The Future of Illiteracy
Education is essential for helping children escape the cycle of poverty. However, hundreds of millions of young people lack the basic skills needed to take advantage of opportunities that will help them succeed.
According to the United Nations, 20 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 are not in school, and 617 million young people lack basic literacy and math skills. They represent the future of illiteracy, unless something is done to help them overcome the obstacles keeping them out of school and uneducated.
Barriers to Children's Education When Living in Poverty
There are many ways poverty affects education. A child's parents may not have attended school and may not understand the importance of education, or there can be financial barriers making it difficult for a family to prioritize education.
Children from low-income families are four times more likely to miss out on an education than high-income students. Even if public school is free, some schools require uniforms and supplies to be purchased. If lower-income children can't afford the items, they are not allowed to enroll.
When a family is very poor, the parents may, out of necessity, choose to send their children to work rather than have them attend school, so the family can afford to put food on the table; an issue not common to families with higher incomes.
Lack of good hygiene practices and access to healthcare keeps school children at home as well. Missing school because of frequent sickness can put a child behind his peers and increase dropout rates. Widespread disease, such as the ebola epidemic in Western Africa and the COVID-19 pandemic, can halt the learning process altogether, if a child does not have access to technology and the ability to attend classes remotely, or if schools close outright.
Poor nutrition can interfere with a child's ability to learn. Without proper nutrition, a child's brain has a harder time with cognitive function, creating challenges with focus and memory. Some schools are able to supply meals for children, which can help, but if meals are not available, and families are unable to provide food, a child's learning can suffer.
Gender is also a barrier to education. In low- and middle-income countries*, girls are more likely to be denied the chance to attend school. Girls who are kept out of school are more likely to marry at a young age, have more children, have more health problems, and experience higher infant mortality. They are also more likely to become victimized or enslaved.
Children living in war-torn countries are often unable to pursue an education because it's not safe for them to get to school or to be in a classroom. Families trying to survive make school a lower priority. Even if their children are in school, the trauma of the conflict and fighting can be a barrier to learning.
All of these barriers loom larger for special needs children, who may struggle to keep up in a classroom in the best of circumstances. Globally, 95 percent of children with disabilities will drop out of school before high school.