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Why Primary Education Matters- Voices from the Field

Learning Achievements, Primary Education

Martine de Luna

Philippines

September 17, 2013

Imagine having to swim through a river each day to get to school? No, not wade; not slosh through with wellingtons and a waterproof jacket: I mean swim doggie-paddle style through a deep, running river.

This is the reality for young students in the small town of Casili, a region north of the capital city of Manila, here, in the Philippines where I live. Here, the children of Casili literally swim towards an education. Due to lack of infrastructure and bureaucracy issues in the local government, the kids arrive at their school house drenched (and likely at-risk for flu, if we are to be honest) every day.

And yet, they do so with smiles. They are among the lucky ones with access to education.

They should — and they do — consider themselves blessed. I, too, consider them privileged, because at least they have access to accredited teachers, government-approved curricula and even a chance at a college scholarship. They are not among the 57 million children globally, who are currently out of school.

As a former member of the education force, this number astounds and appalls me. Approximately half of the out-of-school youth, a majority of whom are girls, are located in sub-Saharan Africa. UNESCO predicts this number will skyrocket by 2015, if no action is taken by local governments and NGOs to provide education access to these children.

 

I used to teach children how to read. These were children from a privileged upbringing, from some of the top schools in our country. And when I think of the 40 some students I used to tutor, I have to reflect: How fortunate is this child to be able to read, write or pick up a book and engage in a conversation! This is because I understand that literacy and basic learning skills (reading, counting, etc.) are foundational to a child’s overall development.

There is a clear correlation between illiteracy and poverty. That is why #2 of the Millennium Development Goals of the UN focuses on the right to primary education for all children. Here are the current targets:

Target 2.A:  Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling

•           Enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 90 per cent in 2010, up from 82 per cent in 1999, which means more kids than ever are attending primary school.

•           In 2011, 57 million children of primary school age were out of school.

•           Even as countries with the toughest challenges have made large strides, progress on primary school enrolment has slowed. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of out-of-school children of primary age fell by only 3 million.

•           Globally, 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) lack basic reading and writing skills. 61 per cent of them are young women.

•           Gender gaps in youth literacy rates are also narrowing. Globally, there were 95 literate young women for every 100 young men in 2010, compared with 90 women in 1990.

Let’s go back to that number again: 57 million children without access to education or hope to one day be able to read or write. Fifty-seven million children with lack of life skills that can equip them against disease, early pregnancy, abuse and exploitation.

We have to step up to meet the Millennium Development Goal for Education because schools give children the building blocks for practical life skills. We have to actively engage in efforts to build sound school structures,  invest in quality books and teachers, and clamor for the strong support of governments, corporations and communities.

We have to teach our own children — those who have the privilege of a quarterly report card and a lunchbox — to care. Unless we teach our own children to be grateful for their schooling, and ultimately fight for children’s right to education the world over… then, as moms, our own children’s good grades will be for naught. In communities such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, a school is more than a place to learn how to read or write: It is safe haven for support and socialization, access to clean water and even vaccines. It is a mecca for young people to start life right.

I’ve seen three children in Casili sharing one tattered textbook, with a more eager longing in their eyes than any students in the top schools in the country. And it makes me think: What if they were my children?

What would I sacrifice so that my child could open up a book and learn the ABCs?

What would I do to give my son the privilege of raising his hand in a classroom filled with other students as hungry for knowledge as he?

What can I do, as a mother to help meet the millennium development goal promoting the right to primary education?

As a former teacher, I will always be a champion for a child’s right to education. Moreover, as a mother, I will not just advocate for each child’s right to learn; I will ultimately fight for each child’s right to a life that will afford him or her with opportunities. The most basic of these opportunities being a quality primary education, teachers who will champion them, and systems that will compel them to succeed–even if poverty dictated otherwise.

How about you? What would you do to champion each child’s right to learn?

Martine de Luna is a writer, a former educator, an attachment parenting advocate and work-at-home mother. She blogs at www.daintymom.com, and is a Managing Editor for the Asian regional writers of the World Moms Blog.

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