What are the barriers to children’s access to quality education?

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What are the barriers to children’s access to quality education?

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider the following questions:

  • Why are children not able to access education? 
  • Why are children unable to enjoy the right to quality education?
  • What groups of children are particularly vulnerable to facing barriers to education? 
  • What are the challenges that practitioners face in working to advance the right to education?

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

Key barriers to right to education in Nigeria

In Nigeria several factors have constituted barrier to the cievement of the right to education. It is sad to note that despite  efforts being made by the Nigerian government through the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004, more than 7 million children are still mising education. Researches conducted by ActionAid Nigeria and other players in this sector show that several factors contribute to this.

These factors can be clustered into social, economic and political factors; cost of education, unequal distribution of educationa facilities, poor implementation of policies, poor capacity of government to deliver on its agenda, socio-cultural beliefs and practices, poor quality of teachers, inconsistency in policies and strategies, corruption, low committment of the state to providequality  public education laeding to incessant strike actions by teachers, etc.

As a result, provision of quality public education has been poor. Parents have lost confidence in government schools and only a few can afford the high cost of education as provided by the public sector.It is therefore disheartening that majority of Nigerian children are either out of school or are not able to access public education of good quality. 

Key barriers in Nigeria

Thanks for your comment, Azuka.  The barriers to accessing quality education in Nigeria are numerous and complex.  Many of these barriers are found in other countries as well.  How do you prioritise your responses and approaches?  In other words, how do to decide which aspects or barriers you are going to address and confront?

Human Trafficking as a barrier

Atlanta, GA, USA is known has a hub for human trafficking in the USA.  This form of modern day slavery keeps children from realizing their right to an education through various forms.  Their identities and confidence are stolen along with their childhoods.  Slavery of all kinds in all places is a true barrier to education. 

Identifying barriers

Hi All,

Azuka had a long list of barriers, many of which point back to a State's obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to education. Money isn't everything but plays a large part. In 2002, the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (now the Global Partnership for Education) recommended that governments allocate 20% of their budgets to education. As an example, countries in sub-Saharan Africa spend on average 5%

As a means of identifying the barriers to access to quality education, the Right to Education Project mentioned by Duncan in his post is an excellent reference. In particular, I found their section on indicators a great resource because they base them on the standard "4As" that are addressed concerning the right to education: Accessibility, Acceptability, Availability, and Adaptability. They add another category of indicators on "governance framework." (More on the 4As can be found in the General Comment 13 from the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.) Someone working on the right to education could look at these indicators and conveniently map them to their own reality - the advantage of doing so is that it provides an analysis of the right to education based on government obligations as prescribed in international human rights law. That, in turn, makes it easier to advocate for any type of change (such as the construction of new schools, hiring of qualified teachers, elimination of user fees, etc.).

Having lived in Africa for four years and worked in education, Azuka's barriers resonate strongly with me. There are many communities where parents are not convinced of the value that education brings. Even if their children do get an education, their prospects for work are often limited in their communities. The immediacy of sending a child out to work or sell goods at the market to earn money for the family is a reality that many families choose over an education, however "free" basic education might be. And the barriers faced by girls remain significant in many parts of the world.

For those of you interested in reading about an approach for identfying and working with communities on rights in general (including the right to education), Book 2 of Haki Zetu: ESC rights in practice is a useful resource. It's part of a series of booklets from Amnesty International, and the Right to Education Project has worked on a forthcoming booklet on the right to education (it should be published later this year).



Basic Human Right vs Parents' Decision

If indeed it is the case that

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.

why are governments allowing that their citizens be denied this basic human right? Without an education, these children grow up to be illiterate adults who will have endless barriers in succeeded in life and will most likely continue to live in poverty. And if this perpetuates throughout an entire community, there is very little hope for advancement and economic development. And this is what governments need to be aware of.

Another part of the issue, as already mentioned, is that parents do not always see the value of an education. While part of the article relating to the right to education states that

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children

the government may need to intervene, either reeducating parents on the need and huge benefits for an education, or by enforcing the law that all children should at least receive an elementary education.

