Education is vital to improving lives across a range of areas. Whether it be in health, sanitation or gender equality, access to education leads to better outcomes and brighter futures.
In particular, the importance of children attending school is recognised as being so core to having an impact on reducing extreme poverty that it was named as a specific target in goal 2 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
On average, girls are far less likely to attend school than boys and if they do attend, they are far more likely to drop out early due to the need for them to assist with tasks such as caring for their siblings, assisting with household chores or with the family crops.
Yet organisations like CARE know that educating girls can have a positive ripple effect throughout the course of their lives. Girls who are educated are more likely to have fewer children, and to have them later in life. When they do have children, the risk of malnutrition for both themselves and their children will be significantly reduced. In fact, evidence shows that for every year a girl stays in school, her income later in life is likely to go up by 10 per cent.
Barriers to school attendance
Children who miss out on school are often from poor communities, minority ethnic groups, and/or those who live in remote areas.
Barriers to education often increase for children who live in rural or remote areas of a country where access is a big issue. It is much easier to set up and maintain schools in urban areas where trained teachers are willing to live and supplies such as teaching materials are cheaper and more readily available. Where there is very little transport, the distances students have to walk to get to school may also prevent them from attending.
A significant barrier to school attendance, especially for girls, is the ‘opportunity cost’.
Opportunity cost can be explained by what is given up when making a decision – for example, if an Australian student chooses to buy lunch at the canteen every day for three months with their pocket money, they wouldn’t be able to save and might have to ‘give up’ the iPod they’ve been wanting for a year.
While the costs of things such as school fees, books and uniforms can make schooling too expensive for many families in developing countries, opportunity costs also have a big impact on attendance. In developing countries, many families depend on children, especially girls, to help around the house.
Often, boys do not have the same jobs and responsibilities as girls, so the opportunity costs of them attending school are lower. Boys may also be seen to be more likely to get a job – where girls are expected to look after younger brothers and sisters, fetch water and firewood and prepare food. Often, the loss of support and income for families when a girl attends school is seen as too high.
Ensuring that both girls and boys stay in school is an investment in their lives, and that of their families and communities. It is also vital to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Learn more by reading the case study below and introducing some of the individuals CARE works with to your class.