WESTFORD, Massachusetts— It is commonly said that our parents are our first teachers. They shape our futures, instill in us our values and encourage us to discover new opportunities.
As Mother’s Day approaches, it is important to recognize just how crucial a mother’s role is in the future health and development of children worldwide and that an emphasis on an educated female adult population can do wonders in decreasing poverty and its harms. In areas of future economic success, social agency and physical well-being, the mother is the cornerstone to global development.
Though it might sound drastic, the more educated the mother, the less likely her child is to die. Even basic primary schooling can teach skills about personal hygiene, disease control and nutrition that could one day remove that student’s future child from severe health risks. This is especially true today, as schools increasingly provide broader informational resources and offer more than academic instruction, giving vaccinations, daily lunches, health education and regular medical exams.
Community health benefits continue to increase as a girl’s education is extended, as her years in school eliminate her chance of being a child bride too young for pregnancy. Statistics prove that in societies where women are better educated, they tend to give birth later, as well as space out their births more, both of which directly correlate to the health of both mother and child.
Addressing female education is therefore vital in communities that are afflicted with high infant mortality rates, and in achieving the fourth Millennium Development Goal, which aims to reduce the number of children under 5 years old dying each year from seven million to four million by the end of 2015. Right now, that leaves only about a year and a half to prevent the deaths of four million children.
However, experts speculate that if a massive and immediate outreach were to take place to educate girls and mothers, roughly two million of those deaths could be averted. Significant declines in childhood mortality have already been attributed to the benefits of female education. Since 1970, the annual rate of death among children under the age of five worldwide was reduced by 8.2 million deaths, and the majority of that prevention is attributed to a higher number of households run by better educated women.
Over the course of those four decades, the average number of years in school also rose for women of reproductive age, from 2.2 years to 7.2 years. Additionally, for just every one year increase in average female education within a community, there is as much as a 9.5 percent decrease in child mortality.
Child health expert at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Al Bartlett states, “The finding is not surprising, but the magnitude is impressive. It clearly justifies what many have been saying for a long time–that one of the investments we need to make is girl’s education.”
The progress is also systemic, for the education of a mother is also directly linked to the education of her children. A mother, especially an educated mother, is integral in the making of a family’s household decisions. Effectually, a household run by parents who themselves know the value of education is likely to prioritize the education of their own children.
A study conducted across Africa suggests that when just one parent has even some primary level schooling, the percentage of children in school can increase drastically from 18 percent up to 47 percent in households with an educated father and 56 percent in households with an educated mother. Even more impressively, when both parents have some amount of education, that number jumps even higher to 70 percent.
This is especially true for female children, as an example of the proverbial mother-daughter relationship. Women who are themselves educated tend to be cognizant of their increased agency because of that opportunity and the extraordinary benefits of female education within a patriarchal world. Thus, these women are statistically more likely to send their daughters to school alongside their sons.
Ultimately, this contributes to what experts of educational aid and female empowerment within the developing world call the “legacy effect.” The result is the creation of yet another generation with an increased number of educated mothers, and a multitude of accompanying social and economic benefits.
– Stefanie Doucette