Finally, with regards to the point that education must be free, while it sounds great that parents do not have to pay for their children's education, who will support the schools? The vast majority of children who are not receiving an education are in extremely cash-strapped countries, the governments of which underfund schools. If teachers do not recieve a salary, or receive an inadequate one, there will be no incentive for people to go into the field or give their best. How can this be avoided? Should the international body, notably other signatories to the declaration of human rights, support poor governments in educating their population? And who is responsible for enforcing the right to education for all children?

Spending vs efficiency

Thank you Bailey. 20% of the national budget going towards the provision of education may seem a lot, or at the very least enough. But spending alone is not enough and, as you mentioned, it is difficult to monitor and regulate. All over the world corruption exists and even when it appears that education is receiving enough in monetary terms, where exactly the money goes and whether there are leakages (which are numerous and often very large leaks) goes unchecked. For this reason and to ensure that the money for education is indeed those teaching and those being taught, governments and international bodies need to work together in not only providing the funding but also th transparency and monitoring for efficiency.

This is so very true. Teacher

This is so very true. Teacher is such an honorable profession and should be adequately renumerated. While it can be said that many that enter the profession do not do so for the money, but they too need to live complete and decent lives. Working for minimum wage, not being able to afford decent housing... it is embarassing! It is no wonder qualified teachers leave Africa seeking greener pastures, leaving underqualified individuals to teach children as it is better to have someone doing it than noone at all. I am sure that with a decent wage and standard of living, African teachers would first of all not leave and second of all, those that left would return home.

Barriers to Children 's access to quality education at Swat

The militancy regime of three and five years in district Swat was a reminiscence of the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan in 1990s. The militancy had spread fear throughout the community and girl’s schools had a deserted look. The local militants viewed that girl s' education would lead to anti- Islamic trends in the society. The bombing and blazing of schools and colleges especially girl’s schools and colleges and a deluge of threatening letters issued to numerous other girls schools by militants in Swat district had forced girls and their teachers to stay away from school premises. According to the government figures, a total of 647 schools were damaged due to the conflict, of which 416 were partially damaged and 231 were totally destroyed in Malakand Division.

The assessment conducted by Save the Children also revealed that the main reasons that prevent children from accessing schools were cultural, ongoing security restrictions and fear factors. Fifty-six percent of head teachers in Swat identified the fear of terrorism as a major issue confronted by children. Forty-one percent of teachers reported that they had noticed negative effects on students’ behavior and that children were suffering from emotional problems after the conflict.

Children in conflict zones

Amjad raises a significant barrier in terms of conflict. I'm presently in Amman working with staff from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides education to Palestine refugees in the region. An UNRWA representative from Syria told me yesterday that all six UNRWA schools in Homs have been closed for the past few weeks because of the violence there. The recent Education for All report on armed conflict and education indicates that armed conflict is robbing 28 million children worldwide of their education. For more info, you can listen to this podcast from UNICEF, this resource kit on education in emergencies, and the 2010 edition of the INEE toolkit on minimum standards for education.


Right to education in humanitarian contexts

Coming at this from the Save the Children perspective. Our previous 5 year campaign 'Rewrite the Future', focused on securing the right to education of 39 million children (back in the early 2000's), and we continue to advocate for the over 28 million who remain out of school in conflict affected countries (2011 Global Monitoring Report ).

When assessing obligations in humanitarian contexts, we really need to look at the frameworks that complement the right to education. Amjad and Paul raised issues related to violations of international humanitarian law, related to attacks on schools (and education as a whole). This really is a priority issue to tackle, for educational institutions are not the protective spaces they should be. Attacks on education are having knock-on effects on children and their teachers, and are particularly causing high drop-outs of girls (due to the higher incidence of sexual violence and risks associated with making the journey to school - ie. in the DRC and Afghanistan). For more information, do check the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. The Coalition is building on Education under Attack led by UNESCO.  

Additionally, the right to education in emergencies or humanitarian contexts is one that remains relatively unexplored. In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/64/L.58 on the 'right to education in emergency situations'; this is an excellent guiding document to implement the right to education in these challenging circumstances, but the framework for action and implementation  at the national level, and the follow-up globally, has remained vague. 




