Imagine a nine year old boy, Joseph, hustling to raise his three siblings in a child-headed family in a small village in Uganda. What chances does he really have of escaping this trap of poverty? I have come to believe that, more than any other intervention, education provides the most effective tool for children like Joseph in paving a path to a brighter future.
As we celebrate the achievements of the 2015 MDGs and charge forward with the 2030 SDGs, we may ask; is education reaching all such children like Joseph? If it does, of what quality is it? Depriving children of education is depriving them of an essential tool that can help them breakout of the cycle of poverty. This obsolete poverty deprives these children of the opportunity to good health, quality education, safe shelter, and safety as well as bargaining power.
Educating children, especially those in poverty, creates lasting change. In the developing world, the gap between the rich and poor does not allow equal access to quality education by all. Girls are more disadvantaged as some of them drop out of school due to early pregnancies. Some parents do not see any value in educating girls. Children growing up in conflict zones are not favored either. They study under the hardest conditions and are not in better placed position to compete favorably with their counterparts in stable communities. The odds stuck up against them.
The MDG 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education greatly focused on increased enrolment of children in school which today (2015) is 91% compared to 83% in 2000 in developing countries as reported in the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 by the UN. While enrolment was high, the quality of education provided still remains poor, most especially in rural communities where children study under trees, dilapidated classrooms, lacking adequate learning resources. In some cases the teachers are not qualified enough to provide a quality education to these children.
While education is thought to be free for all, public school is not free. The cost of books, uniforms, and other associated fees are met by the parents or guardians. With majority of households still leaving below the poverty line, parents are not in good financial standings to meet the education needs of their children. This has greatly contributed to high dropout rates, as children join the labor force to help their families on farmland or family businesses to boost family income.
The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals have sparked excitement and a renewed commitment to social development. This was evidenced at the 2015 Social Good Summit during the launch of the 2030 SDGs in New York in September. However, as the world focuses its attention on agenda 2030, what lessons can we learn from the 2015 Millennium Development Goals that may inform our implementation model for the SDGs?
This is the time to do better. SDG4: Quality Education for all can be achieved if the indicators are clear, specific, realistic and measurable. Governments should also invest in education and ensure that all schools (rural and urban) have the basic requirements and a good learning environment for all children.
Education service programs should focus not only on getting children in schools, but also on equipping schools with essential tools that facilitate quality teaching and learning for both teachers and students. Libraries, education technologies, teachers’ training, classroom infrastructure, as well as other associated facilities that stimulate physical and mental growth are very essential. Unless these resources are provided, our well-intentioned development efforts will continue to yield less than desired results if not complete failure.
As a result of increased resources in schools, we can achieve high enrolment, retention, completion rates and improved grades. Educated girls and women are less vulnerable to HIV infection, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation and more likely to marry later and have fewer children. An education can help decrease the spreading of infectious diseases
As we charge forward with agenda 2030, let us draw from the lessons of the MDGs 2015 mindful of the plight of children trapped in poverty around the world. The best proven tool we have to empower these children, as Nelson Mandella clearly puts it, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ With joint efforts, it is an achievable goal. In a spirit of determination, as the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokoya, inspires us: “there are no immovable barriers to education”; we can do it! Bokoya goes on to emphatically state that, “From better health to increased wealth, education is the catalyst of a better future for millions of children, youth and adults. No country has ever climbed the socio-economic development ladder without steady investments in education.” The ball is in our hands, Are we ready and committed?