Poverty and Education: 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 to 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 uneducated and out of school.
Barriers to Children's Education When Living in Poverty
Poverty affects education in many ways. A child's parents may not have attended school. They may not understand the importance of education. Financial barriers can make 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 children from high-income families. 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. Unlike the United States, many countries have no laws to ensure that children have a right to an education.
When a family is very poor, the parents may feel they have to send their children to work rather than attend school. For many, this choice is the only way they can afford to put food on the table — an issue not common to families with higher incomes.
Lack of access to health care and good hygiene practices can keep 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, they are unable to continue their education.
Poor nutrition can interfere with a child's ability to learn. Without proper meals and nutrients, a child's brain has a harder time with cognitive function, creating challenges with focus and memory. Some schools can supply meals for children, which can help. Still, if meals are not available, and families cannot 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 school and equity. Girls who are denied a quality education are more likely to marry at a young age, have more children 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 be in a classroom. School is a lower priority for families trying to survive. 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% of children with disabilities will drop out of school before high school.