Elin raises a valuable about the contexts and frameworks in which we work to promote access to education.  We have recently been engaging with a group of academics from China to take part in a conversation on Education as a Human Right.  The response was that if we are talking about human rights, they could not be part of it.  So we are challenged to look at this very complex issue through their lense.  We must ask ourselves how to work within other contexts and reframe the discussion to make the most impact in all situations.

Advocating in rights-hostile states

CASIE wrote:

We have recently been engaging with a group of academics from China to take part in a conversation on Education as a Human Right.  The response was that if we are talking about human rights, they could not be part of it.  So we are challenged to look at this very complex issue through their lense.  We must ask ourselves how to work within other contexts and reframe the discussion to make the most impact in all situations.

You raise a really good point, Casie. We, too, have worked with education advocates operating in States that are 'hostile' towards the language of human rights, for example in Vietnam.  In most instances I think that activists should not shy away from rights language.  However, in China and Vietnam (and possibly a handful of other States) talk of human rights is not only unlikely to produce results - it may actually alienate advocates trying to work with government officials and in extreme cases it can be dangerous.  In these situations, it may be more effective to frame discussions around UNICEF's Child-Friendly Schools or the UNESCO EFA goals.  The human rights framework can still inform advocacy on education, but with the language of rights removed.  I do think that we need to continue to dialogue with these countries on the validity of human rights, but we must do so with due consideration of the potential consequences.

Barriers to education in Canada

Equitas recently participated in a learning forum on Knowledge Management, Virtual Platforms and International Development where we had the opportunity to engage with TakingITGlobal - About TIG. The organization was founded in 1999 by two young Canadians, Jennifer Corriero and Michael Furdyk, who were 19 and 17 at the time. They envisioned a space to facilitate youth-led change, and foster inspiration, information and involvement among young people from around the world. The purpose of TakingITGlobal is to facilitate global understanding and grow leadership among youth to enhance their participation in social movements for a better world.

In an article on their website they provide a very good overview of the barriers to education in Canada. I’m including a few key sections below.

“The struggle for education is also about creating the environment and conditions for effective learning. Often, as in developing countries, enhancing access and overcoming barriers to enrolment is just the tip of the iceberg. School systems in these countries struggle with a variety of challenges: a lack of teachers; children who come to school hungry or sick and sometimes traumatized by warfare; high student to teacher ratios; and, financial constraints.

 “In Canada, we are not free from barriers to education. Aboriginal students can face many challenges, including poverty, language barriers, geographical isolation and racism. Aboriginal children must often deal with stress outside the classroom, which makes it difficult for them to learn.

Some immigrants and refugees coming from countries of conflict or poverty have difficulty engaging in the school system. Placement by age further compounds their difficulties in Canada. Students from war-torn countries may not have been able to attend school in their home country, but as teenagers they may be placed in high school. These youth tend to come to Canada speaking English as a second language, making integration and learning more difficult. Teachers, often over-worked already, do not have the skills or capacities to effectively address this situation effectively on their own. Drop out rates for immigrant and Aboriginal youth are high, and have long term impacts on each individual as well as on the broader community. Inequality in education affects the employability of youth and their future quality of life. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-004-x/2010004/article/11360-eng.htm

Students with disabilities must deal with false stereotypes, negative attitudes and, frequently, inaccessible learning environments. To succeed at school, they require accommodation of their needs. They also need that most basic human right--the right to inclusion and to full participation in the community.

Another barrier in Canada's school system is the widespread incidence of bullying and discrimination. Students often experience sexual or other harassment. Youth who are from racialized backgrounds, have disabilities, or are gay or lesbian frequently face peer aggression. Youth and children who experience bullying often suffer from depression and lack of self-esteem, making the educational experience difficult. In a study in British Columbia, it was indicated that 72% of students witness bullying within their schools on an ongoing basis.” http://www.tigweb.org/themes/udhr60/default.html?section=eduright

