school will have the ability to learn and reach their full potential.
Partnerships and Solidarity
In many developing countries, years of under-funding and wage freezes have weakened local education systems, resulting in untrained teachers and worn-out classrooms. For students to finish school better than they started, governments need to commit more resources for teacher salaries, training and materials. This is a challenge, as many developing countries have been spending more money paying back loans to rich countries than on education or health for their own people.
Pressuring our governments to keep funding education at home and around the world, sharing skills and knowledge for teacher training, and supporting debt reduction and cancellation programs are sustainable ways to support education for everyone, everywhere.
Dignity and Human Rights
Education is a human right that far too many children are being denied because their communities are caught in conflict and war. When children are not in school, they are at an increased danger of abuse and recruitment into armed groups. Others have been denied an education in a way that is less violent, but can be just as dehumanizing: not being able to learn in their own language. When children aren’t taught in the language that they speak at home, it limits their ability to learn.
If we don’t help displaced children catch up, put an end to escalating global conflict, and support culturally appropriate education, major progress made in education over the last decade will be lost. In order to ensure education is equally accessible to all, schools need to provide culturally appropriate resources and be a safe place where students can learn free from fear.
Working to ensure respect for cultural identity, peace, and understanding will ensure that more children can claim their human right to education.