We’ve all been there. Seriously considering telling the teacher the dog ate it, or it was destroyed in a small fire, or it flew out of the window of the bus on the way to school. The truth of the matter is we just couldn’t be bothered or were too busy having fun to let homework get in the way!
But there are some pretty good, legitimate reasons for not doing your school work in certain parts of the world. Take a look at some of the reasons why girls in sub-Saharan Africa aren’t keeping up in school.
(Disclaimer: None of these reasons include dogs.)
- “I had to walk 1 kilometer to fetch water … FIVE TIMES.”
Friend of ONE (and President Obama!), 15 year-old Eva Tolage from Tanzania has said: “We have a water borehole next to our house but the level is too low, so instead I walk 1 kilometer to the river… five times a day.”
How are girls like Eva supposed to concentrate on their education when they have to fetch water for their families throughout the day?
- “I had to look after my siblings!”
In sub-Saharan Africa, even just helping out with chores in the home will normally fall to the daughters of the house rather than the sons. They are also more likely to have to look after younger siblings while their parents work to put food on the table. These gendered expectations affect the time girls spend in school, putting their progress at risk.
- “There is no safe way for me to get to school!”
Girls who live in rural areas with poor roads or transport links have an even more difficult time getting to school. Some have to walk for hours to get there. In some cases it’s not safe for them to walk miles for school—threats can come from groups who don’t believe girls should be educated and do everything in their power to prevent it.
- “I couldn’t concentrate because I was hungry!”
There is undoubtedly a rich/poor divide where education is concerned. But as well as access to uniforms, textbooks and transport, poorer children have added difficulties of going to school when they are hungry or undernourished, which makes them unable to concentrate and prone to falling behind or dropping out of school entirely.
- “I’ve got to go to work!”
For many poor families the long-term benefits of sending their children to school, especially their daughters, are outweighed by the immediate benefit of sending them to work or keeping them at home to help with chores.
- “I’m getting married!” or “I’m pregnant!”
In some parts of the world, girls are forced to marry young—sometimes before they even reach puberty – to men who might be three or four times their age. And instead of attending school, they are likely to have children at a young age, which takes them straight out of the education system, with a high likelihood of this cycle repeating for their daughters.
- “I’ve got my period!”
Often, girls can’t afford sanitary protection or there is inadequate infrastructure for them during their periods so they end up cutting class, falling behind and dropping out. Schools without any toilets, or toilets shared with boys, pose a health and safety risk for girls. At best a girl will face long queues, unhygienic conditions and lack of privacy. In sub-Saharan Africa, 31 percent of primary schools do not have toilets.
- “I can’t concentrate because there are FIFTY kids in my class!”
In half of African countries with data, there are more than 50 pupils per class. In countries where classrooms are crowded, supplies are scarce and the opportunities to move on to secondary school is limited, so many children simply drop out altogether.
- “I couldn’t do my homework – it was too dark!”
A third of all primary schools in Africa lack access to electricity – which affects 90 million students. Around 19 percent of the world’s population, about 1.3 billion people, have no access to electricity at all. So when it’s dark, it’s nearly impossible to do schoolwork which has already been disrupted during the day.
Eva is currently waiting for a reply from her local government after requesting access to water and electricity to benefit her education and the wellbeing of her community. Not much to ask, right?
- “Because I’m a girl!”
In some places, girls are viewed as less worthy of an education than boys, so when a family has limited funds, they’ll educate their sons instead of their daughters. In sub-Saharan Africa 16.7 million girls are out of school, and more than half will never enrol, compared to 16 percent of out-of-school boys.
So what are we going to do about it?
Research shows that investment in education, with a focus on girls, may be one of the most effective in the developing world. By equipping a child with knowledge and skills, education delivers serious returns. Countries that increase the number of women with a secondary education by 1 percent could boost their annual per capita income by 0.3 percent according to the most recent World Bank figures.
It has been estimated that if all women completed primary education, the under-5 mortality rate would fall by 15 percent in low- and lower- middle-income countries, saving almost a million children’s lives every year. Secondary education has an even greater impact: if all women in these countries completed secondary education, the under-five mortality rate would fall by 49 percent—saving 3 million children’s lives annually.
Do you need any more convincing that poverty is sexist and better access to education for girls would be a HUGE step forward in addressing these inequalities? I didn’t think so!