Fall means the beginning of a new school year as children head back into the classroom to learn, grow and make new friends. But that's not always the case in the developing world, where a staggering 130 million children are not in school. Nearly 70 percent of these children are girls.
These are shocking statistics, particularly given the research showing that education improves lives, strengthens families and helps break the cycle of poverty in even the world's most impoverished communities. In my role at Opportunity International, a global not-for-profit microfinance and financial services organization, I often travel to countries like Ghana, Uganda and Nicaragua to meet our clients. From my conversations I've learned the two greatest barriers to education are a lack of family funds and a shortage of quality schools.
In Africa, for example, students must pay school fees and buy uniforms, books, food, shoes and other items families living in poverty simply can't afford. So they have no choice but to keep their children home. Similarly, communities and governments often lack the funds to build and maintain schools to keep pace with population growth and provide a quality education to an increasing number of school-aged children. In Sub-Saharan Africa, which includes 47 countries, about 43 percent of the population is under age of 15 and expected to grow over the next several years. These nations can't meet the demand for quality, affordable education, particularly in more isolated rural communities with poor infrastructure and weak economies.
Just how important is education in the developing world? Consider these facts:
- A girl with an extra year of primary school education can earn 20 percent more as an adult. (World Bank)
- For every year of school completed, individual earnings increase by 10 percent. (USAID)
- Girls with 8 years of education are 4 times less likely to be married as children. (National Academies Press)
- Educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school. (UNICEF)
- A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5. (UNESCO)
Opportunity International recently launched a "Back to School" campaign to support its Education Finance program to help put more kids in classrooms around the world. Through a combination of innovative savings, lending, insurance and financial education products and services, we're helping families pay for school and assisting school proprietors improve and expand their facilities and enhance the quality of education they offer students.
The success of our efforts can be seen in Evans Ssenabulya, who lives with his wife and three daughters in rural Uganda. Evans noticed the high number of children in his village, especially girls, who were not in school or taken out of school when a family fell on hard times. He received a loan from Opportunity International in 2007 to open Ridgeway School for 100 students in a small wooden building on a rented plot of land. Today, Evans owns the land and has transformed the school into a day and boarding program that serves more than 900 students--with plans to expand further to accommodate even more children.
Entrepreneurs and visionaries like Evans are improving lives and changing the world. But they can't do it alone. That's where we come in. Opportunity International provides the financial products and services that empower people to work their way out of poverty, strengthen their community and realize their dreams.
Please join me in supporting Opportunity International's Education Finance program to ensure all children have access to the quality education they deserve. We're working to improve lives one child at a time to break the cycle of poverty and create happier, healthier futures for kids and families. Together, we can unlock opportunity and transform lives.