Why do 113 million children who should be attending primary schools in developing countries never show up at school? Why do 264 million kids at the secondary school level not attend? Most of the time, these kids would love to attend school, but because of forces beyond their control, they can't. Getting the millions of children who are not receiving an education to go to school is a sure way to improve education and help stop poverty.
Why don't Kids go to School?
Encouraging children to attend school is the focus of several initiatives.
There are many reasons kids don’t, or can’t attend school in developing countries. We outline the major reasons here:
- Impoverished Family: Families that are deep in poverty often find it difficult to send their children to school. If parents cannot make enough money to support the family, they can be forced to keep all their children home to work, or may only be able to send one or two kids to school. Also, even ‘free’ primary education systems have hidden costs. Most countries do not supply money for uniforms or basic school supplies, passing the burden onto families who may not be able to afford it.
- Tradition: In some countries, traditional or religious beliefs prevent families from sending their children – especially girls – to school. In some cases, girls are married off at a very young age, denying them their right to an education.
- Health: Children are especially susceptible to infectious diseases such as malaria and diarrhea. Diseases and malnutrition keep many children from going to school.
Getting Kids to School
Because of the many reasons that kids do not attend school, many different approaches are necessary to get kids back in school, each tailored to work in different circumstances. For instance, if cultural beliefs and tradition are keeping a girl’s family from sending her to school, it doesn’t make sense to try and entice the family with cash stipends. However, this approach might work if a child is being kept home to work so the family can make enough money to survive. Here are some common techniques used to get kids into schools in the developing world:
Sometimes children must work instead of attend school.
- Payments: When money is an issue (school fees are too much for a family to afford, or a child is needed at home to support the family), paying families stipends (regular cash installments) to send their children to school can be very successful. These types of programs have already been implemented in countries such as Brazil and Bangladesh, which good results.
Brazil’s national ‘Bolsa Escola’ program is considered a revolutionary step forward in bringing more kids to school – the program now involves 8.7 million schoolchildren and 2.5 million parents.
- Changing Beliefs: In regions where girls are kept from school by tradition, or are married off while very young, informational campaigns about the benefits of education can change families’ minds. In Turkey, a $3 billion-a-year revamping of the education system has made it easier for girls in conservative neighborhoods to go to school by using ‘administrators’ who can change a family’s views on education.
- Making School Free: If the school system in a country is not free, then most families experiencing poverty are prevented from giving their children an education. By using more government money for education programs, and by effectively utilizing international aid, even developing countries can create a free public school system. The next step is to eliminate costs for uniforms and other supplies, creating a truly free system where families do not lose any money by sending their kids to school.
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Bangladesh: School Girls' Power (PDF).
Fighting Poverty Through Education in Venezuela. 2000.
Turkey: Putting Education First (PDF). 2005.
Education can break vicious cycle of poverty. 2005.
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United Nations Millennium Campaign. 2005.
UNESCO: Education grant takes children off the streets. 2005.