How different would your life be if you never learned how to read and write?
It’s unimaginable. This is the reality for 264 million children around the world who are denied access to primary and secondary education. That means 10% of the world’s children are losing opportunities for employment in the future and are at risk of falling into the poverty trap. To put this number in perspective, that’s more than half the number of reported COVID-19 cases to date and 65 thousand times the number of undergraduates enrolled at Bentley. If we continue at this rate, many of these children won’t be able to attend college when they grow up.
In today’s world, education is essential to achieving personal and professional success. This is why we need to work together to improve access to quality education for all. We can do this by lowering costs and prioritizing school funding.
For millions of children, the opportunity to learn is robbed of them because their parents can’t afford to send them to school. While most countries today offer free primary education, there are always extra costs for things like supplies and transportation, which can add up quickly for low-income families. As of August 2021, one in three families can’t afford school supplies. So even if that wasn’t your family back in elementary school, it was your neighbors across the street or your friend sitting next to you in class. Students simply can’t learn effectively if they don’t have the right materials. These fees can cost as much as one-third of an average family’s yearly income. Wherever possible, schools must find ways to eliminate these costs so more families can send their children to school.
Governments and charities can help lower educational costs, too, by using what’s called unconditional cash transfers. These are programs that provide cash to low-income households to supplement their income. Compared to conditional cash transfers, unconditional transfers support families without any legal obligations or conditions, making it a better option for funding education.
But even when children are in the classroom, they are still not receiving the quality education they should be, especially for students with learning disabilities. To fix this, schools should require disability training for all teachers and staff to ensure that they know how to meet students’ needs. This is more important than ever, with around 7 million students in public schools identified as having disabilities.
Schools can also invest in assistive technology. I’m currently a Program Manager for the Bentley Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Center (BSLCE), and some students that I tutor use text-to-speech technology on their laptops to help with reading comprehension. These changes can be costly, so policy makers must prioritize school funding to make this possible. Clearly, funding education hasn’t been a priority because almost every state spends more money per prisoner than it does per student in public schools. One way to help fund schools is by implementing a progressive tax code, meaning that people who earn higher income pay more taxes.
We all want a quality education. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be at college. If all of us young women can get an education at the college level, then why are 264 million children being denied one of the most basic human rights? Household income, social class, and disabilities are all out of children’s control, so why should their education be limited because of these factors? In countries like Afghanistan, social stigma against girls is yet another barrier, with only one in three Afghan girls attending school.
You might dread going to your 8 a.m. history class on Monday mornings, but think about all of the girls half your age who might never get that opportunity for reasons outside of their control. If I could change the world, everyone, even those in extreme poverty, could learn how to read and write. Children of all social classes, races, ethnicities, and abilities would have a seat in the classroom. This can be our reality if we choose to act. Schools can lower costs, policy makers can strengthen school funding, and our world would be one step closer to achieving true equality.