Quality education that doesn't leave anyone out
Education for all...
As we mentioned above, poverty constitutes one of the most common causes of exclusion regarding child access to school. School fees, the cost of material, uniforms and transportation frequently turn out to be a heavy burden for poor families. This situation has a negative impact on a country's growth and perpetuates the poverty cycle.
Armed conflicts and political instability interfere with education as well. Nowadays, over 43 million children living in war-stricken countries can't attend school. These children go by ignored by international aid plans because education isn't considered a primary goal during conflicts by donor countries. Education should be thought of as a basic humanitarian response given its capability to reduce the negative impact of conflicts, since it constitutes a key element for protecting children, improving economic growth and promoting peace.
Regarding gender issues, figures speak for themselves: two thirds out of the nearly 780 million illiterate adults are women, and two thirds out of the 70 million children who do not attend school are girls. Despite those figures, it is a well known fact that educating women does not benefit them exclusively: it raises economic productivity, reduces child and mother mortality rates and health and education of the future generations improve substantially.
Disabilities constitute another ground for exclusion in education. Nearly 98% children with disabilities do not attend school, despite the fact that the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities urges states to ensure that handicapped people aren't left out of the general education system. Reasons are, among others, poor access to schools and the lack of qualified teachers.
Finally, it should be mentioned that children who belong to indigenous communities and ethnic minorities have less opportunities to enter education and have higher chances of repeating the year. Classes held in a language other than their native, the lack of specifically trained teachers, material that does not reflect cultural diversity, discrimination and racism still constitute huge obstacles in making education available for indigenous communities all over the world. Girls who are part of those minorities are twice discriminated against.
Katerina and Gregorio are two Quechua youngsters working in Bolivia on the project "Educación: la llave para el desarrollo local" (Education: the key to local development") . As Katerina points out: "it is not easy to approach this issue within families and society in general because traditional roles are still present. I throw questions around like: why are women always in the kitchen? or: why most women can't read or write? or: why girls can't do the same jobs men do? These can be a discussion starter for talking about such things with the family, but I'm still afraid of doing the same in public because our society is male-dominated.
And Gregorio stresses: "it is hard to talk about gender issues in public because our custom says that men should have the prominent roles and women should take secondary ones, that's the reason why many women in the countryside don't attend secondary school and many can't read or write. It's hard to talk about this with my family. But I think that so much talking on gender is opening their eyes and is helping them to not feel discriminated against. Now we do the chores and work in the fields without distinction."
But simply demanding access to education isn't enough. Quality is a key factor in education, specially for people and communities that suffer exclusion for whatever reasons. In many African countries between 25% and 40% of teachers claim that they don't have books or guides on the subjects they teach.
In others, the ruinous state of the facilities and the excessive number of students make learning a difficult task. The lack of drinking water and sewers can put off students, specially girls, from attending school. All these facts show there is a desperate need to ensure access to a quality education for all.
"It is really tough to teach a crowded class, specially in such narrow rooms. The most brilliant follow, but we can't help the slower ones. We've never had enough blackboards, chairs or desks. An now we don't have enough rooms either. We haven't received any new textbooks. We can't teach if no one pays for the expenses (books, blackboards, pens, pencils, chalks and repairing and keeping the facilities). Every three months we are given a small subsidy by the Ministry, and our only hope is they raise it to care for the new students", a teacher at Kisita primary school in Uganda says.