Children in poor countries face many barriers to accessing an education. Some are obvious – like not having a school to go to – while others are more subtle, like the teacher at the school not having had the training needed to effectively help children to learn. Here we list 10 major barriers to education, and look at how the Global Partnership for Education is working to overcome them.
1. A lack of funding for education
Image: The Global Partnership for Education
While the Global Partnership for Education is helping many developing countries to increase their own domestic financing for education, global donor support for education is decreasing at an alarming rate. Total aid delivered for basic education has dropped for three years in a row, resulting in a 16% reduction between 2009 and 2012. Aid to basic education is now at the same level as it was in 2008. This is creating a global funding crisis that is having serious consequences on countries’ ability to get children into school and learning. The 59 developing countries that are GPE partners face a funding shortage of $34 billion over the next four years for primary and secondary education. Money isn’t everything, but it is a key foundation for a successful education system.
The Global Partnership is aiming to raise $3.5 billion in new investment from donor countries into the GPE fund, as well as increases in other aid to education, and is also asking developing country partners to pledge increases in their own domestic financing. If these pledges are made, GPE estimate that they can leverage a further $16 billion in spending by developing countries on education, aiming to close the global education funding gap.
2. Having no teacher, or having an untrained teacher
Plan UK: Lensa Kebede teaches her Kindergarten class in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
What’s the number one thing any child needs to be able to learn? A teacher of course. We’re facing multiple challenges when it comes to teachers. Not only are there not enough teachers globally to achieve universal primary education (let alone secondary), but many of the teachers that are currently working are also untrained, leading to children failing to learn the basics, such as maths and language skills. Globally, the UN estimates that 1.6 million additional new teachers are required to achieve universal primary education by 2015, and 5.1 million more are needed to achieve universal lower secondary education by 2030. Meanwhile, in one out of three countries, less than three-quarters of teachers are trained to national standards.
Since 2011 the Global Partnership for Education has helped to train over 300,000 teachers worldwide. With a successful replenishment, GPE can make teacher recruitment and training a top global priority for delivering quality education for all.
3. No classroom
Plan UK: Children in South Sudan learn under a mango tree after their school was destroyed by civil war.
This seems like a pretty obvious one – if you don’t have a classroom, you don’t really have much of a chance of getting a decent education. But again, that’s a reality for millions of children worldwide. Children in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are often squeezed into overcrowded classrooms, classrooms that are falling apart, or are learning outside. In Malawi, for example, there are 130 children per classroom in grade 1 on average. It’s not just a lack of classrooms that’s the problem, but also all the basic facilities you would expect a school to have – like running water and toilets. In Chad, only one in seven schools has potable water, and just one in four has a toilet; moreover, only one-third of the toilets that do exist are for girls only – a real disincentive and barrier for girls to come to school.
Since 2011 funding from the Global Partnership for Education has helped to build or rehabilitate 53,000 classrooms. If they receive the money they need from donors like the UK, the GPE can ensure that many more children are able to learn in a decent classroom.
4. A lack of learning materials
Plan UK: A girl in class in Mozambique.
Outdated and worn-out textbooks are often shared by six or more students in many parts of the world. In the United Republic of Tanzania, for example, only 3.5% of all grade 6 pupils had sole use of a reading textbook. In Cameroon, there are 11 primary school students for every reading textbook and 13 for every mathematics textbook in grade 2. Workbooks, exercise sheets, readers and other core materials to help students learn their lessons are in short supply. Teachers also need materials to help prepare their lessons, share with their students, and guide their lessons.
Between 2011 and 2014, the Global Partnership’s developing country partners are on track to distribute 55 million textbooks thanks to GPE support.
5. The exclusion of children with disabilities
Plan UK: A mother walks her blind daughter to school in Togo.
Despite the fact that education is a universal human right, being denied access to school is common for the world’s 93 million children with disabilities. In some of the world’s poorest countries, up to 95% of children with disabilities are out of school. A combination of discrimination, lack of training in inclusive teaching methods among teachers, and a straightforward lack of disabled accessible schools leave this group uniquely vulnerable to being denied their right to education.
Children with disabilities are one of the Global Partnership for Education’s priorities over the next four years. With a successful replenishment, the GPE will be able to work with its 59 developing country partners to promote inclusive education. The Global Partnership has pledged that by 2018, 80% of its partner countries will have explicit policy and legislation on education for children with disabilities.
6. Being the ‘wrong’ gender
Plan UK: Girls can often be denied an education by poverty, conflict and discrimination.
