A Global Education Crisis: The Lack of Access to Education in Developing Countries

Universal Access to Education has been declared a Basic Human Right. Indeed, education is vital. And yet, in one of the modern world’s greatest failures, not everyone has access to it.

In some parts of the world, on week-day mornings, parents wake their youngest children and take them to daycare. In those same parts, older kids and teenagers enter through the gates of their educational institutions — some of them eagerly, others less so, leaving their books at home, forgetting about their homework, and just waiting for the day to end. Then, there are students studying in libraries and fervently taking notes in the classroom, for the rat race is becoming more and more real for them from one day to the next.

In other parts of the world, however, there is no daycare. There are no schools or other educational institutions, let alone universities. Some people in these parts do not even know that such establishments exist. The chances for learning are slim – if there are any at all. These are the places frequently forgotten by the developed world. The places left behind.

By Maruša Romih

Current Situation in Numbers

Speaking as someone who never had to worry about going to school and enjoyed almost all the lessons there, I consider myself lucky. Now that I am more aware of educational conditions around the world, even more so. The world is striving after constant development, but we seem to be forgetting that access to education is the vital foundation of it, irrespective of the field of expertise. We also seem to be forgetting that there are people to whom school books were not handed out on a silver platter.

There are areas with a major lack of basic literacy. To align with the developed areas, let’s focus on the youth who are the first whom we connect with the educational process. Literacy of the youth around the world is estimated at 91 %, which does not seem so bad until the percentage is turned into numbers. The remaining 9 % represents 102 million young people who do not know how to write nor read.

The numbers get worse in conflict areas where the conditions for providing education are extremely challenging. There are 75 million children who live in places devastated by violence, which means that educational institutions find themselves under attack and students and teachers get hurt. Additionally, people with low and middle income in certain areas also represent a critical group.

As in many other spheres, there is no equality for women in education either. Of all the world’s illiterate population, women represent two-thirds, according to data from 2014. Uneducated girls are more often victimized by child marriage and give birth before the age of 18. The saddest part is that those whom these statistics concern would not understand them because they are not familiar with letters nor with numbers.

More Than Half of all Refugee Children are Out of School

According to the UN Refugee Agency report from August, 2019, 3.7 million refugee children do not attend school. The UNHCR figures show that in August of last year, only 24 % of refugee children were enrolled in secondary school, while scarcely 3 % attended university.

Survival is the primary concern for refugees. Hence, access to education is often overlooked and its importance degraded. The displacement of refugees usually lasts from 10 to 20 years. In a worst-case scenario, this can lead to a 20-year-old or older person without any education or the will to pursue it. It often shows that age is a huge barrier in pursuing education, especially elementary. The older people get, the less confidence they have in themselves when it comes to learning.

Educating refugee children does not result in any ‘instant’ benefit. It does not provide shelter nor does it feed hungry mouths. But it brings hope and gives purpose to children. In many countries, educating refugees is a difficult task as they are frequently stationed in parts where the countries in question are struggling with educating their citizens. Still, some refugee camps offer basic schooling. It may not be of the greatest quality, but it helps with igniting interest in learning. Studying can provide a daily structure, which is, in the misplaced life of a refugee child, of high importance. Many of them are alone, not accompanied by their families, and learning in classes with other children provides not only foundations for further education but also the comforting company of others.

Inclusion in the educational system is not only important for refugee children, but also for society as a whole. Education gives children a sense of normality and teaches them about life outside of their current, vulnerable environment. “Educated children and youth stand a greater chance of becoming adults who can participate effectively in civil society in all contexts,” states the UNHCR in one of its education briefs. Going to school allows easier integration into the new environment.

The approach to educating refugees has started changing. Turkey, for example, offers courses of learning Turkish, so the refugees can integrate more easily. Knowing at least the basics of the language, children feel safer going to school. They feel more included and have some sense of belonging, while they can also follow the classes better.

