Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.


10 Barriers to Education Around the World

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.

Increasing access to education can improve the overall health and longevity of a society, grow economies, and even combat climate change. Yet in many developing countries, children’s access to education can be limited by numerous factors. 

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a global collaboration between more than 60 developing countries, is on the front lines of working to increase access to education in these places. On Feb. 1, 2018, GPE leaders will convene in Dakar, Senegal for the third GPE replenishment, aimed at raising $3.1 billion in new investment for the fund. 

This money will go toward providing critical tools for students and teachers in developing countries around the world, often in states that are fragile and crisis-affected. 

Take Action: Ask More Donors to Step up and Fund the Global Partnership for Education

Here are 10 of the greatest challenges in global education, and how the GPE is addressing them right now: 

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. The amount of total aid that’s allocated to education has decreased in each of the past six years, and education aid is 4% lower than it was in 2009. This is creating a global funding crisis that is having serious consequences on countries’ ability to get children into school and learning. Money isn’t everything, but it is a key foundation for a successful education system.

The Global Partnership is aiming to raise $3.1 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. 

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 69 million new teachers are required to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030. Meanwhile, in one out of three countries, less than three-quarters of teachers are trained to national standards.

In 2016 alone, the Global Partnership for Education helped to train 238,000 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. With an additional $3.1 billion, GPE could help build an additional 23,800 classrooms, while training over 1.7 million teachers, among other things. 

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 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.

Read More: Malala Is Taking Action on Global Education — And You Can Too

For example, GPE funding helped deliver 146 million textbooks to all primary and secondary school students in Ethiopia, increasing access to quality services in an estimated 40,000 schools. 

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. With a successful replenishment, the GPE will be able to work with its more than 60 developing country partners to promote inclusive education. 

The GPE already has a proven track record in this capacity. For example, at the Daerit Elementary School in Asmara, Eritrea, children are taught that, “All children can learn.” And with funds from GPE, the school is pioneering inclusive education in the country

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 130 million young women around the world are not currently enrolled in school. 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. Girls also miss days of school every year or are too embarrassed to participate in class, because they don’t have appropriate menstrual hygiene education or toilet facilities at their school to manage their period in privacy and with dignity.

Read More: This Issue Has Rihanna, LeBron James, and Chance the Rapper Stepping Up and Taking Action

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 38 million additional girls go to school. Sixty-four percent the developing countries GPE supports and works with succeeded in getting equal numbers of girls and boys to complete primary school in 2015. GPE funds have also resulted in better sanitary facilities, like toilet blocks and gender separated toilets worldwide. With a successful replenishment, GPE could get an additional 9.4 million girls in school by 2020. 

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 2017, around 50 million children were living in countries affected by conflicts, with 27 million of them out of school, according to UNICEF. Conflict prevents governments from functioning, teachers and students often flee their homes, and continuity of learning is greatly disrupted. In total, 75 million children have had their education disrupted by conflict or crisis, including natural disasters that destroy schools and the environment around them. Worryingly, education has thus far been a very low priority in humanitarian aid to countries in conflict – and less than 3% of global humanitarian assistance was allocated to education in 2016.

Since its establishment, the Global Partnership for Education has committed nearly half of all its grants ($2.3 billion) to conflict-affected and fragile states. Nearly half of all GPE funded countries classify as either “fragile” or “affected by conflict.” 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 5 a.m. 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.

Read More: 7 Insane Ways Children Get to School All Around the World

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 malnutrition 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 

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 if they are ‘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. 

Do your part: call on world leaders to step up and #FundEducation