“The number of children out of school has dropped by 33 million worldwide since 1999”
So says this year’s Education for all Global Monitoring Report, released last month as the most comprehensive and up to date analysis on progress towards getting all kids into schools.
On the face of it, that’s a huge step forward – a cause for celebration as evidence of things getting better. But, there’s still twice that many kids – some 72 million – who aren’t getting the chance to learn to read and write, to gain the skills that will enable them to take part in society.
It’s a topic that’s going to get a lot of attention later on this year, with the FIFA Football World Cup in South Africa focusing heavily on the power of education to change lives. FIFA have gotten behind the One Goal campaign, working to get all gets into school by 2015. They’ve got an amazing array of world leaders, footballers and celebrities behind the campaign – who you can see in this video.
You can’t tell it from their website or videos at the moment – but there’s actually a clear set of policies that One Goal is asking for, based off the work of the Global Campaign for Education, and focused on achieving the Education for All Goals, which in their briefest form are for all kids to go to and complete primary school for free.
One of these goals which has been largely neglected in the media coverage that you’ll see I quality – making sure that kids don’t just go to school, but they actually learn things are relevant, important and useful to them and to their community. ant, important and useful to them and to their community.
It’s something that I got to grapple with on a trip to Malawi, where early one morning I went out with the World Food Program to see how feeding kids at school was helping to increase attendance. Kids – and adults – who haven’t eaten properly can’t concentrate and learn properly, so the idea made lots of sense, and I wanted to see how things worked on the ground.
There, I met the headmaster of the school, Isaac, who you can see here standing in front of the maize used to feed the kids. He excitedly showed us around the school – through classrooms, toilets and the like – as kids swarmed in from all over the countryside. It was truly phenomenal to see them all, many walking four or five kilometers to get here, with Isaac saying that 98% of kids in the region were enrolled, and that attendance was around 90% - comparable to the USA, UK or Australia.
The challenge though, as Isaac explained it, was that the program had almost been too successful. On the meagre funds that the school had, Issac had been able to hire ten teachers, who took it in turns to share the school’s six classrooms. I asked Isaac where kids learnt if not in classrooms – so he showed me up to the end of the field, to a group of students gathered around a blackboard and teacher lent up by a tree. I asked what happened when it rained – “It doesn’t rain very often,” he said, before laughing, “but when it does, we get wet.”
As I watched the class, I took to counting – this third grade class had 147 students. I asked Isaac how many students there were in the whole school, and he said just under 1500. This was a typical class.
In the three hours I spent with Isaac and his staff, not once did they complain. They were excited that so many students were able to learn – and although they wished for more and better resources to teach with, they were focused on doing the best with what they had. As Isaac put it to me, “These children – they are the future. Most of their parents never went to school, most of their parents never got to learn how to read or write. This – this is not perfect – but it is so much better than nothing, and over time, we are making it better, we are making it so that all the children in our area can help make our country great.”
As I reflected on Isaac’s comments, and on the big picture changes that we’ve seen over the last decade, I’m filled with hope about our potential when it comes to education. There’s so much that has been achieved – but so much to do. There’s the knowledge that efforts at our end – calling for more and better aid to education, buying fair trade and enabling producers’ kids to go to school, raising money for charities who work to improve the quality of education – make a real difference. Above all, I’m left with the knowledge that Isaac, his teachers and his community aren’t waiting for a handout from people like me, they’re working as best they can with what they’ve got. What I, and what all of us can offer is support to do more, to go further and to go faster – and that’s exciting.
To find out more about education and extreme poverty, check out the Global Poverty Project Info-bank.