Children sitting at desks inside classrom
Lagos, Nigeria. Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash

Access to Education in Remote Areas

The distant, rural parts of the world too often do not get enough attention or even stay unnoticed. Developing areas are struggling with problems that we in developed areas have long forgotten. Unfortunately, schooling and education are often not the primary concern. In remote areas, children often have to stay at home and help with whatever tasks come along. Many families live in independent, self-sufficient households, which means working in fields, taking care of the cattle, chopping wood, etc. This means an abundance of work for every member of the household. Educational fees are often too high and schools too distant for children who live in remote villages or isolated properties. In many developing areas, girls are often made to feel shame because of their menstrual period, which embarrasses them and too often makes them skip classes or even drop out of school. All of this makes obtaining an education that much more difficult.

Besides that, we have to understand that even though we are trying hard to bring schools and educational options closer to the developing areas, our ‘westernized’ model of schooling might not be the best idea to begin with. While reading Wordsworth’s poems and learning about the world’s highest peaks stimulates the brain and raises the desire for learning, the knowledge obtained is not practical. It does not help people to better fertilize their fields and grow crops. It does not warm their houses nor feed their animals. In all aspects, rural life is different, and as such it needs a different approach.

In developing areas, there are no jobs where they could use the knowledge provided by the previously mentioned model. Generally, this type of education takes too long, it costs too much, and fails to provide the student with knowledge and skills that will be useful to them when they reach adulthood. The basics such as writing, reading, and mathematics should remain compulsory, but, from here on out, adjustments are necessary. Hence, there is some need for redefining, inventing, and introducing new educational models. Focus on practical knowledge can lead to a great and much-needed shift.

It might be a good idea to start by introducing knowledge that leads to skills that would help people with improving their current lifestyle. Improvement brings better options, possibilities, and faster development in multiple areas. Later on, such progress will call for better-educated people, marking the beginning of an era that demands finer knowledge and in which particular and in-depth knowledge is useful. This is the stage at which the educational model changes, gives new knowledge, and offers an upgrade. With better living conditions, people would desire higher qualifications as possibilities for better-educated individuals would appear. Now, there are no such positions, and it is only natural that the low budgets of rural families cannot allow for funding higher education.

Schoolgirl standing writing on black chalkboard
Bengaluru, India. Photo by Nikhita S on Unsplash

A Basic Human Right

Access to education is a basic human right. So, useful or not, knowledge should still be easier to access. Those who want to learn should be able to do so. This is especially true now, in the 21st century, the era of digitalization. Many valuable teaching tools and curricula can now be stored online, which solves a major problem of the scarcity of learning materials in critical and isolated areas. Of course, this does not solve the question of available electricity, devices powered by the latter, notebooks, and pens and pencils – for children need to learn how to write as well. The physical presence of a teacher is equally important, and the lack of those is an ongoing issue in the aforementioned areas.

The situation is better than it was years ago, but there is still a lot of space for improvement. We cannot expect any major change in the world if we do not seek to provide for the better in every part of it. There are many nonprofit organizations to which we can donate, and individuals heading out to risk-related areas whom we can support. There are a lot of people who leave the comfort of their homes and countries just to help and teach children who probably never saw a book in their lives. Many support such a greater cause, but not everyone can, not even in developed countries.

Education empowers, enlightens, and gives protection. Maybe not everyone is fond of the classic schooling system of their own country, but no one can deny the power of learning – and this is what we should stand for. Access to education is not something to take for granted as we who are more fortunate often do. In the eyes of someone who was never given a chance to learn, there is little difference between a professor with a PhD in philosophy or a self-made freelance graphic designer. What they see is that they both had a chance to learn, either in a classroom or by taking online courses.

This a very generalized comparison, but the developed world offers numerous chances of educating oneself. There are no such chances in the villages of Himalayas, the slums of southern Mexico, and refugee camps all around the world. If there are, they are rare. So, if nothing else, try to make children aware that going to school is not a right but a privilege and that by studying hard they might have a chance to change something for the future generations of those who have no chance to learn.