10 Barriers to Education That Children Living in Poverty Face

Syrian refugee children attend a class at a makeshift school set up in a tent at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015.

Muhammed Muheisen/AP

Why Global Citizens Should Care

Education is a basic human right. But many children still do not have the opportunity to learn, especially if they live in poverty or are girls. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

Children living in poverty face many barriers to accessing an education. Some are obvious — like not having a school to go to — while others are more subtle, like the teacher at the school not having had the training needed to help children learn effectively.

Increasing access to education can improve the overall health and longevity of a society, grow economies, and even combat climate change. Yet in many developing countries, children’s access to education can be limited by numerous factors. Language barriers, gender roles, and reliance on child labor can all stall progress to provide quality education. The world’s most vulnerable children from disadvantaged communities, including young girls and children with disabilities, are more likely to miss out on school.

Take Action: Download the App and Learn Why Millions of Kids Are Missing School Due to Conflict and Crisis

Here are 10 of the greatest challenges in global education that the world needs to take action on right now to achieve Global Goal 4: Quality Education by 2030. 

1. A lack of funding for education

Barriers-To-Education-Around-The-World-3.jpgGirls walk to an UNRWA school for the first day school year in Gaza City, Aug. 29, 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children are starting their school year in the Gaza Strip amid a major budget crunch for the UN agency that funds many schools.
Image: Felipe Dana/AP

Developing countries can’t rely solely on their own financing for education — there’s also a need for more foreign aid.

Only 20% of aid for education goes to low-income countries, according to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). But it costs an average of $1.25 a day per child in developing countries to provide 13 years of education.

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If each developing country invested just 15 cents more per child, it could make all the difference. There is currently a $39 billion gap to providing quality education to all children by 2030. GPE encourages developing countries to contribute 20% of their national budget to education, and allocate 45% of it to primary education. 

2. Having no teacher, or having an untrained teacher

Teacher effectiveness has been found to be the most important predictor of student learning. GPE is determined to fight the global teacher crisis at hand. 

There aren’t enough teachers to achieve universal primary or secondary education, and many of the teachers that are currently working are untrained. As a result, children aren’t receiving a proper education. There are 130 million children in school who are not learning basic skills like reading, writing and math.  

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Globally, the UN estimates that 69 million new teachers are required to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030. To offer every child primary education, 25.8 million school teachers need to be recruited. Meanwhile, in 1 out of every 3 countries, less than three-quarters of teachers are trained to national standards.

3. No classroom

EducationAroundTheWorld_Sudan_002.jpgStudents try to get the teacher’s attention to answer a question in Sudan.
Image: Kelley Lynch/GPE

A child cannot learn without the right environment. Children in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are often squeezed into overcrowded classrooms, classrooms that are falling apart, or are learning outside. They also lack textbooks, school supplies, and other tools they need to excel.

In Malawi, for example, there are an average of 130 children per classroom in first grade. It’s not just a lack of classrooms that’s the problem, but also all the basic facilities you would expect a school to have — like running water and toilets. 

Read More: Nigeria Says It Has the Highest Number of Out-of-School Children in the World

In Chad, only 1 in 7 schools has potable water, and just 1 in 4 has a toilet; moreover, only one-third of the toilets that do exist are for girls only — a real disincentive and barrier for girls to come to school.

When girls don’t have access to safe toilets, they are often harassed or attacked when looking for a private place to go. Girls also miss or drop out of school when they begin menstruating if they don’t have the sanitation facilities or sanitary products to manage their periods with pride and dignity.

4. A lack of learning materials

Outdated and worn-out textbooks are often shared by six or more students in many parts of the world. In Tanzania, for example, only 3.5% of all sixth grade pupils had sole use of a reading textbook. In Cameroon, there are 11 primary school students for every reading textbook and 13 for every mathematics textbook in second grade. Workbooks, exercise sheets, readers, and other core materials to help students learn their lessons are in short supply. Teachers also need materials to help prepare their lessons, share with their students, and guide their lessons. 

Read More: Half of All Child Refugees Aren’t in School: Why This Is a Massive Problem

5. The exclusion of children with disabilities

Barriers-To-Education-Around-The-World-5.jpgA visually impaired student reads braille in Rio de Janeiro, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016.
Image: Silvia Izquierdo/AP

Despite the fact that education is a universal human right, being denied access t
o school is common for the world’s 93 to 150 million children with disabilities. In some of the world’s poorest countries, up to 95% of children with disabilities are out of school.

Students with disabilities have lower attendance rates and are more likely to be out of school or leave school before completing primary education. They are suspended or expelled at a rate more than double the rate of their non-special education peers.

