Today is International Day of the Girl. It provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the important role education plays in creating better lives for girls and families in developing countries.
It is staggering that 35 million girls around the world are missing out on a primary school education. Significant barriers prevent them from realising their dreams. Some drop out of school before they can read or write. Some never have the chance to go in the first place because families depend on them to help around the home, look after younger siblings and collect water and firewood.
One of the biggest challenges is getting girls to go to school alongside their brothers. Providing opportunities for education needs to be integrated with helping families address girls’ workloads to ensure they, too, can attend school.
Last month, I visited Cambodia as CARE Australia’s women’s empowerment ambassador and met women and girls who are faced with challenges distinctly different from those of most Australians. I had the opportunity to understand firsthand the extraordinary difficulties they face, to see the powerful work CARE is undertaking and to observe the positive path on which many young girls are embarking.
In the remote province of Ratanakiri, we visited O’Yadao Lower Secondary School. The school has 202 students, some from the local community and others who live in the basic boarding accommodation provided for children whose families live further away.
For more than a decade, CARE has worked with schools in Cambodia such as O’Yadao because students from ethnic minorities were either unable to attend school, or did not benefit when they did, due to linguistic and cultural barriers. Through the introduction of a bilingual education program, which has now been adopted by the Cambodian government, CARE is addressing the entrenched disadvantages faced by ethnic minorities.
For girls from ethnic minority groups to attend secondary school, they have to be determined and have a vision for their future. The girls I met throughout Ratanakiri were clearly no strangers to hard work. At their school, they were attending lessons and participating fully in sport and leadership activities while also looking after themselves using only the most basic of cooking and washing facilities. Many had asked for and received help.
Despite the barriers they have had to overcome, I was struck by how articulate and confident the O’Yadao schoolgirls were. Vantha told me she wanted to be a writer; Champey proudly said she wanted to be a doctor. These are realistic goals for girls here in Australia, but in Cambodia dropout rates are high, and the degree of difficulty is significant.
I was asked by a young girl, Thyda, for career advice. My suggestion to her was to develop a clear vision of what she would like to achieve, to be bold and courageous in following her dreams, to study hard and not be afraid to ask for help.
Many of the girls are there as a result of CARE scholarships. One, whose mother said she could not afford to send her to school, had heard about the scholarship program, and much to my great admiration, had stayed positive and persuaded her father to let her apply. She is now enrolled full-time and thrilled to be learning and growing.
Every child, no matter where they are born, should have educational opportunities. Education can significantly boost annual economic growth in low-income countries. An educated girl is more likely to have fewer children, keep them healthy and educated and earn a better income to help lift her family out of poverty.
Progress has already been made. The percentage of girls completing primary school education in developing nations has risen from 73 per cent in 1991 to 86 per cent in 2010. The next challenge is to make sure they make the transition into secondary school.
Meeting these girls and watching them talk so enthusiastically about their futures confirmed to me that educating girls provides the single highest return on investment in the developing world.
What struck me was just how much can be done for so little. For example, CARE can provide a girl with an education scholarship including boarding for one year at a cost of just $1 a day. A donation of $69 enables CARE to provide educational tuition for one girl for an entire year at a school such as O’Yadao.
What a difference that small amount can make to a girl’s life.
Source: Education News