World Wonder

Inspiring Global Citizenship

Guest Blog – Is Education for All a Reality?

on June 16, 2016
Picture of author.

Author Allen Kirungi.

A Parent’s Dream

Every parent, regardless of their economic status looks forward to having their child/children get a quality education, acquire knowledge and skills and eventually mature into a responsible productive fulfilled citizen.  This dream however remains in far reach for most African children. Yet, the value of education for children and national development remains undebatable.  According to the Convention on Rights of Children, article 28 protects the general right of all children to an education and article 29 emphasizes its wider quality goals related to content and methodology.  The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number two calls for all nations globally to make Universal Primary Education(UPE) accessible for all children of school going age.  These are all good policies in support of child education, but unfortunately they are not implemented.  Developing countries continue to struggle with enrollments and retention of children in schools.

Globally over the last 100 years there has been a remarkable increase in school enrollments. It is exciting to note that some of these improvements have been in developing countries. Whereas school enrollments continue to rise, successful completion of school has been tarnished by high numbers of school dropouts.

The Right to Education

Education is a human right for all children, and those who are not in school are being denied that right. Furthermore, failure to access and complete a basic cycle of quality inclusive primary education, seriously limits future opportunities for children. This impacts an individual’s ability to reach full potential and consequently negatively impacts the quality of the national work force.  A country that is able to keep their young population in school for a longer period of time (up to successful completion) benefits in so many ways; as young adults stay in school they are able to make better health decisions, marry a little later, and have planned families. They are able to raise healthy families and generally contribute to the economic development of their country.

In 2000, the international community promised that all children would attend, and stay in school by 2015.  However, in 2013, there was still 57 million children out of school; one in ten is denied his/her right to education. Half of these 57 million children live in Sub-Sahara Africa. Out-of- school patterns vary across and within regions, and it is therefore critical to analyze contextual reasons for non-enrollment and early school dropout. One of the first steps in reaching out-of-school children is to identify who they are and where they live.  The challenges are great. UNESCO estimates that there are globally some 215 million child laborers and more than 150 million children with a disability, while 39,000 girls below the age of 18 are married off every day

According to the South Africa Department of Education, almost half of the pupils who should have written matriculation exam (Grade 12) in 2013 had dropped out of the system at the end of Grade 10. The situation is not any different in the rest of the African countries.  In East Africa for example, Uganda is said to have one of the highest school dropout rates in the region, majority of which are girls.  In 2012 a report by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) showed that Uganda has the highest school dropout rate for females in East Africa. The rate shoots up to claim roughly half the class before they finish primary school.  School dropout rates are higher for girls compared to boys in Africa.  Interestingly, enrollments are higher but retention remains a big problem.  When girls dropout of school at around the age of 10-15 they are unlikely to return back to school as they end up being married off, taken to town ships to work as house helpers, and consequently they lose the opportunity to return to school.

Why the High School Drop Out Rate?

There are various reasons as to why children drop out of school.  Children often begin school with enthusiasm and excitement towards learning and engaging with others. Unfortunately, as they progress in school and grow, they may do things that force them out of school (such as indiscipline, consequences of poor performance) or the environment outside the school (such as sickness, family challenges, lack of resources to pay for school fees, etc.).

According to Jordan et al., 1994Watt & Roessingh, 1994).  A framework was developed by two groups of authors to explain reasons why students drop out such that they can be pushed, pulled, or fall out of school (These accounts can be integrated to explain the overall dropout experience). The key difference between push, pull, and falling out factors has to do with agency.  With push factors, the school is the agent whereby a student is removed from school as a result of a consequence of the school environment.  With pull factors, the student is the agent, such that attractions or distractions lure them out of school. Finally, with falling out factors, neither the student nor school is the agent.  Instead, circumstances exist that neither the school nor the student can remediate, and as a result, the connection students have with school gradually diminishes.

There are also certain practices in Africa that actively encourage children to drop out of school. Some parents still view their daughters as a source of wealth. Instead of encouraging them to stay in school, they push them into marriages in exchange for a few cows, goats, and cash at times.  This is heart breaking, but still a reality in most African communities. You may be tempted to blame the parents, but just before you do, it is important to remember that some of them do not actually know anything different. They have had it the same way, so the cycle of this negative practice easily gets passed on from generation to generation as if some form of “inheritance!”

Governments across Africa need to put in place policies and regulations that keep children in school longer than it is currently. There is a critical need to protect children from some pull factors, by regulating some activities or seemingly attractive events that sometimes take learners out of school. An example is the new and fast mushrooming sports betting games in Africa. In Uganda for example, it is estimated that there are more than 200 Sport Betting Centers registered and many more not registered, yet operating in the capital city of Kampala.  Although the regulations stipulate that these centers should not be located close to schools and should not permit children below 18 years of age, this law is often ignored.  When parents send their children to school, the children choose to take their school fees to sports betting where they hope to win more money.  But as it is with betting, the children end up losing out and many don’t return to school and sometimes home.

What Can Be Done to Retain Children in School?

