Even as the world prioritizes improving the accessibility and quality of education, global dropout rates continue to increase. In most developing countries, very few children graduate from secondary school or even finish primary school. Sub-Saharan Africa sees 42 percent of its pupils leaving school early, and 33 percent of southern and western Asian students also drop out. While free universal education for all children is an important goal, the way policies and organizations approach the goal should keep global dropout rates in mind.
Why don’t impoverished children stay in school? An obvious reason is the cost of schooling in general. Many schools offer free tuition, but expenses for lunch, uniforms and examinations all add up to a high cost. If local education doesn’t prepare students to meet local and national standards, parents are forced to pay for additional tutoring for their children. Also, educational opportunity comes at a cost if children who typically produce an income for their families become full-time students. Since impoverished families are often large, supporting many children in their education becomes almost impossible. When choosing between a tutor and food for the next week, chances are the latter is a higher priority.
Going to school may even be dangerous for students, resulting in high global dropout rates in developing countries. Limited infrastructure forces many students to walk far distances every day. If an area is prone to conflict and hostility, walking students are at a high risk of encountering violence and becoming casualties.
Other factors influencing children to leave school include a lack of basic facilities like water points and latrines, support for disabled children, language barriers and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or religion. The curriculum might drive children and families away from school if its mastery isn’t relevant to their lives, defeating the purpose of universal education.
Children who don’t go to school are often the most vulnerable and marginalized in a developing society. Of the 121 million children currently out of primary and secondary school worldwide, more than 60 percent live in impoverished countries.
Establishing universal education is the logical place to begin, but in order for the education system to be effective, it must address global dropout rates and tailor a learning environment that keeps students’ unique situations in mind. A curriculum that values real life problem-solving and relevant topics, such as health and financial literacy, is more sustainable in impoverished regions than a more American, test score grading approach.
Students need to feel empowered and develop the knowledge and skills necessary for alleviating poverty. While the answer to poverty is already hazy, the world’s youngest minds may find the key that unlocks both a lifetime love of learning and a draw toward critical thinking required to manage their limited resources and create opportunities for themselves.
– Allie Knofczynski