Sec­ondary schools’ pri­mary im­por­tance

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The world has made re­mark­able progress in pro­vid­ing pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion to chil­dren world­wide. In the 1960s, fewer than half of the de­vel­op­ing world’s chil­dren were en­rolled in pri­mary school. To­day, more than 90% are. In many re­gions, a higher pro­por­tion of girls than boys en­roll in pri­mary school. To be sure, too many chil­dren re­main out of school in coun­tries like Nige­ria and Pak­istan, but the real prob­lem lies in what hap­pens after the pri­mary years are over.

With­out op­por­tu­ni­ties for sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, chil­dren have lit­tle chance to im­prove their liveli­hoods, and the progress the world has made could be jeop­ar­dised. In Septem­ber, speak­ing at the Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive, for­mer US Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton recog­nised that “lack of sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion holds back the as­pi­ra­tions of so many girls and their fam­i­lies. It un­der­mines pros­per­ity and sta­bil­ity around the world.”

Clin­ton an­nounced a ma­jor ini­tia­tive in co­op­er­a­tion with more than 30 or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the MasterCard Foun­da­tion, In­tel, and Mi­crosoft. This group has pledged more than $600 mln over five years to en­able 14 mln girls to “at­tend and com­plete pri­mary and sec­ondary school.” It is a wise in­vest­ment. In ad­di­tion to the ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits that ed­u­ca­tion can de­liver, in­creased en­roll­ment in sec­ondary schools of­fers ad­van­tages to all lev­els of so­ci­ety.

For ex­am­ple, re­quir­ing girls to con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion re­duces child mar­riage. In the de­vel­op­ing world, one girl in seven is mar­ried by the age of 15; nearly half be­come moth­ers by the age of 18. Girls at­tend­ing sec­ondary school, by con­trast, are much less likely to marry and bear chil­dren be­fore reach­ing adult­hood.

Pro­vid­ing girls with sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion also re­duces fam­ily sizes, and, when they do be­come moth­ers, it im­proves their chil­dren’s health and chances of sur­vival. One study found that in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries where one girl in five re­ceived a sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, women had, on av­er­age, more than five chil­dren. Where half of the girls re­ceived sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, the av­er­age was just three chil­dren, and child and in­fant mor­tal­ity were much lower.

Ac­cess to sec­ondary schools can also boost en­roll­ment in pri­mary schools, re­duc­ing the like­li­hood that par­ents will keep their chil­dren at home to work or, as is of­ten the case with girls, to help with do­mes­tic chores. If chil­dren have no choice but to re­turn from pri­mary school to the farm, why send them to school at all?

Pro­vid­ing sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion need not cost a for­tune. Poor coun­tries can move swiftly to ex­pand op­por­tu­ni­ties for ed­u­ca­tion at a much lower cost than is com­monly imag­ined. Most vil­lage pri­mary schools are used for ed­u­ca­tion only a small frac­tion of the time. Ap­pro­pri­ate mod­i­fi­ca­tions could turn th­ese into sec­ondary schools for part of each day, bring­ing sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion closer to chil­dren’s homes.

For girls, sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion closer to home would have the added ben­e­fit of re­duc­ing the risks of sex­ual abuse and vi­o­lence. Ev­ery year, roughly 60 mil­lion girls are sex­u­ally as­saulted at or on their way to school. Us­ing fa­cil­i­ties that are more fa­mil­iar and more con­ve­niently lo­cated could re­duce this bar­rier to attendance.

Like­wise po­lice sta­tions, post of­fices, and other ex­ist­ing pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties might, with mod­est ad­just­ments, pro­vide space for sec­ondary schools for at least part of the day. Mod­u­lar class­rooms, which can be built quickly and in­ex­pen­sively, could pro­vide lo­cal em­ploy­ment and sup­ple­ment ex­ist­ing school fa­cil­i­ties.

Pro­grammes in the United States like “Teach for Amer­ica” and “Teach for All” can serve as pow­er­ful new mod­els for re­cruit­ing the teach­ers that will be needed for new sec­ondary schools. Life ex­pectancy is ris­ing, but re­tire­ment ages of­ten re­main in the late 50s, im­ply­ing that pen­sion­ers could be en­cour­aged to be­come teach­ers.

Teach­ers will al­ways re­main es­sen­tial for stu­dents’ growth and ma­tu­rity, but new dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies can en­hance sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. On­line re­sources, such as the Khan Academy, hold great prom­ise for de­liv­er­ing broad, in­ex­pen­sive re­sults in ed­u­ca­tion.

The world stands at a cross­roads. Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions do­nate about $7 bln an­nu­ally to global health, but only $500 mln to ed­u­ca­tion in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Yet young peo­ple are the fastest-grow­ing seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion in the de­vel­op­ing world. Un­e­d­u­cated, they could be­come an un­prece­dented bur­den as their so­ci­eties age. But if they are pro­vided with sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, they will be able to trans­form their fu­ture – and ours – for the bet­ter.

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