Deliberately invest in good quality education. Today, more than ever, Africa has an opportunity as well as a challenge to invest in her young population. Human resource is one of the greatest assets Africa has. However, before any population can be considered valuable, it must be equipped with skills and knowledge. Africa has to focus on the quality of the young people. Education is a sure way in which governments can have the population exposed and as such they are able to make wiser decisions regarding health, family planning, and national development.  Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent on earth with an estimated population in 2013 of 1.033 billion people.  As of 2015, the population estimates are around 1.166 billion.  Unfortunately, this growing population is not represented by good leadership and governance in most African countries.  There are challenges related to democracy building and mentoring a new breed of leaders.  African leaders need to fight corruption and deliberately concentrate on building a resourceful population with a major focus on girls and other marginalized groups of people. A sure way is to invest in school infrastructure, well trained teachers and make the school environment more attractive for children as well as implementation of policies that relate to education. Overall, leaders in Africa need to take responsibility for equipping their population and ensuring that they are turned into a “critical productive mass.”

Focus on adult and parent education. Community leaders still have a challenge of guiding parents that have not received formal education.  Adult education is critical for parents as they have the responsibility of raising children in the 21st century.  If these parents are not given appropriate education, they will continue some practices such as preference of boy education as opposed to girls and female genital mutilation, all of which contribute to poor school retention numbers.  These can be unlearned with proper adult education.  Access to education and learning for adults is a fundamental aspect of the right to education and facilitates the exercise of the right to participate in political, economic, cultural, artistic and scientific life.  The Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning looks at adult education as “a powerful concept for fostering ecologically sustainable development, for promoting democracy, justice, gender equity, and scientific, social and economic development, and for building a world in which violent conflict is replaced by dialogue and a culture of peace based on justice. Adult learning can shape identity and give meaning to life.”

Adult learning and education as components of lifelong learning are gaining increased relevance in view of the growing pressure to face new, complex and rapidly changing issues and challenges, such as poverty, exclusion, migration, environmental degradation and climate change and a shortage of food and natural resources, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and the advent of new technologies that now permeate all fields of life.

Career guidance and planning. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2002) explains that career counselling of youth consists of four elements: (a) helping individuals to gain greater self-awareness in areas such as interests, values, abilities, and personality style, (b) connecting individuals to resources so that they can become more knowledgeable about jobs and occupations, (c) engaging individuals in the decision-making process in order that they can choose a career path that is well suited to their own interests, values, abilities and personality style, and (d) assisting individuals to be active managers of their career paths (including managing career transitions and balancing various life roles) as well as becoming lifelong learners in the sense of professional development over the lifespan. This international definition of career guidance creates a sense of ownership and helps learners to build meaningful careers as well as become responsible and engaged citizens at the local and national levels. This component of education has long been missing in the bulk of African countries, and where it is done, it is either poorly planned or inadequate.

Invest in Early Childhood Education (ECD). The early childhood years are very important in a person’s life for they form the foundation for later learning and the opportunity to develop into a well-adjusted, successful and happy adult.  It is however unfortunate that many children are being deprived from early years’ education and the opportunity to develop their potential to the full.

In Africa, ECD is still a growing concept.  In fact, in Uganda most of the people who go to train as ECD teachers are those that had dropped out of school for different reasons. This trend is gradually changing with the government putting in place an ECD policy and ensuring that there are institutions to train ECD teachers.

The purpose of early childhood education is to foster competence in young children, though not only competence in intellectual areas, but in the child as a whole person. Our purpose is to help the child to learn to live with others, to master and safely express one’s feelings, and to love life and welcome new experiences. The purpose of education, then is to foster competence in dealing with life. (Hendrik 1994:2)

What next for school dropouts?

Whereas dropping out of school is not desirable, the reality is that children continue to drop out of school and in some cases it is on the rise. There is need for planned interventions in the lives of the learners that will still drop out of school due to factors beyond their control. The children that are unable to continue with school either due to push, pull or falling out factors cannot be left on their own. They need to be recognized as people with talents and abilities and developed for the future. Governments, especially in Africa, need to rethink ways in which to keep the ever increasing number of school dropouts productively engaged. Governments need to ask why and where these children are dropping out, and what can be done to reduce barriers to education and how best to support students to stay in school.  Well designed and intentioned programs that target school dropouts need to be put in place.

I have a dream!

Our guest author is passionate about life lived to the fullness. In the process of writing this article she dreamed! She thought of a creative way in which school dropouts can be productively engaged. The model is called a “HOPE HAVEN.”  This model entails setting up centers where dropout children below the age of 18 can go daily to be fully trained and equipped with skills and knowledge.  At the entry point, the learners will be given counselling, guidance and psychosocial support by well trained counselors and psychologists.  The reason for this is that children in this category go through traumatic experiences as a result of attempting to go to school and not being successful at it. Also, research has shown that most of these children are orphaned at an early age due to HIV/AIDS, having children at a young age, or living in a home with no parents or single parent homes.  In any case this category of children is usually from very impoverished families. These centers will therefore, target the poorest of the poor.

The second and equally important stage at this center will be to equip children with skills and knowledge. The children will

About the Author:

Allen is a Ugandan development worker with a specific focus on education, children and gender issues.  Married and mother of two, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and Management.

I had the privilege of meeting Allen and her sister in 2000 while Allen was here in San Jose, CA benefiting from the Rotary Club Adult Gift of Life program.  Through the power of social media and email we have remained in touch and enjoy sharing frequent updates from abroad.  I anticipate someday we’ll have the occasion to reunite in person!

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