A combination of discrimination, lack of training in inclusive teaching methods among teachers, and a lack of accessible schools leave this group uniquely vulnerable to being denied their right to education.

Read More: 72 Guidelines for Students With Disabilities Have Been Rescinded by the US Dept. of Education

6. Being the ‘wrong’ gender

Barriers-To-Education-Around-The-World-2.jpgA Pakistani girl lines up among boys for their morning assembly where they sing the national anthem at a school in Islamabad, Pakistan on Oct. 11, 2013. In Pakistan, the Taliban stops more than 25 million children from going to school.
Image: Anja Niedringhaus/AP

Put simply, gender is one of the biggest reasons why children are denied an education. Despite recent advances in girls’ education, a generation of young women has been left behind. Over 130 million young women around the world are not currently enrolled in school. One in 3 girls in the developing world marries before the age of 18, and usually leaves school if they do.

Read More: World Leaders Warn Failure to Educate Girls Will Cause ‘Catastrophes’

Keeping girls in school benefits them and their families, but poverty forces many families to choose which of their children to send to school. Girls often miss out due to belief that there’s less value in educating a girl than a boy. Instead, they are sent to work, forced into marriage, or made to stay at home to look after siblings and work on household chores. Girls also miss days of school every year or are too embarrassed to participate in class, because they don’t have appropriate menstrual hygiene education or toilet facilities at their school to manage their period.

7. Living in a country in conflict or at risk of conflict

EducationAroundTheWorld_Syria_003.jpgFirst-grade students attend a basement school in besieged East Ghouta, Rural Damascus in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Image: Amer Al Shami/UNICEF

There are many casualties of any war, and education systems are often destroyed. Children exposed to violence are more at risk of under-achieving and dropping out of school. The impact of conflict cannot be overstated. Nearly 250 million children are living in countries affected by conflicts. More than 75 million children and young people aged 3 to 18 are currently in urgent need of educational support in 35 crisis-affected countries, with young girls 90% more likely to be out of secondary school in conflict areas than elsewhere.

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Conflict prevents governments from functioning, teachers and students often flee their homes, and continuity of learning is greatly disrupted. In total, 75 million children have had their education disrupted disrupted by conflict or crisis, including natural disasters that destroy schools and the environment around them. Less than half of the world’s refugee children are enrolled in school, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Worryingly, education has thus far been a very low priority in humanitarian aid to countries in conflict — and less than 3% of global humanitarian assistance was allocated to education in 2016.

Without support, conflict-affected children lose out on the chance to reach their full potential and rebuild their communities.

8. Distance from home to school

Barriers-To-Education-Around-The-World-4.jpgTwo girls walk back home after attending an ad-hoc learning center set up in a local mosque in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir on Oct. 20, 2016.
Image: Dar Yasin/AP

For many children around the world, a walk to school of up to three hours in each direction is not uncommon. This is just too much for many children, particularly children living with a disability, those suffering from malnutrition or illness, or those who are required to work around the household. Imagine having to set off for school, hungry, at 5 a.m. every day, not to return until 7 p.m. Many children, especially girls, are also vulnerable to violence on their long and hazardous journeys to and from school.

9. Hunger and poor nutrition

The impact of hunger on education systems is gravely underreported. Being severely malnourished, to the point it impacts on brain development, can be the same as losing four grades of schooling. It is estimated that around 155 million children under the age of five are estimated to be stunted. Stunting –– impaired growth and development that children experience from poor infection, and inadequate stimulation –– can affect a child’s cognitive abilities as well as their focus and concentration in school. As a result, stunted children are 19% less likely to be able to read by age eight. Conversely, good nutrition can be crucial preparation for good learning.

Read More: Worst Places for Education Around The World

10. The expense of education 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that every child has the right to a free basic education, so that poverty and lack of money should not be a barrier to schooling. In many developing countries, over the last several, decades, governments have announced the abolition of school fees and as a result, they have seen impressive increases in the number of children going to school. 

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come Students Afford College

But for many of the poorest families, school remains too expensive and children are forced to stay at home doing chores or work themselves. Families remain locked in a cycle of poverty that goes on for generations. In many countries throughout Africa, while education is theoretically free, in practice “informal fees” see parents forced to pay for “compulsory items” like uniforms, books, pens, extra lessons, exam fees, or funds to support the school buildings. In other places, the lack of functioning public (government-supported) schools means that parents have no choice but to send their children to private schools that, even if they are “low-fee,” are unaffordable for the poorest families who risk making themselves destitute in their efforts to get their children better lives through education.


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Proud partners of the 2019 Global Citizen Festival include Global Citizen’s global health partner and major partner Johnson & Johnson, and major partners P&G, Verizon, and NYC Parks.

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