Access to Education
Article 28 requires primary education to be offered free of cost to all children, that secondary education appropriate to the child’s interests and abilities (i.e., vocational or college preparatory) be made available and accessible, and that higher education be made accessible. Much progress has been made in this area. Since 2000, the number of children enrolled in school has increased markedly, as has spending on education. However, approximately 57 million primary school-aged children are not enrolled in school (UNESCO, 2013); thus, more work remains. As discussed in Chapter 5, war and conflict pose a large barrier to school enrollment and attendance; half of all children who are out of school are in conflicted areas (UNESCO, 2013). Barriers to school enrollment include safety concerns, poverty, and traditions that do not emphasize schooling.
The majority of children who are not enrolled in school are girls (UNICEF, 2012c). Girls who live in poverty, in rural areas, or who are members of ethnic groups likely to experience discrimination are at particular risk to be out of school (Plan International, 2012b). Some do not attend due to safety concerns such as danger walking to school and harassment at school. Many schools in rural Africa do not have private toilet facilities, and after girls experience their first menstrual cycle, there is no private place for them to tend to these needs and they will drop out of school rather than be shamed (LaFraniere, 2005).
Some cultures believe it is not useful to educate girls as they will “only” grow up to marry and have children. Other girls may start school but may not be able to finish due to early marriage or a need to help with the housework at home. However, research has found that education of girls has an impact far beyond the immediate learning. Children of mothers who have been educated have lower child mortality rates due to improved nutrition and immunization rates and are more likely themselves to be educated (UNICEF, 2012c). As explained in Chapter 6, education serves as a protective factor for girls, not only by educating them about potential risks such as HIV but also by serving as a productive activity that reduces high-risk activities.
Three-quarters of the children not in primary school in the Global South are from the poorest 60% of households (UNICEF, 2006a). Poverty inhibits schooling in two fashions. First, the family may need the children to stay home and help earn a living. Second, many countries charge fees for school attendance. Even if the country does not charge fees, there are still often costs for supplies and uniforms. In the 1990s the World Bank encouraged its debtor nations to charge fees for textbooks and other school expenses to reduce the amount of federal money spent on social and educational services in these countries. However, this substantially reduced the number of children able to attend school, and in 2002, the World Bank reversed its policy (Dugger, 2004). A number of countries, such as Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana, have now eliminated school fees under the banner of the drive for Universal Primary Education (UPE). Kenya’s “cost-sharing” program under the World Bank plan, where families were expected to “share” in the costs of education, resulted in higher rates of dropouts and students repeating a grade while simultaneously lowering graduation rates (Nafula, 2001). In contrast, there was rapid enrollment growth under UPE (World Bank, 2009).
In Uganda, enrollment rose 240% over 6 years (Avenstrup, 2006). However, not only have enrollments increased greatly, but delayed enrollments have decreased and more children are completing grades. Girls in poor households in particular have experienced these positive benefits. Only about 10% of children not in primary school state that the money is the main barrier to attendance (even though tuition is no longer charged, there are still costs for supplies and uniforms). However, the percentage of children out of school due to cost rises sharply for secondary school, which is not free. In addition, more girls drop out during secondary school due to marriage/pregnancy or sexual harassment, including from teachers (Nishimura et al., 2008; Plan International, 2012b). Additionally, the risk associated with eliminating fees is that the rapid increase in students can overwhelm the system. The rapidly rising enrollments associated with
UPE led to overcrowded classrooms; running classes in shifts; acute shortages of teachers, textbooks, and other materials; as well as the problem of overage students in the classrooms (Avenstrup, 2006).
In 2012, the United Nations launched a new campaign focused on achieving universal primary education. Named “Education First,” its goals are to put every child in school, have them receive a quality education, and to foster global citizenship (United Nations, n.d.). It immediately gathered USD$1.5 billion in pledges to achieve its goals, both from governments as well as businesses (Niles, 2012). These pledges will help improve education in a number of nations around the globe. This is needed because aid for primary education has been declining as international donors have slashed their budgets (Provost, 2013).