For the second blog in this “More than Money” series, I’ve chosen to focus on the topic of education. As the above clip notes, education is one of the best ways to break the cycle of poverty, with Nelson Mandela going so far as to say “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Yet obtaining an education remains far out of reach for many people living in extreme poverty for reasons that go beyond money.
Free for the Rich, Costly for the Poor
Rich countries – where people most able to afford to send their kids to school –provide an education at least through secondary school for free (some through university), yet poor countries that are full of people living on less than USD$2 a day charge a fee for at least secondary school if not primary school as well.
So for those of us who grew up in places like the US or UK, going to school was such a normal part of life that it was as expected as taking your next breath. Yet for kids growing up in many developing countries, going to school is a luxury reserved primarily for those living above the poverty line. For instance in Pakistan, almost half of children from poor households are not in school, compared to only 5% of children from the richest households (UNESCO).
Out of Reach
For those families living in poverty whose kids are in school, further barriers continue to stand in their way. Many rural villages lack access to schools. This leaves communities to either create makeshift schools in their homes, old buildings or in open spaces with unqualified community members stepping in as teachers, or to send their children to walk long distances to and from the nearest school each day, or to simply not send them anywhere at all.
These are just two factors that contribute to the 67 million children around the world who are presently being denied their basic human right of receiving an education, 95% of whom live in developing countries.
Not All Education is Good Education
For those lucky children who manage to make it into a classroom, many of them are still leaving without a good education. The 2011 Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report reveals that millions of children in low-income countries are leaving primary school with reading, writing, and numeracy levels far below what is expected for their age group. Overcrowded classrooms, lack of teachers, high teacher absences, and lack of teaching materials are a few of the circumstances that contribute to problems we see in places like Pakistan where nearly two in three rural school children (aged 6-16) cannot read a basic story (March for Education).
Without providing a good education for these kids in developing countries to equip them with the skills and qualifications they need to be able to get a decent paying job, we risk the chance of trapping them in a never-ending cycle of poverty.
What Can We Do?
So the inevitable question is, now that we know what the problems are, what can we do? There are amazing campaigns you can join like Send My Sister to School (who made the video above) who are putting pressure on governments to do their part to create Education For All. With less than 4 years to go to complete the MDGs, it is imperative that we close the funding gaps needed to help each of those 67 million children obtain their right to a good education.