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