Put simply, gender is one of the biggest reasons why children are denied an education. Despite recent advances in girls’ education, a generation of young women has been left behind. Over 100 million young women living in developing countries are unable to read a single sentence. At least one in five adolescent girls around the world is denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, conflict and discrimination. Poverty forces many families to choose which of their children to send to school. Girls often miss out due to belief that there’s less value in educating a girl than a boy. Instead, they are sent to work or made to stay at home to look after siblings and work on household chores.
Ensuring girls can access and complete a quality education is a top priority for the Global Partnership for Education. Since its inception, GPE has helped 10 million girls to go to school. 28 of GPE’s developing country partners have succeeded in getting equal numbers of girls and boys to complete primary school. With a successful replenishment, GPE aims to increase the percentage of girls completing primary school from 74% to 84% by 2018.
7. Living in a country in conflict or at risk of conflict
Plan UK: The ruins of a former school in South Sudan. Following a 20 year civil war, only 16% of schools in the region operate in permanent buildings.
There are many casualties of any war, and education systems are often destroyed. While this may seem obvious, the impact of conflict cannot be overstated. In 2011, around 50% of all of the world’s out-of-school children were living in countries affected by conflict. Conflict prevents governments from functioning, teachers and students often flee their homes, and continuity of learning is greatly disrupted. Worryingly, education has thus far been a very low priority in humanitarian aid to countries in conflict – only 1.4% of global humanitarian assistance was allocated to education in 2012.
Since its establishment, the Global Partnership for Education has committed 61% of its funds to conflict-affected and fragile states — higher than most other donors. Of the 29 million children GPE hope to get into school between 2015 and 2018, 23 million are living in fragile and conflict-affected states. The Global Partnership is also right now looking at how to further improve its operations to accelerate support to countries in emergencies or early recovery situations.
8. Distance from home to school
Plan UK/Richard Wainwright: 13-year-old Saumon from Cambodia travelling home.
For many children around the world, a walk to school of up to three hours in each direction is not uncommon. This is just too much for many children, particularly those children with a disability, those suffering from malnutrition or illness, or those who are required to work around the household. Imagine having to set off for school, hungry, at 5am every day, not to return until 7pm. Many children, especially girls, are also vulnerable to violence on their long and hazardous journeys to and from school.
By investing in new schools, more schools, the Global Partnership for Education is helping to reduce the distances children have to travel to get to school for a decent education. With pledges of support from donors, the GPE can help ensure no child has to endure such long journeys just to fulfil their basic right to education.
9. Hunger and poor nutrition
Plan UK: Students eat a breakfast of rice and vegetables at a primary school in Cambodia.
The impact of hunger on education systems is gravely underreported. Being severely malnourished, to the point it impacts on brain development, can be the same as losing four grades of schooling. Around 171 million children in developing countries are stunted by hunger by the time they reach age 5. Stunting can affect a child’s cognitive abilities as well as their focus and concentration in school. As a result, stunted children are 19% less likely to be able to read by age eight. Conversely, good nutrition can be crucial preparation for good learning.
The Global Partnership for Education seeks to address national priorities as decided by developing country governments themselves. Where under-nutrition is a major concern, the GPE is stepping in to address the problem. For instance, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, an innovative School Meals Program funded by GPE is addressing students’ nutritional deficits as well as promoting self-reliance, community ownership, and sustainability through integrated local food production and the active involvement of community members. As a result, Lao PDR has seen increased school enrollment (especially for girls), improved nutritional status, reduced household expenses, and stronger student-teacher-parent and community relations.
10. The expense of education (formal or informal fees)
Plan UK: Schoolgirls walk arm-in-arm in Zimbabwe. Cost of uniforms, books and even pens can exclude children from education.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that every child has the right to a free basic education, so that poverty and lack of money should not be a barrier to schooling. In many developing countries, over the last decades governments have announced the abolition of school fees and as a result, seen impressive increases in the number of children going to school. But for many of the poorest families, school remains too expensive and children are forced to stay at home doing chores or work themselves. Families remain locked in a cycle of poverty that goes on for generations. In many countries in Africa, while education is theoretically free, in practice ‘informal fees’ see parents forced to pay for ‘compulsory items’ like uniforms, books, pens, extra lessons, exam fees or funds to support the school buildings. In other places, the lack of functioning public (government) schools means that parents have no choice but to send their children to private schools that, even when technically ‘low fee’, are unaffordable for the poorest families who risk making themselves destitute in their efforts to get their children better lives through education.
The Global Partnership for Education’s primary purpose is to help strengthen the national education systems of the poorest countries, building their capacity to deliver quality affordable education for all citizens. The GPE specifically priorities the most marginalised children out of school, supporting countries to find ways to provide even the poorest families with access to basic education.
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