Although ensuring food security and access to health care for children in need and their families are two important aspects of ChildFund's work around the world, so too is increasing educational opportunities for young people. School can help children break the cycle of generational poverty by helping them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to find work and support themselves. In many African nations, expanding access to education is a major challenge, particularly for girls and young women, but according to a recent report, some African nations have made substantial progress in this area.
The African Report on Child Wellbeing, published by The African Child Policy Forum in November, examines how well various countries across Africa have fared in improving the quality of life for children and families. Several criteria were assessed, including access to education, particularly for girls, who are often marginalized and miss out on opportunities afforded to boys and young men. Although there is much work to be done to address gender inequality in educational access, some countries made measurable gains in girls’ education, including Ethiopia, one of the countries in which ChildFund works.
Primary school enrollment among Ethiopian girls increased by 42 percentage points, rising from 41 percent between 2000 and 2011 to 83 percent today.
"Achievements on the education front — and particularly the dramatic increase in access to primary education, especially for girls — are commendable," Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique, wrote in the report. Mozambique has a primary school enrollment rate of 89 percent, but its secondary school enrollment rate is just 15 percent.
However, educational inequality for girls remains a serious problem in many African nations. On average, 78 percent of girls attend primary school, compared to 83 percent of boys. Enrollment rates in secondary schools are much lower, with just 26 percent of girls enrolling in secondary school, compared to 30 percent of boys. Secondary education is a vital step that too many children lack the opportunity to complete, and without doing so, they are less likely to emerge from generational poverty by learning key skills that can help them find self-sustaining work.
"Low levels of access to secondary education mean they will also not enter tertiary education, which effectively excludes them from the most gainful employment opportunities, thereby perpetuating systemic gender imbalance," the report says.
In the world's poorest countries, education remains out of reach for many children. Persistent challenges such as food insecurity and the impact of preventable disease often force children to work to support their families. Many children do not live to see their fifth birthday, and despite the progress that has been made during the past decade, child mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain high.
ChildFund has worked in Ethiopia since 1972, and since beginning operations in the country, we have embarked on many projects to help children attend school and provide teachers with the equipment and training they need.
During the past 40 years, more than 39,000 Ethiopian children have been given educational opportunities at 23 ChildFund-supported early childhood development centers, as well as the 31 preschools and kindergartens, 37 primary schools and two high schools ChildFund has helped build. In addition, we have expanded access to education by providing schools with extra classrooms to accommodate more students and expanded libraries to give Ethiopian children the books that many schools lack.
Although there is still much to do, we could not continue to help Ethiopian children learn without your help. Sponsoring a child is an excellent way to ensure that a child has the food, health care and educational opportunities he or she needs to emerge from poverty and lead a healthy, happy life.