Education can unlock a better future. Educated people lead healthier lives; they can choose to be more responsible global citizens, reducing the incidence of conflict and war. Educated women are less likely to have been pushed into child marriage or push their own children into it; they are less likely to die in childbirth, and more likely to raise healthy children. Education is especially transformative for children who are poor, female and who live in remote areas.
The Global Initiative in Out-of-School Children revealed that 27 million children (aged 5-13) are out of school in just four countries – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.64 Most of these children in
The most excluded children often face multiple barriers to education. For instance, girls with disabilities living in rural Nepal have the lowest access to education in that country. There are probably three major barriers to overcome here – the lack of rural schools that have suitable facilities for children with disabilities, gender bias in favour of boys, and misunderstandings about children with disabilities.
Emergencies caused by confl ict and natural disasters (fl oods, cyclones and earthquakes) also take a toll on education. In Pakistan, armed confl ict in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2009 displaced an estimated three million people – some 600,000 children in three districts alone were reported to have missed at least a year of schooling in the three districts that saw the heaviest fi ghting.69 And in Bangladesh, an estimated 1.5 million children missed out on education due to cyclones Sidr in 2007 and Aila in 2009, with damage to school infrastructure reckoned to reach USD 140 million.
For children who manage to get to school, there are further challenges: completing the full eight to 10 years of basic education, and actually learning in the classroom. In South Asia, only 64 percent of children who enrol in Grade 1 reach the last grade of primary education (data for 2010); this fi gure has hardly changed since 1999, when 62 percent reached the last grade. Perhaps more worrying is the fact that only a third of children in South Asia who have had at least four years of primary education meet minimum learning standards,72 a lower proportion than in any other region. This learning crisis – where attending school produces no tangible results – effectively robs children of their most receptive years. It also represents a huge loss of investment. Some groups of children are affected more than others, again refl ecting the disparities in society, and there are geographic differences too. In India, for example, the 2013 Annual Status of Education Report shows that, nationally, only 47 percent of Grade 5 (Standard V) students can read Grade 2 (Standard II) text. Children in private schools have a higher reading score (63 percent) than those in government schools (41 percent).
Reading scores vary between states too – Puducherry in South India and Madhya Pradesh in central India have the lowest; Kerala and Himachal Pradesh have the highest.
In Pakistan, 51 percent of children in the fifth year of primary education (Grade 5) cannot read Grade 2-level text in their local language, while 57 percent of Grade 5 children cannot do two digit division. There are ender disparities too. In rural Pakistan, only 38 percent of girls can do simple arithmetic compared with 45 percent of boys. The gender difference is smaller when it comes to reading, but again fewer girls (43 percent) than boys (48 percent) can read.75 When broken down by income level, the gender gap almost disappears in children from the richest families. Thus girls from the poorest families in Pakistan are most disadvantaged when it comes to learning achievements: only 15 percent of girls from the poorest families can read basic Urdu (the fi gure is 21 percent for boys from the poorest families) compared to 42 percent of girls from the richest families.