75 million children in need of education – what can we do?
We are living in a world where a young person’s circumstance such as wealth, gender, ethnicity and where they live still play a really important role in shaping their opportunities for education, and at opposing ends of the spectrum the education focus is supremely different. At one end we have children with access to some of the best teachers around the world who are under pressure to focus on the academic outcome and, at the other end, there are some 75 million school-age children in crisis areas who have little or no access to basic education, according to a recent report by Unicef. In Syria alone the civil war has destroyed over 6,000 schools in five years.
The report highlights that, globally, one in four children aged three to eighteen (462 million in total) lives in an area that is negatively affected by humanitarian crises. This means that alongside difficult and upsetting living conditions, the lack of educational opportunities offered to them leaves them without routine, hope or the necessary skills that will further limit their future prospects.
In the western world, we are talking about ‘Lego Moments’ and the need for more fun and fewer targets, to bring joy back in to education. For these 75 million children, their ‘Lego moment’ isn’t about having more fun at school, but is the hope of attending a school: the hope that they can receive an education at all.
So, what can be done to provide these children with the education that they are in desperate need of?
We know that it is impossible to simply set up schools overnight, especially considering the huge number of children in need, and the geographical spread. It would take years, and a lot of funding, to build or rebuild enough school buildings to educate this number of children. We must also consider that these schools have been destroyed on purpose; what’s to say that new schools built in these areas while conflict is ongoing would not become new targets for destruction?
What’s more, supplying the 75 million children with teachers would require finding something like 3 million extra teachers within a sector that is currently suffering a significant global shortage.
Equally, we can’t move 75 million children to where the schools already are around the world – not only are huge numbers of schools struggling with capacity, and resources in their own right, and in communities where life if often focussed on survival, children often become household heads, so taking them away from their families and communities isn’t the answer either.
We must find a solution, because if these children remain without access to education, not only will they grow up without the basic knowledge, skills, and understanding of how to learn, they won’t have the ability to re-join education, or contribute to regeneration once they have truly escaped conflict. We will also see a social problem develop once the children grow up. For many, as soon as they are old enough, they will look to move away from areas of conflict to where they hope to find a safer and more secure life. Without having gained a basic education, an understanding of how to think critically, and the knowledge of how to learn continuously, they may work for at best bare subsistence wages, their hopes transformed into illegal and cheap labour.
The one truly international language, that can deliver education to individuals around the world, is technology. Technology provides an access point for children in different locations and circumstances. Utilising the infrastructure already on the ground, creating continuous access to quality teaching resources, teachers and peers, and the opportunity for peer support from people around the world, will provide these children with a real hope of a future, and open their eyes to the opportunities available to them. At the same time learning the lessons from an education system with its focus on academic results and outcomes, and instead creating a focus on the localised skills needed to rebuild communities and economies in the years to come.
Id like to think that the bricks in this “Lego moment” contain hope, opportunity, skills, and freedom.