The celebration of International Day of Education is in its infancy. January 24, 2019 marks the first celebration. However, the day brings awareness to very grown up problems. Poverty holds hands with low educational outcomes; girls struggle to achieve the same academic attainment as boys; and even as more children enter school, quality is uneven.
Challenges abound across continents and in our own backyard. Let’s take a look at global struggles first.
A staggering 262 million children under the age of 18 are not attending school. Among the children who are attending, 617 million cannot read or do basic math. (1) Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the areas with the poorest rate of both attendance and achievement. Only 40% of girls complete lower secondary school.
Providing education to all children, and to all children on a level playing field, is critical to eradicating poverty. Among the positive outcomes an educated populace will bring are improved health outcomes, an increase in peaceful and resilient societies, gender equality, progress in environmental sustainability, and a decrease in hate speech, xenophobia and intolerance. Education truly is the foundation to so many other critical issues.
In initiating this day of awareness, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated: “Let us prioritize education as a public good; support it with cooperation, partnerships and funding; and recognize that leaving no one behind starts with education.”
Leaving no one behind has its challenges in the United States as well as developing countries such as Tanzania and others in Sub-Saharan Africa.
One of those challenges is funding. In 2018, teacher strikes, protests and walk outs dominated the news. Teachers are demanding better pay, working conditions and benefits. Spending per pupil remains below pre-recession levels. (2) Poor students take the brunt of the cuts. Typically, they wind up in the schools with the lowest funding, oldest buildings, and most inexperienced teachers.
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Stress among teachers and students is also a challenge we must confront. Talk to any pediatrician or school counselor and they will tell you that anxiety and depression are on the rise for students. Teachers, too, are feeling the stress. With support services being cut, their job responsibilities being increased, and low wages causing financial insecurity, anxiety is high among faculty members.
Chronic absenteeism is another problem endemic to U.S. schools, particularly in the inner cities. During the 2015-16 school year eight million students missed more than three weeks of school. (2)
Finally, an issue that has been investigated over the past few years and continues to be a big issue impacting lower-income students is churn. Simply put, churn is student movement from one school to another. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that an astounding one in four, or 22,000 Milwaukee Public Schools students, switched schools during the 2017-18 school year. (4) With this mobility comes academic struggle, behavioral problems, and an increased risk of dropping out.
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One of the biggest reasons for churn is families moving, being evicted or becoming homeless. Since 2000 rent prices have risen while household income has decreased. The result is home insecurity for many, with children getting left behind academically.
The International Day of Education makes us aware of challenges at home and away in the hopes that we put our heads together and work for solutions.