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Last Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Barriers to getting an education
schoolchildren in Nairobi
Free primary schooling has boosted attendance in Kenya
Educating its young people is one of the best economic investments a nation can make.

So what are the obstacles to education in Africa and Asia which UK Chancellor Gordon Brown says he wants to tackle?

Poverty

Sending one child to primary school can cost more than a month's wages in many poor countries, according to the United Nations educational organisation, Unesco.

Enrolments doubled or trebled in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi after these countries abolished school fees, it says.

That can bring its own problems, however.

The director of basic education at Kenya's Ministry of Education, Mary Njoroge, said: "With the increase of enrolment we have large and crowded classrooms.

"In some places we don't have sufficient infrastructure including water and sanitation which is a major factor in relation to girls' access to school."

Fees are direct costs. But also, potentially a poor family loses a labourer by sending a child to school.

There is reportedly more child labour in Africa than in other developing parts of the world.

But simple things can make an unexpected difference.

The charity WaterAid says that in Tanzania there was a 12% increase in school attendance when water was 15 minutes carrying time away from people's homes rather than an hour.

Problems are compounded by the blight of HIV/Aids - though in turn education helps in the fight against disease.

Attitudes

According to the UN children's fund, Unicef, a majority of the 115 million children around the world not getting any primary school education are girls.

This is a common problem in Asia and in sub-Saharan, West and Southern Africa.

Unicef says outdated sexual stereotypes - the place of females is in the home - are a key factor.

school shoes
School transport [Photo: Purity Muthoni, Kenya]
Britain's Department for International Development says one school in Kenya which it funded - via the Forum for African Women Educationalists - has shown what can be achieved through liaison with the community.

It worked with local Maasai chiefs and local women to overcome resistance to the idea of girls' being educated, identifying families not sending daughters to school.

As a result, enrolment more than doubled and the proportion of girls in primary school who went on to secondary school rose from 67% to 85%, the department said.

But the task is a complex one.

Gordon Brown on Monday was visiting Mozambique, whose government sees education as one of the central pillars of its battle against poverty.

A Danish study carried out in the Zambezia Province of Mozambique notes that school enrolment, even among girls, has risen sharply since the civil war ended in 1992 but the drop-out rate is high and there are still major challenges.

Crucially, most of the parents are themselves illiterate. Their expectations for what their children might learn are limited to basic skills.

"In the lives of the majority of the rural parents, the school is, however, not a viable solution and a way of the sustaining of the family," says the report.

Teachers

On the other hand even if girls wanted to attend, the schools might be a long way from their homes - and there were concerns about sexual harassment and abuse by male teachers.

We need to act now - on current trends, getting all African children into school will take until 2100
Plan International spokesman
And teachers are often working in appalling conditions, with large classes and minimal resources, uncertain wages and little esteem.

The United Nations recommends there should be at least one trained teacher for every 40 school-aged children.

On that basis the world is said to be short of nearly two million teachers.

The situation in poor countries is not helped if the developed world continues to import trained teachers to cover its own shortages.

One of the reasons many people do not have access to education is that they are displaced by war or natural disasters.

Help to overcome those problems results in a more stable environment - and one of the first things societies do as soon as they can is re-establish schools.

Charities such as Sight Savers also point out that disability presents a huge barrier to accessing education in countries where resources are limited.

Another humanitarian organisation, Plan International, said education was the key to alleviating poverty and bringing about sustainable development.

But at an international level, governments needed to start making good on their pledges of increased funding, a spokesman said - Gordon Brown's message.

"But we need to act now - on current trends, getting all African children into school will take until 2100, and not 2015 as set out in the Millennium Development Goals."




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