The Case for Basic Universal Education

Friday, 23 October 2015
By International Needs
The Case for Basic Universal Education

Written by guest blogger, Antora


The Case for Basic Universal Education

Education is a major priority area for global development, due to its vital role in poverty eradication. Achieving universal primary education for all boys and girls was one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and has been given utmost priority in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This focus on education has pushed developing regions to increase their primary school enrolment to 91%. However, globally over 59 million children of primary school-age still remain out of school. When children are out of school, they are not only being denied of their universal right to education, but are also being denied the opportunity to create a better future for themselves and transform their lives for the better.

What are the statistics?

The statistics about global education, particularly global primary education are staggering. According to UNICEF, half of all children out of primary school worldwide are from Sub-Saharan Africa, where 55% of those out of school are girls. In Sub-Saharan Africa, girls can expect as little as five years of schooling in total , and those who do not enrol into primary school by the age of 10, will probably never attend a school in their lifetime. What is equally concerning, is of those who do attend primary school and have spent at least four years in a schooling environment, 250 million are still unable to read or write.

What are the barriers to education?

These statistics are of serious concern and require us to breakdown the barriers to education. Children in developing countries in particular, are faced with numerous barriers. These barriers range from poverty, to educational facilities being inaccessible in certain areas. Furthermore, with the alarming increase in war and conflict around the world, schools are being shut down for safety concerns or destroyed in conflict. UNICEF estimates that out of all children unable to attend primary school, 36% of them live in countries currently affected by war or conflict . In Syria for example, 90% of schools can no longer be used as a consequence of widespread conflict .

Lack of electricity in classrooms is also another major barrier to education. For example, only 22% of all schools in the Sub-Saharan African region, have access to electricity. Additionally, primary schools not having separate toilets for boys and girls or not having toilets at all in some cases, means girls are less inclined to come to school due to health and safety risks associated with sharing toilets or lack of toilets.

Research in barriers to education moreover, show that an estimated 221 million children are being taught in a language other than their native tongue, meaning they are unable to take full advantage of their education due to language barriers.

What happens when barriers to education are removed?

When the underlying barriers to education are removed, it brings about remarkable positive changes, not only in the lives of those attending school, but in the community and nation as a whole. Education is a vital element in reducing poverty, where the UN estimates that 170 million people can be lifted out of poverty if all students in poorer countries had basic reading skills. Education also prevents the spread of poverty from one generation to the other, where each grade of schooling completed, increases an individual's income by 10%. It is also projected that providing all children with basic quality education, can increase the annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth of a low-income country by an extra 0.37% .

The MDGs and the post-2015 proposed SDGs have placed paramount importance on girls’ education in particular. This is because, girls’ education has prevented more than 4 million child deaths in the past four decades, furthermore, one additional year of primary education can increase a woman’s annual earning by 10%-20% and 1.7 million fewer children would experience stunting if all women had completed primary education.

Aid for education

Regardless of carrying such positive global impacts, education has not received the attention it requires in terms of aid funding. It is estimated that AUD $22 billion in aid is required to send all children in low-income countries to school . However, according to UNICEF, aid for education has fallen by 10% since 2010, meaning only 2% of humanitarian aid goes towards improving educational facilities. In order to achieve the MDG of “Universal Primary Education” by the end of 2015, the world still requires 2 million more teachers and the world’s poorest countries need approximately 4 million new classrooms to accommodate all students. 

Today the world is faced with a number of challenges ranging from widespread conflict to inequality. In order to address these challenges, education is crucial in shaping present and future leaders as well as developing citizens towards a more sustainable and equitable future. As education is fundamental in achieving sustainable development due to its promotion of gender equality, contribution to improving maternal health and contribution to an increase in household incomes, we must do more to address the barriers to education and support children’s education globally. In doing so, it will ensure all children have access to quality education in order to grow into prosperous individuals and simultaneously allow their communities to prosper along with them.

International Needs Australia is an international development organisation working to improve the lives of individuals in the developing world. Currently, International Needs Australia is running the ‘Just One Day’ campaign for primary school students. This campaign aims to raise awareness about education and poverty, by asking students and their families to live simply for just one day . Students and families are encouraged to fundraise, in order to keep children living in developing countries in school. Raising just $100 will assist one family in sending one child to school for the year, whilst raising $200 will provide classroom resources for a whole primary school. 

Antora is a Masters of International Development student at Monash University, Clayton and International Needs Australia volunteer with a passion for gender and conflict issues in development.

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