With the young of the UK all heading back to school this week, it set me thinking about the attitudes to education in the West and the value it delivers to the youth of today as well as about the massive gulf between what our young take for granted and the reality of life in large areas of the rest of the world.

Whilst a significant proportion of the UK’s school-age children probably views school as a necessary evil to be got through and done with as fast as possible, the majority simply take for granted the accessibility of quality education as a given in our society, together with access to all the equipment and specialist teaching necessary for its delivery. And whilst it is true to say that many inner city urban schools face a number of quality and other challenges, on the whole the young of today in the West have massive opportunities open to them.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for a very large part of the rest of the world and this is especially true in Africa and the Middle East. Worldwide, over 75 million children do not attend school of any kind and of those who do, around one in three will drop out before completing their primary education, usually leaving without the ability to read or count. Of this number a disproportionate number will be girls.The reasons behind this are rooted in a range of issues including cultural, child labour, conflict and poverty.

The ramifications of low educational levels are far reaching, with some shocking statistics. For instance a child born to a literate mother has a 50% higher chance of survival past the age of 5 than one born to a woman with no education. An educated child will have vastly improved job options, financial future and ability to prosper. These in turn help to build the financial wellbeing of the economy of that country, which in turn impacts on social cohesion and political stability.

World wide each additional year of education completed has been shown to increase annual income by 10%. Thus the provision of basic education has to be the route to both economic and political stability on all continents, allowing people to both learn about their rights and the skills necessary to acquire them. Stronger economies will mean that poorer countries will need less foreign aid and tend to stabilise politically, which in turn will benefit the West.

The challenges of delivering education to the third world are numerous but progress is being made. Funding issues remain at the heart of most programmes as the task at hand is simply huge and money is always limited. Simply providing enough books, paper and pens is a major issue in many countries. The advent of online teaching tools does hold out the hope to revolutionise education in Third World countries in the forseeable future. Teachers would have access to almost every possible type of information and being online it is mainly free. The main stumbling block to date is obviously the lack of reliable hardware and electricity supplies. This is an area which is being focused on by a number of NGO’s, with the development of solar powered computers high on the priority list.

Whilst the overall scale of the problem still remains massive, there are some positives to take away. A number of poor countries such as the Phillipines, Peru and Botswana are now nearing targets for achieving universal primary education and generally levels of literacy elsewhere are climbing slowly. In many Third World countries, whilst the provision of education remains limited, the children themselves display an enlightened understanding of the vital importance of gaining an education. Many will make quite extraordinary sacrifices and undergo great hardship in order to take up the opportunities on offer. The photos below show just a couple of hazardous journeys to school undertaken by poor children in various parts of the world - it makes the school bus in Birmingham look rather tame!

Going to school in a war zoneThere are very many worthwhile organisations operating in this sphere, helping to build schools and fund educational programmes, and slowly all these efforts will begin to bear fruit. I am of the opinion that this work is of vital importance to us all, both in the West and in the rest of the world, if we are to achieve any kind of globaI peace. I would urge you to do a bit of research and help in any way you can and as you think fit - if everyone does their bit we CAN help to change the world and it is ultimately going to be of benefit us all.




September 2014