In developing our programming in Canada Equitas conducted a needs assessment (2008) of 61 organizations working with youth aged 13 to 17 across the City of Montreal. In total, 210 people were contacted: 79 youth (28 young women and 51 young men) and 131 coordinators of youth (76 women and 55 men). Our needs assessment revealed very similar findings in terms of issues faced by youth, such as issues linked to poverty, limited family supervision, dropping out of school, suicide, and drug addiction. Also highlighted were violent or intimidating situations that can occur at school (muggings, insults, youths who mock others who are less skilled in sports, etc.). Self-esteem was highlighted as one of the most important issues. Youths and youth workers alike associated self-esteem to various human rights including the right to be yourself, the right to be respected, the right to be acknowledged, the right to equal opportunity. Our programming in Canada therefore focuses on addressing issues such as bullying, intimidation, exclusion, racism, homophobia, alienation, violence and discrimination through youth engagement. In partnership with other organizations (such as the YMCA – Alternative to Suspension Program) by trying to build a sense of belonging and agency among youth in terms their engagement within their community, with the school being valued as a pillar in the community.  But more on this when we discuss tactics later on.

Barriers: discimination, bullying, harassment, poverty

Vincenza Nazzari wrote:

Our programming in Canada therefore focuses on addressing issues such as bullying, intimidation, exclusion, racism, homophobia, alienation, violence and discrimination through youth engagement. In partnership with other organizations (such as the YMCA – Alternative to Suspension Program) by trying to build a sense of belonging and agency among youth in terms their engagement within their community, with the school being valued as a pillar in the community.  But more on this when we discuss tactics later on.

Thank you for sharing your research on the barriers that children face in accessing quality eduation in Canada.  These barriers, such as discimination, bullying, harassment, poverty and lack of self-esteem are faced by children, schools and communities around the world.  I look forward to learning how Equitas and other organizations are working to advance children's right to education in the discussion thread: What is being done to advance children’s right to education?

The simpliest things

I was struck by a recent article posted locally on how having something as simple as proper toilets is curbing drop out rates in a girls' school in India http://m.globalatlanta.com/article/25342/

Barriers such as these need to be considered as part of the larger pictures.

Some barriers which exist in

Some barriers which exist in India are:

  • Absence of schools
  • Generations of conditioning of parents against gender parity and on relevance of education
  • Trafficking/ child labour
  • Lack of teachers
  • Absenteeism of teachers
  • Lack of infrastructure
  • Over crowded classes
  • Socio- cultural environment
  • Religious beliefs in education

The above points are some of the barriers to quality education. In India, children in rural areas are not able to access quality education because of poverty, which on the other hand compels them to be pushed into labour, depriving them of education.

Barriers to advancing Children's Right to Education

 The troubling dilemma about access to education by children in several countries is that education itself becomes a barrier. Education comes from the latin word educare, which means to make one fit to live in a society and fit to live with. Education is a privilege in many developing states in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. The very purpose of education becomes thwarted when it fails to equip persons to live in society in a manner that will ensure their development in a wholistic manner. The topic is not only concentrating on advancing children's right to education but also their right to an educational system that will propel them farther than where they commenced. There is no use advancing a child's right to education if that education is sub standard and useless to the child, in essence the education only destabilizes the child and incapacitates their abilities to further succeed. 

 This problem is highlighted in circumstances where several states have emerged from post-colonial systems. The right to education is assigned on the basis of race, class or gender structures. This is the plight of many African and Caribbean countries; the education system is seen to restrict the potential of so many of its students, there may exist in those countries the right of children to education but the education is out of synch with the child's realities which may be abject poverty, perceived learning abilities among other issues. The educational system is perceived to be one of a capitalist hegemon and is exported to these "developing" countries, in that instance, there is either an outright rejection of the system which exhibits itself in absenteeism or high "drop-out" rates among many children. Or there is an implosion where the system collapses on itself causing deleterious effects again for the child. The child in no way benefits from either anomaly.

Let us not only advance the right of children to education but also the right of children to an education system that makes a meaningful difference. It is one thing to have a right to something but that right is meaningless when the education leads to "miseducation". The right to an education is the sine qua non of society, take away that right from children or deprive them of it would only plunge our world into global illiteracy, however, the right is not one that is abstract but is functional and aught to be fiercely guarded.

  Ricardo Sandcroft, Attorney-at-Law & Humphrey Fellow 2011-2012

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