Education and poverty
All children have a right to an education. But millions of children miss out on school every year.
Without an education, children's employment and livelihoods remain limited, with significant socio-economic and health impacts.
One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure that every child completes primary and secondary school by 2030. Over the past decade, significant gains have been made in improving child and adult literacy rates. But poverty, conflict, gender inequality and COVID-19 threaten to wipe out years of progress.
An estimated 200 million children will still be out of school by 2030.
Approximately 617 million children worldwide do not have basic mathematics or literacy skills.
At least 750 million adults are illiterate – over two-thirds are women.
Over 132 million girls worldwide miss out on school.
Why are children missing out on education?
Poverty and education are connected in a vicious cycle. When you’re living in poverty, it is difficult to afford an education. Without an education, it is hard to earn sufficient income to lift yourself out of poverty. This cycle can continue for generations.
Families living in poverty face a tough choice between their short-term, immediate needs and the long-term benefits of education. Disadvantaged households often do not have sufficient resources to pay for essentials such as school uniforms, stationery or transportation.
When we tackle poverty in disadvantaged communities, we improve the likelihood of children finishing school. Something as basic as supporting a community to build a well can have flow-on effects for children’s education. A community with improved access to safe water means children will spend less time walking to collect water for their families and more time in the classroom.
Women are particularly disadvantaged
Gender inequality, traditional social hierarchies and cultural norms are strong barriers to girls’ education. In households with multiple children, parents may send their sons to school rather than their daughters, because they are seen as having higher wage-earning potential. Girls are instead designated domestic duties, such as collecting food and water for the family.
In many communities around the world, girls are forced to marry before they finish their education. Child marriage robs girls of the opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge they need to become financially independent. It is essential that we keep girls in school, so they are empowered to make their own life decisions. Girls who have completed their schooling are much more likely to marry at a later age, have fewer children and earn higher incomes. This in turn helps to lift disadvantaged households out of poverty.
The fear of gender-based violence can also discourage girls from attending school. In many communities, girls walk long distances to their nearest school. This puts them at high risk of sexual violence on their way to and from school.
Many schools in disadvantaged communities also lack adequate toilet facilities or access to clean water. Girls would often skip school during their period, or drop out altogether. When we improve health and sanitation in schools, we also improve girls’ prospects of continuing their education.
COVID-19 has disrupted education worldwide
The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse years of progress in children’s education. Lockdown has forced many schools around the world to close. With the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, many of these schools may never reopen again.
The pandemic has also highlighted the digital divide between the rich and the poor. Remote learning is currently out of reach for at least 500 million students. In many disadvantaged communities, children do not have access to laptops or a strong internet connection to continue their learning during lockdown.
Upskilling teachers in local communities
Disadvantaged communities often face a shortage of skilled, qualified teachers. We believe local teachers should be the agents of change in their community. That’s why it is crucial that we empower local teachers with the resources and training they need to run their classrooms.
In Vietnam, people who live with disabilities often have poor access to education. Our partner agency Sustainable Rural Development (SRD) are supporting local teachers with training so they can provide more inclusive education for children with a disability.
Through our partner agency Jesuit Refugee Services, we have also strengthened the capacity of the Kareeni education department to deliver quality education in refugee camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border.
Continuing education during times of conflict
An estimated 4 million refugee children worldwide are out of school today because of war and civil strife.
The ongoing Syrian conflict, now in its tenth year, has disrupted the education of a generation of children. Through our partners Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Caritas Jordan, we run remedial learning support programs for refugee children from Syria. These classes ensure refugee children can continue learning so they do not fall behind with their education. They also provide children with a safe space that can support their emotional development as they recover from the psychological distress and trauma of displacement.
Education prepares for life after prison
Women in Cambodian prisons often come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with low literacy levels. Many are repeat offenders who find it a challenge to adjust to society after being released from prison. They may resort to petty theft and end up in jail again. But education and training can be a lifeline for women in prisons.
Through our partner, Caritas Cambodia, we run the Comprehensive Prison Program across six Cambodian prisons. This program supports vocational training programs to help women prepare for life outside the prison system. This includes literacy classes, sewing classes, computer training and other valuable skills that can help them find employment.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Education transforms lives
Education is the circuit breaker that can end the cycle of intergenerational poverty. When you empower a person with education, you equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their potential. They can improve their employment prospects, earn more income and, most importantly, lift themselves and their family out of poverty.
Like many women in Tanzania, Oliva didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. She runs a kiosk but her business was losing money because she couldn’t count. She felt embarrassed that she couldn’t read or write.
But after she enrolled in a Caritas Australia-supported literacy and numeracy class, Oliva gained the confidence and skills to manage her business. Her kiosk is now thriving and she can help her children with their homework.
Oliva also set up her own classroom to teach literacy and numeracy to her neighbours, free of charge. She is now a respected community leader and plans to run for the local election.
Oliva’s story shows that when you empower a woman with education, you can empower a whole community.
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