Education is something that many take for granted — yet when it is absent, the effect is dire. It becomes very clear the more you dig, that the issue of education globally, not to mention along gender lines is very complicated.
The 1948 United Nations General Assembly declared, “Education is a core human right and an essential tool for achieving sustainable development.” However, a 2015 United Nations Women’s World study found that 58 million children of primary school age — 31 million of whom are girls — are out of school.
According to research done by Rebecca Winthrop and Elizabeth M. King for the Brookings Institute, though serious gains have occurred educationally globally, “In highly indebted poor countries, the average net enrollment rate at the primary level is 75.6 percent for girls compared with 80.9 percent for boys.” They also found that this divide was greatest in countries in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
Why the disparity along gender lines? The Brookings Institute study identified such issues as the cost, early marriage and teen pregnancy rates, social norms and violence as reasons that many girls globally are not receiving the education they so desperately need. Additional factors, such as the current refugee crisis, also complicate matters.
The presence of education—or a lack thereof—has tremendous impacts on communities. For example, literacy has been proven to be a strong indicator of poverty and lack of opportunity. Globally, an estimated 781 million people aged 15 and over remain illiterate. Nearly two-thirds of them are women, a proportion that has remained unchanged for two decades.
Though the task may seem daunting, there is opportunity for progress. The Brookings study suggests that focusing on developing girl leaders and providing access to the data of the gender inequalities are positive steps to take to bridging the gap. In other words, the issue of gender inequality in education cannot be addressed if it is not identified as an issue.
Education is a fundamental social principle for the people of the United Methodist Church. “We support the development of school systems and innovative methods of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an individual person of worth. All children have the right to quality education.” The church has a long history of supporting social justice through education.
As Nelson Mandela so eloquently stated: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We can change the world one child at a time.