To provide some context to this piece, ICS is a government funded 12 week programme for young people aged 18-25 to contribute to long-term projects in a developing country as part of a cross-cultural team.
“Education is the most important weapon which you can use to change the world” - Nelson Mandela.
This is indeed one of the most powerful statements in the world and one of the most true. My time in Kenya certainly taught me a great deal about the value of education because I saw how much children enjoyed learning and the opportunity it created for them. It definitely confirmed to me that going into teaching is the right step for me and I am very excited to be starting Teach First in June 2014. In the meantime it is my pleasure to be working with Tutorfair to broaden my knowledge about education in the UK and see the wonders that their one-for-one charity promise provides.
My experience in Kenya however also made me aware of the issues that are preventing education from taking place. Based in Malindi, a popular tourist destination, we as volunteers soon realised the advantages and disadvantages tourism can bring. One of these disadvantages is the impact on school attendance because children instead work on the beaches to bring income into the family. There are many other factors which influence this such as a lack of sexual reproductive health awareness leading to teenage pregnancies and, despite primary education being free in Kenya, parents still struggling to pay for school uniform and additional costs.
Hannah launching a peer education project (which aimed to combat the issue of school drop-outs) at the primary school in Jimba, a village outside of Malindi, Kenya
Yet, without an education, children are unlikely to get the jobs that they aspire to have. And, children certainly have these aspirations. When working in a primary school in an outside village called Jimba, we asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. The list was incredible and varied from lawyer to pilot to policeman. Our job was to then teach them about why education was important to reach these desired careers. It is a human right to receive an education and every child should be able to exercise that right. Our primary education awareness day in Malindi, named ‘Right to Education’ aimed to highlight this by celebrating children and the importance of education with around 500 students, teachers and parents.
Mural painting at VSO Cycle 5’s Community Action Day named ‘Right to Education’ - Central Primary School, Malindi, Kenya
Of course, Malindi is just a small pocket of the world where children are struggling to go to school. Across the world, there are 57 million primary aged children who don’t get the chance to go to school. Despite this staggering figure, developing regions have made significant strides in expanding access to primary education. Since the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goal to provide universal primary education was set in 2000 to 2011, the enrolment rate grew from 83 per cent to 90 per cent, and the number of out-of-school children dropped by almost half. The problem is that international aid to basic education fell in 2011, which has hindered the progress to reach the millennium goal by 2015.
The fight is therefore on to make educational development central to the post-2015 agenda. UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Director-General Irina Bokova writes in the foreword to their latest report “as we advance towards 2015 and set a new agenda to follow, all Governments must invest in education as an accelerator of inclusive development” and donors shouldn’t “step back from their funding promises”. For her, the report’s “evidence clearly shows that education provides sustainability to progress against all development goals. Educate mothers, and you empower women and save children’s lives. Educate communities, and you transform societies and grow economies”. Sadly however, the list of barriers preventing universal education is vast. The nearest school might be too far away; many children need to stay at home earning money for their families; or in war-torn zones, attending school, or making the journey there, may be hazardous.
Then there are the children in school but still not receiving a good education. Perhaps the class sizes are too big, or the school doesn’t have sufficient learning resources, or the teachers haven’t had sufficient training. According to the same UNESCO report, “around 250 million children are not learning basic skills- even though half of them have spent at least four years at school.” This is why the report proposes strategies to overcome this by providing the best teachers for all children. But again this requires more funding.
This picture shows how lucky we are in the UK to have an education system that is free for all and generally easily accessible. Of course, I know and you know that it is nowhere near perfect - with huge educational inequality across society. In the UK, nearly 50% of students claiming free school meals get no passes above Grade D at GCSE and just 16% of these young people will progress to university, compared with 96% of those from independent schools. As I have discovered whilst working at Tutorfair, many of these privileged children will have received the benefits of private tutoring. And that is why I love the way Tutorfair works.
For every student who pays for a tutor in London through Tutorfair, a disadvantaged child gets tutoring for free. Tutorfair works with schools where high percentages of children are on free school meals, supporting the children identified as having the greatest need and are consequently working to narrow our own education gap here in the UK, like many other organisations are doing. One of those is Teach First, whose programme I will be starting in June this year. Now the biggest graduate recruiter in the UK, it trains enthusiastic graduates to teach in schools in challenging circumstances to help achieve the vision where no child’s background should limit the opportunities they have in education and in life.
Education is powerful and we need to work to spread its power both internationally and in the UK. So I challenge you to do your bit for education at home and globally. Can you donate your time by volunteering at a local school or abroad? Can you donate some money to international aid or to UK educational charities? Can you share your passion for education by spreading the word, campaigning for more change or by even sharing this blog post? Development in education is working but it needs more support and everyone can do their little bit to make a huge difference.
 http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/efareport/reports/2013/ Is cited in article here: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47034&Cr=education&Cr1=#.UvtMLPRdVPK