Education in the spotlight on International Women’s Day

| March 8, 2018

We’ve taken great strides during the last decade in getting more kids into school to receive the education they need to break the cycle of poverty in which their families have been trapped for generations.

However, 263 million children and youth are still missing out on an education — 74 per cent of whom live in Africa and South Asia.

Over the last few years, gender parity has improved, with girls now constituting just under half of all students who are out-of-school. But there are still worrying pockets of gender disparity in educational opportunities in some regions and countries and unless we act now, five million girls compared to two million boys in South Asia will be permanently excluded from education because of poverty.

Repeated research over many years demonstrates education is a powerful tool for helping families lift themselves out of poverty. Every additional year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 per cent. The impact is starker for secondary education, where girl’s income increases 15 to 25 per cent for every additional year of school they complete.

Parents in developing countries tell us time and again their top priority is to educate their children, but they are often forced to choose between educating their sons or daughters because they can’t afford to send all their children to school. We need to ensure parents no longer have to make this terrible choice.

Parents also tell us that the public schools close to their homes are often overcrowded and lack infrastructure, qualified teachers and teaching resources. They worry about the quality of their children’s learning experience and the detrimental effects this could have on their future.

That’s why Opportunity has an education finance program that gets the most marginalised kids in developing countries into affordable community schools that provide a high-quality education.

Opportunity provides parents with school fee loans so they are no longer forced to choose which of their children they educate.

We also provide school improvement loans to the leaders of community schools to build new classrooms, build separate toilets for girls and boys, buy books, computers and other teaching resources, recruit qualified teachers and provide them with better professional development.

As many community schools are run by parents, they may gain employment as security guards or caretakers, selling food outside the school, cooking lunches for the kids and sewing school uniforms. In this way, the schools contribute to the economic and social well-being of the local community.

During the last six years, Opportunity’s Head of Global Programs, Nathan Byrd, spearheaded Opportunity’s education finance program, initially in Sub-Saharan Africa. To date, this program has benefited nearly 2.2 million children – half of them girls.

Breaking the bounds of cyclical poverty through education is no easy task, but Opportunity has already touched millions of lives through its school fee and school improvement loans and plans to reach millions more.

We’ve had fantastic educational, social and economic outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa and two years ago began providing education finance in India.

A recent World Bank report found that India ranks second after Malawi in a list of 12 countries in which a grade two student could not read a single word of a short text. India also ranks top amongst seven countries wherein a grade two student could not perform simple maths.

The World Bank found that in rural India, only half of grade five students could fluently read text at the level of the grade two curriculum and even the average student in grade five had about a 50 per cent chance of answering a grade one question correctly.

Opportunity’s education program in India will continue to press for progress by getting kids into quality community schools where they receive the knowledge and skills they need to live lives free from poverty.

These kids will have greater opportunities to live empowered lives where they are free to make informed choices, reach their potential and flourish.