The Fight for Universal Education
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to education,” but only in recent years has significant progress been made towards ensuring protection of that right. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of out-of-school primary aged children dropped by almost 37 million. Today, more girls are enrolled in school than ever before, and the number of students in secondary schools is rising substantially.
There is, however, still much work to be done to ensure every child has access to education. 58 million children who should be in primary school are not, and 63 million adolescents between the ages of twelve and fifteen are prevented from continuing their schooling. Girls in particular suffer from a lack of access to education with young women facing violence and discrimination that keeps them out of the classroom.
Quality education has the capacity to transform both communities and individuals. It is a powerful tool that can end generational cycles of poverty and provide a strong foundation for sustainable development. This is why education is such a crucial component of the global development puzzle.
Why Education Matters
Education generates sustainable change that spans multiple generations. Just one extra year of schooling increases a person’s earnings by up to 10% and provides them with more diverse employment opportunities. A quality education equips children with the knowledge they need to transition smoothly to adolescence and adulthood, and become active members of their society.
Access to education is a key component of improving global health and helping people make informed decisions about their health. By facilitating access to treatment and fighting against stigma and discrimination, education helps combat preventable diseases like HIV and malaria. Educated adults are likely to have smaller, healthier families, and they often pass healthy habits on to their children. Educated women are better equipped to control how many children they have. In Mali, for example, women who receive a secondary education or higher have an average of three children, compared to women with no education who average seven. Women with higher levels of education are also more likely to seek out health care and support during their pregnancies, resulting in improved maternal and newborn health. Furthermore, a child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past age five.
Barriers to Access
Poverty is a significant barrier to accessing education. Even when primary school is free, the additional charges for uniforms, textbooks, teacher salaries and school maintenance are too large of a financial barrier for many families. In many countries where primary school is free, secondary school is not, and children’s educations are terminated much too early. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, children from the richest 20% of households reach ninth grade at eleven times the rate of those from the poorest 40% of households. Children living in poverty are also frequently pulled out of school and forced into the workplace to provide for their families.
Humanitarian emergencies, particularly war and conflict, are another barrier to education. More than 40% of out-of-school children live in conflict-affected areas, and millions are forced out of school each year due to natural disasters. A safe-school environment can gift children with a sense of normalcy during a crisis, and help societies bounce back quicker after a disaster. Unfortunately, only 2% of humanitarian aid goes to education during a crisis, and children’s education often slips through the cracks as a result.
Education and Gender Discrimination
Girls face additional and unique barriers to education such as child marriage and early pregnancy. Many countries place little value on the education of girls. Girls are more likely to be pulled out of school to help with domestic labor due to the perception that their proper place is in the home. Families with limited resources may choose to send their sons to school instead of their daughters and girls who do try to attend school often face violent retaliation.
Approximately 34 million girls worldwide are out of school, and women comprise nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adult population. An estimated one-third of girls in the developing world are married before age eighteen, and another estimated one-third of women in the developing world give birth before age twenty. Educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will and are more likely to have healthier babies later in life. Women who finish school are also more likely to send their children to school, and are better equipped to provide for themselves and their families.
Global Washington Members Fighting for Universal Education
- Amigos de Santa Cruz Foundation: Since 1998, Amigos de Santa Cruz has been working to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala through support for education and sustainable economic development. Amigos believes that education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty for the indigenous people of Guatemala, and is focusing on long term generational change, helping to create a literate populace and an educated leadership.
- Ashesi University: A nonprofit, four-year university located outside of Accra, Ghana, Ashesi University was founded by a Ghanian who chose to leave a career with Microsoft in the United States to open the school. The mission of the University is to educate a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa. In Seattle, the foundation works to connect a global community of donors, friends and volunteers to support the University.
- Dreams for Orphans: Dreams for Orphans works in Ghana to provide safe environments and educational opportunities for children who have been orphaned, abandoned or abused. They facilitate private school sponsorships, vocational school programs and support those enrolled at the university level. Support includes paying tuition, funding extracurricular activities and providing school supplies and uniforms.
