Universal access to education means more than you think
When I think about my primary education I have flashbacks of reading Goosebumps in our school library, playing on the “big kids” playground, whale watching field trips off the coast of California, and school performances in our auditorium.
So, when I first try to contemplate what kinds of challenges the developing world might face in regards to improving and increasing access to education, I’m way off.
As it turns out, state of the art computer labs, remodeled libraries, and soccer fields with fresh grass aren't high on the list of priorities (although I’m sure they’re very welcome).
Take the primary education system in Malawi as an example. In the past 10 years Malawi has made some significant strides in increasing access to education. In 1994 free primary education was introduced which increased enrollment from 1.6 million students to over 3 million.
Of course, this achievement hasn't come without its setbacks. As a result of the rapid increase of students there are not currently enough qualified teachers, classrooms, or books to support them. This means many kids must learn in outdoor settings, many must share desks, and only 39% have electricity. A room and electricity. Two things I definitely would not have thought of.
How about classroom size? In extreme situations I’ve heard of US classrooms exceeding 30 students even though our average is around 22. Kids in Malawi, however, typically learn with 60 students in their class.
Despite these deterrents I imagine these students still consider themselves lucky. After all, many Malawian children (60,000 to be exact), cannot enjoy this privilege because school books and uniforms can be costly.
Imagine trying to learn without text books, trying to focus outside because a classroom isn't available, or having to share a tiny desk with the noisy kid next to you. This is a reality for many children in Malawi, and in other parts of the world. Conversely, imagine being responsible for the education of 60 children. I can tell you from personal experience that 20 kids are challenging enough.
The next time I think about closing the global education gap I’m going to have to shift my perspective. I’ll think about a little girl in Malawi and try to imagine what would be most important to her. I may never know what it’s like to walk in her shoes, but here’s what I do know: everyone deserves quality, low-cost education. Kids who are educated will have better jobs, and a real chance to lift themselves out of poverty. Thankfully, the Global Partnership for Education is on it. They’re addressing some of the biggest barriers to achieving education for all, and with your help we can persuade the US government to make a strong commitment to the Partnership. Help create a brighter future for kids around the world.