Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Unfortunately, not all people have access to free or affordable education, especially children who live in poor countries. If people win the fight against the barriers to education, it could potentially create bold impacts in the lives of countless people around the globe.
Experts believe that improved education and access to quality schools contribute to many positive changes, including the growth of an economy, the overall health of a society, and even possibly fight climate change. However, plenty of developing countries still face the challenges posed by various barriers to education, although factors may differ per country.
Fortunately, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) recently assembled their leaders in Dakar, Senegal for their third GPE replenishment. Their initial target was raising $3.1 billion worth of new investment for the fund, with $320 million pledged by the Department for International Development (DFID). The money raised by GPE goes toward acquiring and providing many of the critical tools students and teachers in poor countries need, especially those living in crisis-affected areas.
Even with big funding from such organizations, and countless organizations worldwide contributing to a better educational system, there are still many great challenges to education. Here are the top 10, and how the organizations are helping to combat them:
One of the most obvious reasons is the lack of funding. The GPE has been helping many developing countries in increasing their own financing from local and domestic sources, but global education donor support has been dwindling to 4% lower than the amount of aid received in the past.
In Mexico, for example, their government cut their education budget by over 11% – cutting the textbook budget by a third, plus teacher training programs were lowered by 40% – worsening an already existing problem. In Canada, youth from low-income households have been dropping out of high school, at the alarming rates of 30-50%, partially due to little-to-zero financial security.
Money is not everything, but growing up in a poor family is a major factor as well. While many countries provide free elementary or primary education, people still need to pay for other things. School fees, textbooks, and even school uniforms can all cost so much. Poor families either have difficulty affording things or could not afford them at all.
Studies show that children from the poorest 20% of the population are four times less likely to be in school when compared to the 20% who belong to the wealthiest households. This is one of the reasons the poor stay poor, and they often cannot even complete primary school, one of the most basic needs and rights a child is supposed to have.
Distance from Home to School
Some of the less fortunate children around the world have to walk to school for as much as three hours, a feat difficult considering their age, and some of them are fighting malnutrition or even disabilities. These children have to get themselves to school by leaving home in the early morning before the sun even rises, and then finally arriving home just in time for dinner. A 14-hour day wherein half of it is spent on traveling on foot is simply debilitating. Some children, especially girls, even have to face some sort of violence, adding to even more danger to their journeys to and from school.
Two possible barriers are either having an untrained teacher, or having no teacher at all. There are not enough teachers globally, even for just elementary schools. Unfortunately, many teachers are also untrained. UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimates that the world needs 69 million new teachers just to reach the universal primary and secondary education by the year 2030. However, for every one in three countries, less than 75% of teachers have received training that reach national standards.
Millions of children around the world, especially in Sub-Saharan countries in Africa, end up trying to squeeze into overcrowded and dilapidated classrooms. Some try to take it outside just to go through with classes.
For example, in Malawi, a Grade 1 class has an average of 130 children in the room. In Chad, only one in four schools has a toilet, and only one in seven has access to drinkable water. In addition, girls have access to only a third of the available toilets, making it a distinctive barrier to entice females to go to school.
Ineffective funding, leading to lack of classrooms among many other money-related issues, hurt poor students and their chances of attaining great futures. Public school funding in most US states, for example, are considered unfair – only Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey received “fair” ratings from the “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card” by the Education Law Center.
Lack of Learning Materials
Often, children have to put up with outdated textbooks, sometimes shared between several students. For example, in Tanzania only 3.5% of their Grade 6 students have the privilege of using their own textbook – everyone else puts up with worn out copies used by several kids. In Cameroon, Grade 2 students share one reading textbook between 11 students, and one math textbook for every 13 students – alarming rates that affect children’s learning and motivation.
A study by market research company NPD Group even revealed that 91% of teachers end up buying basic school supplies for kids whose families could not afford them. Another survey by AdoptAClassroom.org found out that the average US educator spends around $600 of their own money annually to cover students’ basic supplies.
Fortunately, funding from GPE has helped about 40,000 schools by delivering 146 million textbooks to students in Ethiopia. Bold moves such as this help alleviate the burden that affects far too many children and even their teachers worldwide. UK’s Action for Children raised £75,639 in its first year. On this, Head of Corporate Engagement Mary O’Hagan, commented, “Giving children the essentials they need raises their confidence and motivates them to succeed.”
Hunger and Poor Nutrition
Hunger is a major factor in education, even though it is massively underreported. When children are extremely malnourished and hungry, it negatively impacts brain function and brain development. About 171 million children from developing countries experience stunted hunger only by the time they are 5 years old, affecting their cognitive abilities and focus in school. As such, they are 19% less likely to know how to read by even age eight.
Being the “Wrong” Gender
Poverty often forces families to have only one child or a selected few to get into school. Often, girls miss out because of the misconception that boys have more value in going to school than they do. In addition, as previously mentioned, the lack of access to toilets especially for girls is one of the barriers of getting education.
Even with many advances in educating women around the world, there are still 130 million young girls worldwide not enrolled in school due to conflict, poverty, and discrimination. According to data provided by the 60 million girls Foundation, a poor young female from Sub-Saharan Africa is least likely to attend primary school due to such factors.
Coming from a Minority
Speaking of discrimination, being from a minority ethnic, religious, or linguistic group also hinders education for certain kids. A child who grew up speaking a minority language will have difficulty learning when the mode of instruction is not in their mother tongue. Even kids with less or zero access to technology outside of school can make them fall behind or even feel ashamed about not having access to tech. Coming from any minority group hinders students into a very obvious disadvantage.
Living in a place of conflict makes kids casualties of war, even if not literally. As places become unsafe and school buildings are physically destroyed, children have little to no access to education. Just last year, there are about 50 million children in war-affected countries, with 27 million of them out of school. According to the same data by UNICEF, a total of 75 million children experienced disruption from conflict or crisis, and education is almost always a low priority in humanitarian aid for such countries – about only 3% of global humanitarian assistance went to education back in 2016.
Disabilities or Handicaps
Education is a fundamental human right, but many kids with disabilities are denied access. There are about 93 million children with disabilities worldwide, with up to 9% of children in poor countries staying out of school due to discrimination and the lack of teacher training and learning materials for kids with certain special needs.
A UNESCO research showed that in certain middle-income countries, working people with handicaps were 33% less likely to have completed primary school. For example, countries like Bhutan, Iraq, and Bangladesh often deny kids with disabilities from school. Groups like the UN and GPE try to fight this by making sure of inclusive education availability.
Many children unfortunately face many barriers to education, through no fault of their own. Groups and organizations that help fight these barriers, and even certain companies who donate their profits for the same causes, are helping change the world for a better tomorrow for the children.
Organizations around the world like CARE, Escuela Nueva, and Room to Read are just some in addition to the others mentioned above. Through donations, local funding, and voluntary work, they are creating a global movement with bold impacts for more people than they realize, creating a future that is both bright and sustainable for today’s young generations.