Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Education and poverty: Understanding the intersection
The right to education has been advocated for and addressed through policies and initiatives due to global and gender inequalities. A 2018 survey conducted showed that 258 million children globally were out of school, with 1.6 billion out of school in April 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The barriers to education are multifaceted, with poverty playing the greatest role as many parents are unable to afford school fees, uniforms, learning materials and food. The lack of adequate learning facilities and teachers also creates additional accessibility challenges.
Over 50% of children who are not accessing basic education live in Sub-Saharan Africa with girls experiencing the greatest disadvantage. Adolescent girls and young women are also more likely to be in child marriages, infected by HIV, struggle to access healthcare and experience economic difficulties. This is due to patriarchal structures which create barriers to education and consequently a lack of access to economic opportunities.
How does education contribute towards poverty alleviation?
Inclusion and quality education is listed as the 4th United Nations Sustainable Development Goal as it facilitates socio-economic development and tackles poverty. Education helps reduce inequalities by equipping individuals with skills which create employment opportunities. It also reduces barriers to quality lives through empowerment by addressing maternal and child mortality and morbidity, gender equality and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. According to USAID , a girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.
In 2003, the Kenyan government implemented access to free primary education. and enrolment increased by 3 million over the following 10 years. In 2008 free secondary education was instituted which also increased tertiary enrolment.
Nyumbani plays an important role of not only equipping vulnerable children impacted by HIV with a quality education, but providing them with healthcare, nutrition, support, and loving homes which are key to their development and future success.
Source: Global Partnership for Education
It is not just about providing children with an education
The shortcomings of the free education system in Kenya have been that the increase in enrolment has not necessarily led to an increased in quality of education, teachers or learning facilities. Many children from low-income families are unable to cover the costs of uniforms and food which effectively prevents them from attending school. 50% of school age girls in Kenya do not have access to sanitary wear, with 10% of girls missing school monthly due to period poverty.
In addition to this, overcrowding in classrooms is an obstacle to quality education with a 77 to 1 teacher to student ratio in some communities. This puts children at a disadvantage when enrolling into good secondary or tertiary schools compared to their privileged counterparts, which further increases the inequality.
The covid-19 pandemic has aggravated barriers to the right to education
The move towards virtual learning as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated existing education and digital inequalities as internet, mobile phones and computers are out of reach for many. Although Kenya is a digital Information and Communication Technology hub, the digital divide impacts children living in urban informal communities and rural areas.
Remote learning further exacerbates existing educational inequalities as many low- income parents children’s parents with low literacy or who do not have the adequate education or capacity to assist their children with at home learning. This puts them behind their more privileged peers who may have access to adequate educational resources.
The gendered aspect of the coronavirus pandemic and closure of schools has been an increase in gender gaps in education, which makes girls more vulnerable to HIV, child marriages, teenage pregnancies, gender-based violence and poverty.
Addressing structural barriers in addition to providing quality education is paramount
In acknowledging the important role accessible and quality education plays in reducing poverty and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, it is key to simultaneously address structural factors which include institutionalised discrimination, patriarchal structures, and structural economic barriers.
Nyumbani UK provides education to children affected by HIV/AIDS in Kenya. We help them surmount the extraordinary challenges in their young lives so they can achieve their full potential and become independent adults.
Written by Zoe Kamangira
Action Aid. (2020) Period poverty
United Nations. (2020) Sustainable Development Goal 4 Quality Education
UNICEF. (2020) Kenya education
UNICEF. (2020) Covid-19 threatens to accelerate adolescent HIV
World Economic Forum (2020) Covid digital divide learning
World Education News and Reviews. (2015). Education in Kenya