As soon as we turn on our televisions, they’re everywhere, one after another. One cannot imagine the end of July and beginning of August without the bombardment of the “Back to School” ads that fill our TV screens and decorate department store halls.
Everywhere around the world, there comes a time where summer vacation comes to an end and children await the first day of school with excitement, anxiety, and hopefulness. A new year, a new beginning, a new chapter is upon students as they unlock new opportunities to learn, to dream of promise for their future.
However, it is not realistic to say that children all around the world share these sentiments. For children in developing nations, the back to school season is not so optimistic. In countries where education is the only way out of poverty, for many it is simply not an option.
In fact, one in three children in Africa that are enrolled in school drop out before completing their primary education. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about 166 million children in the developing world between the ages of five and fourteen leave school to work for sometimes up to sixteen hours daily in order to help provide for families. For socially disadvantaged groups such as children in rural or indigenous communities, poor urban dwellers, AIDS orphans, or handicapped children, access to education is hard to find. Four out of five children who do not attend school live in rural areas.
Additionally, traditional social patterns in many poorer societies prevent girls from attending school. The stronger the preference for boys in a certain country or region, the more gender inequality there is regarding education. Also, wars and crises that occur in developing countries affect the amount of children that attend school, as many women and children have to flee armed conflicts and the majority of schools are often destroyed in wars.
Another issue that affects the amount of children in school in developing countries is the lack of funding devoted to the educational system in these countries. Whereas the United States, Europe, and other Western nations spend 5.5 to more than eight percent of their national budget on education, countries in the developing world only spend approximately 4.4 percent of their national income on education. These countries suffer from bad governance, corruption, inefficient dispersion of government funding, and a lack of management, which result in not having enough resources to spend on the educational system.
Poorer countries also face the problem of poorly equipped schools with unacceptable working conditions for teachers, as well as low-quality teaching. A lack of textbooks, teaching materials, water, electricity, or student transportation are harsh realities for a majority of developing countries and their educational systems.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel though. For instance, sub-Saharan Africa has seen an increase in secondary enrollment from 4.3 million in 1970 to 39 million in 2009. But there is still much work to be done. This increase in number of children attending secondary school makes it difficult for these nations’ governments to meet this growing demand.
Because of this, organizations such as the Global Campaign for Education calls on global leaders to remember universal primary education as one of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015. Also, it is acknowledged that investing in the education of children in developing countries is what will help lift developing countries out of a desperate economic state. According to UNESCO, every additional year of schooling that a person has in a developing country can increase their future income by approximately 10 percent.
If funding for education in poorer countries is prioritized, it can also help to solve other global issues such as maternal health. UNESCO reports that each additional year of schooling a woman receives reduces the child mortality rate in that country by two percent.
Education is a gateway to a better life for the people living in developing countries. As soon as all children in the developing world have the opportunity to attend school, the more optimistic their back to school seasons will be.
– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Sources: The Guardian, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, CNS NewsDo Something, Huffington Post