Monday, May 16, 2011

School Days

As the school year winds down, we’re all looking forward to the summer- hanging out at the pool, sleeping in on the weekends, and catching up on our favorite TV shows. I just finished my first year of graduate school, and, like many students across the country, I was counting down my final days of class before summer break.

But as excited as I am for more rest and relaxation, I really do love school. I love reading about people and events in other countries, sitting with my friends in class, and that feeling I get after working hard and earning a good grade on a paper or exam. I feel really lucky that I have been given the opportunity to attend school for 18 years (!!), especially when I know so many youth across the world have not been afforded that same opportunity. Unfortunately, many children and youth face daily barriers to attending school and attaining a quality education.

Here are some obstacles that children and youth might have to overcome to get an education:

10 Common Barriers to Education:

1. Lack of money- Many parents lack the necessary fees for tuition, school books and supplies, uniforms, or food, and therefore cannot afford to send their children to school regularly.

2. Distance- In rural communities, schools are often few and far between, requiring children and youth to take long and often unsafe walks to school every day.

3. Responsibilities at home- In rural communities, children and youth often have many duties at home, which might take away from their time in the classroom. Some of these chores may include caring for younger siblings, housekeeping, and fetching water for the household.

4. Value of girls’ education- In some societies, little value is placed on a girls’ education. In these communities, girls struggle against social and familial pressures in order to attend school.

5. Child marriage- In some parts of the world, children, especially girls, marry at very young ages, often to save the family money. A young wife must often take care of her husband and household, which interferes with her ability to go to school.

6. Pregnancy- A lack of comprehensive health education, a lack of access to contraception, a societal taboo against discussing reproductive health, and the prevalence of child marriage can all contribute to early pregnancy among girls and adolescents. If a girl is pregnant or has a young child, she will not be able to regularly attend school or focus on her studies.

7. School facilities- Often schools are not properly maintained or lack adequate facilities, and therefore do not offer safe and healthy learning environments for students. Classrooms can also be hot, crowded, and lacking in materials such as desks, chalkboards, and books, which impair student learning.

8. Sanitation facilities- In addition to classrooms, students should also have access to safe and healthy bathrooms, including separate spaces for boys and girls. Children and youth also need access to clean drinking water throughout the school day, which often schools cannot provide.

9. Teacher’s Investment- In some instances, teachers are underpaid, inadequately trained, or not fully invested in providing quality education for their students. So even when students attend school, they sometimes do not receive personal attention or effective instruction.

10. Child Labor- Millions of children around the world are engaged in the labor force in order to help contribute to their family’s income. These jobs can include unpaid and paid work (though often for very low wages) in agriculture, domestic service, textiles, and other industries. Sometimes this work can be dangerous, and can require long hours. Children are sometimes also trafficked illegally within their own country or internationally. If children are working, they often do not have the energy to keep up with their studies. While working, children and youth often miss days of school, or withdraw from school all together. (For more information on the impact of child labor, make sure to check out the upcoming issue of YUGA’s E-News in June.)

Have you ever faced any of these obstacles, or do you know anyone who has? Which obstacles do you think would be most difficult to overcome? Do you think obtaining universal access to quality education for all children and youth is important? Why or why not? Can you think of any other barriers to education youth around the world face? Please be sure to e-mail your ideas to Plan at

As for me, next time I am nervous for an exam or tired after a long night of doing homework, I’m going to try to think about what it would be like if I had to study while facing any the barriers mentioned above. While I will no doubt enjoy my break from classes this summer, I will try to keep in mind how lucky I am to get to attend school on a regular basis. And I’m sure that when August comes around, I will be very excited to start classes once again.

Good luck finishing up the school year and happy (almost) summer!

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