According to UNICEF, 11% of primary-school aged children are not in school. That’s more than one in 10 children around the world. Poverty is one of the largest barriers to education, with children from the poorest households almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than those from the richest.
Yet the barrier to education may not be what you think. In El Salvador, there are no public school fees. However, parents still need to cover other expenses, and these expenses — like uniforms, stationery supplies, maintenance fees and especially books — can prevent children from being in the classroom.
Having access to age-appropriate books is critical for developing children’s literacy skills. In El Salvador, just 6% of the country’s poorest children have access to three or more books at home, compared with 44% of the richest children. Without the foundations for literacy skills, a child can fall behind their peers from the very beginning.
In Morazán, eastern El Salvador, six-year-old Edwin was about to start kindergarten when his father left their family. Suddenly, his mother, Carolina, was in an emotionally and financially vulnerable position as a single mother to two children. Edwin’s school registration was in jeopardy.
When Carolina heard her son’s Compassion center would help cover the costs of Edwin’s required schoolbooks, she felt a load lift from her shoulders. Her little son would be able to start the school year with his peers and have opportunities she didn’t have at that early age. When she was a child, she was only able to study to the first grade because her family couldn’t afford the cost of her studies. With the support of Compassion’s church partner, her son will have a different future.
Here are three reasons access to books in early childhood is critical for young children like Edwin, helping break down generational barriers to literacy and educational success.
1. Books can create an emotional bond between parents and children
When Edwin returns from school, Carolina stretches herself to support her little boy in his homework. It’s a challenge because she only completed two years of schooling herself, but she loves spending the quality time with her son and seeing him learn. “Even though I only completed my first grade, I help Edwin do his homework. I cannot write, and I can hardly read, so I sit behind him and read some of the short stories in his book. I see how doing this encourages him, and he tries to recognize each letter written in this book,” she says.
2. Access to books gives children an educational advantage
When Carolina heard Edwin required two books that would cost $6.50 (USD) each, she was worried. The cost was well out of her budget. She had to resort to using a moneylender to purchase the books for her eldest son — and deal with the inflated interest repayments. She knew how important the books were, though.
“If the child does not have his own book, he will not learn the same as a child who does have a book. When a child doesn’t have their own book, they must wait for a classmate who can show him a book page after he finishes the work. This situation generates insecurity and delayed learning in children,” she explains.
Thankfully, it was a different story when Edwin began kindergarten.
“The situation is different with Edwin because I have the Compassion center’s support, which releases me of a huge concern,” she says. “I cannot imagine my situation without their help. The moneylender is no longer in my community, so I couldn’t have provided my son with the books.”