- Kobi Academy: Kobi Academy’s mission is to provide exceptional education that empowers children in Ethiopia to be creative, achievement oriented, compassionate citizens committed to life-long learning and community stewardship. Its vision is to incorporate the best in Early Childhood Learning (pre-School through 4th grade), adapted within the Ethiopian context and packaged as the ‘Kobi Method’ that would be made available for scaling to other locations.
- Mission Africa: Mission Africa aims to empower children and families in remote Nigerian villages by providing support in three core areas: poverty alleviation, healthcare and education. They award scholarships, donate uniforms and provide school supplies to children in need. With each scholarship cycle, 50 students are selected by village members to be funded for six years.
- Mona Foundation: Mona Foundation is dedicated to supporting grassroots educational initiatives and raising the status of women and girls. By partnering with grassroots educational organizations that have proven records of success and supporting them as they evolve to meet the needs of their communities, the foundation has granted over $6.8 million. This has impacted more than 75,000 children, women and families through 34 projects in more than 16 countries.
- The Northwest School (NWS) /International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia (ILAE): The ILAE is a college preparatory school whose students come mostly from underserved urban and rural areas. Students are selected for their academic and leadership potential. The ILAE is a partner school of The Northwest School, a day and boarding school in Seattle with a mission to graduate global citizens. Students and faculty collaborate, enriching the curriculum of both schools and strengthening the educational capacities of the ILAE in its effort to provide quality education to students in Ethiopia.
- Pilgrim Africa: Pilgrim Africa supports Beacon of Hope Secondary School in Soroti, Uganda, which offers over 500 rural youth one of the best boarding school educations in the region. They invest in children in great need, but who have even greater potential. The poverty in the Soroti region is extreme, affecting every facet of life. Early marriage is common, food shortages are frequent, malaria is endemic, and 80% of the children drop out of school before seventh grade. While the challenges are great, Beacon of Hope is one of the only secondary schools in Uganda where a majority of the students are poor, rural, and empowered to envision a new future through an educational scholarship. Students are selected on the basis of need and academic potential, and are offered a holistic, rigorous, STEM-focused education with the opportunity to encounter the love of God. Students remain in the school for 6 years, from 7th grade to 12th grade, before moving on to university.
- Relief and Education for Afghan Children: Relief and Education for Afghan Children (REACH) is dedicated to educating children, especially girls, in rural Afghanistan. They have provided funding for five schools, and there are now over 1,400 students enrolled in the schools financed by REACH. They work closely with local Afghanis to ensure that each school meets the needs of those it serves.
- Rwanda Girls Initiative: Rwanda Girls Initiative built the Gashora Girls Academy, an upper-secondary boarding school, in order to increase educational opportunities for girls in Rwanda. The organization’s vision is that students will graduate as inspired leaders with a love of learning, a sense of confidence and the economic empowerment to strengthen their communities and foster Rwanda’s growth.
- Sahar: Sahar works with Afghan communities to support an educated future for Afghan girls by building schools, computer centers and implementing teacher training programs. Sahar and its partners have built and supplied twelve new schools in Afghanistan thus far. Currently, they are working on building a thirteenth school, as well as working to repair nine others. In addition to building schools, Sahar manages an Afghan teacher training center for rural teachers and facilitates women’s literacy programs.
- Schools for Salone: Schools for Salone is dedicated to helping Sierra-Leones rebuild the rural schools that were destroyed during the country’s ten year civil war. Since 2005, they have built sixteen schools and two libraries in Sierra Leone. The schools work to revitalize Sierra Leonean communities, empower children and improve socioeconomic conditions for families and their communities. Schools for Salone also provides support for teachers by offering intensive summer teacher training institutes.
- West African Vocational Schools (WAVS): West African Vocational Schools works in Guinea-Bissau to equip women and men with life-changing job skills so they can transform their communities. The WAVS School, which is attended by approximately 100 students at any given time, is run by an all-Guinean staff and offers classes in computer basics, auto mechanics, welding, sewing, English and French – courses that are in demand by people in the community and are designed to help young men and women acquire marketable job skills.