Universal, quality education is one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against extreme poverty. An educated country is one that is healthier, wealthier, and more stable. And for $1.17 a day — less than the cost of a loaf of bread — a girl in the world’s poorest countries could go to school. It’s a small investment that could change the world.
But too many children aren’t in school. For example, more than 130 million girls are out of school. If that population were a country, it would be the 10th largest in the world – the size of the United Kingdom and France put together. For the first time in history, a world where every child goes to school is within sight. But to get there, a radical shift is needed in the way education is financed and how those funds are used.
The barriers that keep girls out of school, particularly in the poorest countries, are wide-ranging and complex. Some of the most challenging include:
- costs for things like uniforms and textbooks
- concerns about violence and security while in, or traveling to or from, school
- cultural norms and expectations that make girls’ education a low priority
- lack of access to resources, including technology
- poor infrastructure, like overcrowded buildings and a lack of appropriate washing facilities
- teaching and school climate that prohibit girls from learning, especially in STEM subjects
Getting girls into school requires a radical shift in the way education is financed, and the way these resources are used. To truly deliver on learning, we have a global responsibility to break down the barriers that stand in the way of girls attending, learning in and completing school.
In the fight to end extreme poverty, education is a foundational issue that affects all measures of development. When girls are educated, they have better employment opportunities, their earning potential rises and they make more informed decisions about their lives.
We have the tools to ensure girls learn while in school. We know what policies work to improve student retention and to effectively train teachers. We know what information is needed to track progress. And mobile phones and Internet access are already beaming state-of-the-art education materials into homes and classrooms in some of the most remote parts of the earth.
World leaders can advance progress by significantly increasing the financing that goes to education and by implementing reforms that will make education work for every girl.
Over 130 million primary and secondary school aged girls worldwide are out of school. A lack of quality education, especially for girls, is a specific driver of extreme poverty and preventable disease. Indeed, if current trends in education continue, by 2050:
- More than a quarter of the population in low-income countries could still be living in extreme poverty.
- GDP per capita in low-income countries will be almost 70% lower than it would be if all children were learning – low-income countries alone would lose around $1.8 trillion.
- The number of lives lost each year because of lower levels of quality education will equal those lost today to HIV/AIDS and malaria, two of the deadliest global diseases.
Key barriers that keep girls out of school in the world’s poorest countries include costs, cultural norms, fear of violence, and security concerns, particularly in conflict affected areas. Barriers that prevent girls from learning once they are in school include insufficient teachers and limited data to assess learning. For those who live in places where extreme poverty and preventable disease are expected to persist between now and 2030, overcoming these barriers will require both increased financing and – importantly – smart policies to ensure that new and existing resources are being spent effectively and deliver strong learning outcomes.
Confounding progress is the growing challenge of reaching children in fragile and conflict-affected areas. Girls are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of school if they live in conflict-affected countries. Young women are nearly 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than their counterparts in countries not affected by conflict. Still, in most emergency situations, funding for education is not prioritized, even though a lack of education opportunities perpetuates the cycle of instability; the probability of conflict more than doubles in countries with twice the levels of educational inequality.
In the fight to end extreme poverty, education is a lynchpin – a foundational issue without which it will be difficult to gain and sustain progress on most, if not all, measures of development. In addition to increasing economic opportunities, quality education can help improve health outcomes, increase social cohesion, fight inequality, and counter conflict. Put simply, quality education for all is the world’s best antidote to poverty and instability.
Since 2000, the number of out of school children has fallen by more than 100 million. Primary out-of-school rates have fallen by 40%, lower secondary out-of-school rates have fallen by 36% and upper secondary out-of-school rates have fallen by 23%. Yet these rates have remained more or less unchanged since 2012 or earlier.
When world leaders committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, they committed to advancing progress on education. Education not only has its own goal, SDG4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, but is at the root of all 17 of the SDGs. The full potential of education as a catalyst for development must be recognized. The benefits of educating children, especially girls, are unequivocal:
- Addressing the gender gap in education could yield between $112-$152 billion a year to developing countries.
- A dollar invested in an additional year of schooling, particularly for girls, can return earnings and health benefits of $10 in low-income countries.
- In sub-Saharan Africa if child mortality rates were to fall to the level for children born to women with secondary education it could mean the lives of 1.2 million children under five could be saved each year.
- Quality education is indispensable in strengthening the bonds that hold communities and societies together. Greater education equality between males and females in a country decreases the likelihood of conflict by as much as 37 percent.
The benefits of educating girls and women are far-reaching. We know that poverty hits women harder than men, and that preventing girls and women from reaching their full potential holds everybody back. Conversely, when you lift up women and girls, you raise men and boys up too. Put simply, the fight against extreme poverty is tied to the fight for gender equality, and gender empowerment. Nowhere is this more evident than in education.
Getting these girls in to school, and achieving SDG4, requires a radical shift in the way education is financed, and the way these resources are used. To stay on track, international financing needs to more than double by 2020 from $16 billion to $40 billion and domestic financing, which makes up the vast majority of education financing worldwide, will need to almost triple by 2030. But this need comes at a time when donors are deprioritizing education in relation to other sectors. To truly deliver on learning, we have a global responsibility to break down the barriers for girls.
ONE’s Policy Position
Increased financing for education is needed from both international donors and domestic resources. But importantly, any increase in financing needs to be matched by country-level reforms that increase effectiveness and improve accountability around spending. ONE calls on governments and international donors to take the following actions:
- Close the education-financing gap and ensure every child can go to school by significantly increasing funding for education.
- National governments should appoint a ministerial lead to look at what stands in the way of girls attending, learning in and completing school.
- To make education work for every girl by 2030, the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goal 4, leaders must commit to implement a package of reforms in four key areas:
- Break every barrier
- Monitor every outcome
- Connect every classroom
- Invest in every teacher
- Governments should ensure that actionable and measurable steps, with a defined time frame, are included in the education sector plan, with clear evidence of progress by 2020.
- Donors should explicitly call for reforms in these areas and support implementation through financial and technical assistance.
For more information, see the Policy Recommendations in ONE’s most recent Poverty is Sexist report: Why educating every girl is good for everyone.