|by Katie Engelhart, age 16, The York School, Ontario|
|Published on: Jul 12, 2004|
|I’ve always been told to climb the ladder to success. Here in Canada, I’ve been given the privilege to build myself that ladder. But, with eyes always on the prize, it’s all too easy to forget those who don’t have such privilege. I’ve always been told to aspire, to dream the dream, and to hold nothing back. I sit in history class, learn of the days where women’s futures were as restrictive as the strings on their corsets. All the while, though, I’d be contented in my seat knowing that those days were over and that I could be anything.
Still, though, there are those days when I can barely get out of bed, when I dread the monotony of another school week. And if I were honest, I would say that I take school for granted. I don’t look at all my choices as opportunities or even appreciate my right to choose in the first place. Looking at the situation of so many other girls in the world, it’s easy
About 130 million children are illiterate; two thirds of them are girls. Fifty-six percent of children who aren’t in school are girls. Perhaps most alarmingly, according to 2002 World Bank figures, approximately 150 million girls drop out before they can even complete primary school. It’s easy to understand the statistics; what’s harder to understand is the reason for them.
African countries and other developing countries live in
Children are born into families that can’t support them economically or, for that matter, emotionally. Girls are denied the childhood we work so hard to preserve in North America. Forced into prostitution, demanding physical labour, or early marriages in an attempt to support their families, they are denied the education that could provide them with wings strong enough to carry them away. “When a family needs extra income, the girl is most likely to be sent to work. When the choice has to be made between educating a boy and a girl, the girl is more likely to stay at home,” says Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations. Eventually, women become part of the circle, giving birth to more girls who will lead lives of oppression.
The world has opened its eyes. Not only do countries recognize this problem, but they understand the positive results that would come out of increased education for girls. According to a UNESCO report, a girl’s income in a developing country is directly
linked to the amount of education she receives. Just one year of primary schooling means a 10 to 20 percent increase in wages for women later in life. That same year in school will reduce the chances of that girl’s children dying in infancy by 5 to10 percent. Educating women as a whole would lead to a country’s annual per capita gross domestic product growth being raised, as HIV/AIDS and fertility rates are reduced in educating women.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this circle of struggle is that it seems never-ending. How can girls be educated if we can’t first place families in a position where they can send their child to school? How can countries provide better education if they don’t have the financial means? Africa spends three times as much on debt repayment as it does on education. India spends twice as much on arms as on education. While the responsibility does partly lie in the hands of these governments, it
to dismiss lack of funding for women’s education as a government’s irresponsibility. Developing countries owe millions of dollars in debt to developed countries. Therefore, it is just as much the responsibility of the developed world to reduce debt and allow struggling nations to address their problems.
Thankfully, a new and united effort toward better education is taking flight. The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative consists of governmental and non-governmental organizations from a variety of countries, and includes UNAIDS, the WHO, and the Forum of African Women Educationalists. The initiative will span over 10 years and hopes to improve the quality and availability of girl’s education. It is heartening to see different agencies joining in a collaborative partnership, finally recognizing the importance of working together for common goals. They also understand the importance of phasing in such a plan over a 10-year period. Changes that affect the entire social and economic structure of nations can’t happen overnight. By the same token, setting a 10-year plan will focus the effort.
It’s difficult to see how basic education will change anything. Why bother providing a few years of primary education to girls if they will only grow up to be broken, tired, starving mothers of broken, tired, and starving children? When I think of my education, though, I realize that education is more than getting into university; it develops us. When I think of Grade 6, I don’t remember what algebra equations I learned. I do, however, remember that my world culture project taught me awareness of worldwide struggle. I may not remember much about Grade 1 science, but I do remember that learning to make friends provided me with lifelong communication tools. I remember that Grade 5 health class taught me the importance of respecting my body and maintaining health. While at first basic education may seem insignificant, girls everywhere should be allowed to discover themselves and evolve as human beings.
I, for one, refuse to sit still. I refuse to take one more day of my privilege for granted. If 130 million children can’t go to school, then I vow I will take every precious day of my education and get all that I can from it. I also refuse to limit my education to the classroom. If I can travel the world, soak up knowledge from books, and do everything I
can to experience and assist struggle, I know I can use that experience to enlighten others. One person’s experience, one person’s story, can be that one flap of wings.
I will be that STORYTELLER.
1. “Basic Education — Ensuring opportunity for all.” CIDA’s Social Development Priorities.
(March 19, 2002)
2. “United Nations girl’s education initiative.” United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2000)
3. “UN appeal for girls’ education.” BBC News. (April 26, 2000).
4. “US Senator Clinton Unveils Plan for Global Universal Education.” United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2001)
[April 25, 2004]