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Education is the Essential Instrument in Reducing Poverty

The UN Millenniums Goals is making universal primary education their main focus

A new report conducted by UNESCO estimates that nearly 60 million people could avoid poverty if all adults had just two more years of schooling. It adds that poverty would end for 420 million people if all adults completed secondary education.

“Education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth.” These simple words used by the World Bank confirm the relevance of this problem worldwide. Universal Primary Education has been enclosed as target 2.A of the United Nations Millennium Goals, which ensures that by 2015 boys and girls could complete a full course of primary schooling everywhere in the world. More specifically, the target was to complete, within 2015, primary education in 91 per cent of population in developing regions (it was  83 percent in 2000). But also avoiding that 61 million children of primary school age across the world continue being out of school, one in three of the children out of school in sub-Saharan Africa, western Asia and northern Africa, and more than one in four of those in central Asia and southern Asia.

According to the UN educational, scientific and cultural organisation (UNESCO), in 2015, 264 millions children and young people were missing out on an education. 9% of all primary school age children did not have access to a school place. And the situation is even worse for those of lower and upper secondary ages, with rates of 16% and 37%. 

There are many causes: difference of sex (almost 29 millions boys and more than 32 millions girl not even completed a primary education course), cultural identity, ethnic origin, language, religion. However, quite often, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy of parents make the risk of non-schooling and the dropout rate higher. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are continuously forced to abandon their education due to health problems related to malnutrition or to provide support for their family. Money is another major cause for the lack of education: several times emerging countries do not have financial resources necessary to create schools, provide schooling materials, nor recruit and train teachers in classes that are mostly oversized.

This problem is also relevant in developed countries. For example, in Italy, the risk of poverty is higher for children in families with lower education levels. This is why around 25% of Italy’s children are threatened by poverty (as opposed to an average of 20%  in other countries of the European Union). And for a child who has brothers and sisters, the risk rises to 30%.

In countries affected by conflict, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30 per cent in 1999 to 36 percent in 2012 or higher. Areas with the worst out-of-school rates are in sub-Saharan African countries: boys or girls between ages 15 and 17 are not in school. But things could be even worse: “In some cases, we are not sure exactly what is happening. For example, we don’t have recent data from Nigeria and we don’t have any data from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But it is also the case that conflicts and the refugee crisis in places like South Sudan or Syria reverse any progress that might be taking place elsewhere,” said Anna Cristina D’Addio, senior policy analyst at UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report. “The lack of progress is down to a complex set of factors,” she said. First of all, marginalisation and poverty: persisting inequality and marginalization in developing countries has as consequence that children do not have access to basic education. Refugees children “are a huge challenge for education systems,” said Michael Owusu. 

Again, this is a problem for Italy too: the number of children migrants or refugees is increasing and their situation not necessarily improves once they arrive in Italy. Sometimes, they lack the proper identity papers, which makes it difficult to determine how old they are and what kind of education they need. Furthermore, the conditions of Italy’s refugee camps are deplorable. Child refugees or migrants are often invisible in the eyes of society. There are approximately 800,000 such children in Italy; and no less than 60% of them are born there, grow up there, and should attend school there, but legally speaking, they are not Italians because birthright citizenship does not exist on the peninsula. And “ius soli” law proposal will not solve the problem. 

Consequences of this situation will be relevant in a few years. In Italy and abroad: the next years missing of education will become a problem even in developed countries. The influence of this state of the art on the commitment to eradicate poverty by 2030 (another Millennium Goal) has been discussed in a UN high-level political forum. UNESCO estimates that nearly 60 million people could avoid poverty if all adults had just two more years of schooling. It adds that poverty would end for 420 million people if all adults completed secondary education. This would reduce the total number of poor people across the world by more than half, said the report, with the greatest benefits felt in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Instead, 759 million adults are illiterate and do not have the awareness necessary to improve both their living conditions and those of their children. 

Worldwide millions of children have no chance to receive any education because they are refugees or migrants. They and their families escaped and live in champs or in countries where for them there isn’t any possibility to go to school.

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