WASHINGTON, D.C. — Education plays an incredibly vital role in helping children, adolescents and adults free themselves from the constraints of extreme poverty. And yet, according to UNICEF’s most current estimate, 93 million children worldwide are not attending — or don’t have access to — school. A whopping 80 percent of this population consists of children living in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia — two of the regions worldwide in which poverty is the most extreme. Where is the hope for these millions of children? For many, hope lies in the Basic Education Coalition.
BEC is a nonprofit that was founded with a singular mission: to ensure that all children around the world have access to a quality basic education. The organization is made up of 15 member organizations, all of which have a vast array of expertise and experience in all facets of global basic education programs and policy. “We are the only U.S. consortium of major international development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy organizations working together to advance the cause of universal basic education,” declares BEC, making its mission even more crucial to the alleviation of the global education crisis.
Established in 2001, the BEC formed to help advance the global gains made at the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal. The coalition’s mission was to ensure that the U.S. government made policy and funding decisions that effectively fulfilled the U.S. pledge at Dakar, which declared support for the goal of “Education for All” (EFA) by 2015. The coalition strives to implement basic global education policies and programs, to increase the resources allocated to this cause and to raise awareness on the importance of a basic education.
Why is BEC so crucial in the fight to alleviate global poverty? Basic education is essential to every facet of society, from gender equity and child and maternal health, to economic growth and the reduction of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS. What’s more, the impact of education in impoverished communities has proven time and time again that education doesn’t stop at the individual child who receives it.
According to UNICEF, “[Education] ends generational cycles of poverty and disease and provides a foundation for sustainable development. A quality basic education better equips girls and boys with the knowledge and skills necessary to adopt healthy lifestyles and take an active role in social, economic and political decision-making as they transition to adolescence and adulthood.”
Educated adolescents and adults are more likely to ensure their own children attend school. Education is an investment that creates positive change not just for the individuals that receive it, but for their entire families and communities.
An incredibly significant piece of the BEC’s work lies in quality control. Access to school does not guarantee an education for any child. Though the BEC works hard to raise funding for schools themselves, the organization’s central focus is to work with the U.S. government to create programs and policies that ensure that children around the world receive an education that equips them with the skills — not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but also health, hygiene and basic life skills — necessary to forge an alternative path for themselves and for their families. For many children that do have the opportunity to attend school, low-quality education puts them at the exact same disadvantage as those children who do not attend school. Quality is everything when it comes to education.
From dilapidated school buildings, over-crowded classrooms and under-qualified teachers, low quality education severely limits a student’s learning potential and the opportunities that child has for success — and sometimes, for survival. To address this particular issue, the BEC is working on addressing a more regular means of monitoring and evaluating student progress in schools, a more effective teacher training program and is overseeing the allocation of basic resources — chalkboards, books, chairs — to schools with the greatest needs. It’s not just about raising funds for classrooms, but also about finding the people, materials and programs that will reach the most children, and that will have the greatest impact on their lives.
According to statistics put forth by the BEC, an estimated $16 billion in funding is necessary to close the global education gap. This gap is enormous, and its effects play out in communities around the world every day. The BEC states, “The result is 775 million adults around the world who lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, condemning them, and their families, to a life of poverty.”
The investment that BEC has made thus far in terms of advocating for and implementing a basic global education policy has yielded significant results. Since 2011, the number of U.S. government-supported primary school programs has jumped from 24 million to 41 million, and in 2006 alone, over 135 million children around the globe attended school for the first time. There is more work to be done, but with enough advocacy, teamwork, the allocation of resources and the implementation of effective basic education programs, the public has the power to bring 93 million children around the world into a classroom for the first time.
— Elizabeth Nutt