Quantifying the problem
According to UNICEF, one in five school-aged children aren’t in school at all.
An estimated 617 million children and youth are unable to achieve a minimum level of proficiency in reading and math, even though two-thirds of them are in school.
This shows that lack of formal education isn’t the only problem. Around the world with unequal access to quality education, being in school doesn’t always mean learning.
Schooling does not always lead to learning. Worldwide, there are more non-learners in school than out of school. UNICEF
The global cost of illiteracy is $1.19 Trillion. According to a report, 37 countries are losing at least half of the amount they spend on education because children are not learning.
Because of lack of basic literacy, children face amplified barriers in adulthood with employment, health, and decreased likelihood of participation in decisions that impact them the most.
Why this is a reality? Leading causes of illiteracy:
Poverty is one of the key barriers keeping children from school as children from the poorest households almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than those from the richest. When children aren’t in school, they are working. More than 150 million children aged 5–17 are working- missing out on education.
Gender stereotypes lead to inequality in education as girls are 4 times more likely to out of school than boys from the same background. This is a very dominant factor in developing countries as girl’s education isn’t seen as an investment in the favor of the family, and disgrace to family honor as educated girls are often seen as ‘corrupted’. Moreover, the lack of female faculty and long distances to school increase the unease of parents to send their girls to school.
Other factors include disabilities as nearly 50% of children with disabilities are not in school compared to 13% of their peers without disabilities. Attacks on education have decreased the likelihood of parents sending their kids to school as a report in 2019 revealed more than 14,000 attacks on education with 10,000 directly on schools in 34 countries over a 5-year time. With 1 in 5 children living in countries affected by conflict, UNICEF estimates that 48.5 million children are missing school because of war and conflict.
As climate change disrupts livelihoods, it has been shown to affect education as well. Around 37 million children have their education disrupted because of environmental threats. This is caused by more than just the closure of schools during disasters. It leads to unaffordability as families face losses because of destroyed income sources (farmlands etc.).
In terms of increasing learning, evidence shows that for students to learn good teachers are needed, but mostly in developing countries little attention is paid to the teachers hired. Research shows quality teachers can increase student learning by multiple years of schooling.
Hunger and ill health are also detrimental to learning as children that come to school with an empty stomach or sickness are unable to focus and learn.
Incentives to make Quality Education a priority
Education is the most important tool for social and economical development. Education is considered to be one of the most effective methods for breaking out of generational poverty. A Brookings Institute study shows that one year of education leads to 10% of growth in earnings. For women, the Borgen Project says that each year of education after grades 3 and 4 increases earning potential by 20%. Decreasing the number of high school dropouts by half would nationally produce $45 billion per year in net economic benefit.
More than that, according to UNHCR, simply educating all girls to secondary school would decrease worldwide deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria by 49%. Additionally, each year when a girl drops out of school, national fertility rates increase by 10 percent!
In terms of the social benefit of education: gender stereotypes are challenged in society because of education and enlightenment. Increasing girls in school can reduce child marriages as it helps girls delay marriages.
Education is also linked to increased civic participation as it helps citizens make informed decisions regarding who to vote for, which policies to support and advocate for. It also helps them voice their concerns and perspectives.
According to World Bank, each year of education reduces the risk of conflict by approximately around 20%.
The progress of societies is strongly linked with education and increased funding, legal frameworks, and infrastructure will play an important role in increasing literacy rates.
Final Thoughts: Education is changing lives
It’s easy to undermine the impact of education because most of us who are reading this have grown up in relatively educated social circles. Because of this, we don’t see how education can give you the wings to fly. My father has stressed about educating all his girls from the best because he had firsthand seen how education enabled him to build himself up from scratch.
I have roots in a rural village in Pakistan where my father has set up a welfare school, which teaches based on the oxford syllabus, a first and an only in my village. Talking to the founding members and the alumni, I learned how equipping the students of the welfare school helped them stand shoulder to shoulder with their urban peers. The alumni are pioneering careers that were unheard of in the village before. The key point here is that quality education isn’t only teaching to be tested at the end of the year. It’s what equips the students to approach life and all it offers in such a way that brings success, relative to the person.
As we talk about getting more kids access to schools, we need to talk about ensuring that it’s quality education. Good teachers, methods of teaching, how the students are being engaged with the syllabus and without it. This is not in the least where we can comprise quality over quantity, because that would cost us our future.