By Ing Sopheap and Soksambath Pichny,
It’s 5:30 in the morning. Neary, an eight-year-old girl, has just woken up in a small wooden house. Today she doesn’t have any breakfast before heading off to school because her family can’t afford three meals a day on a daily basis.
Neary leaves her house, hungry, at 6 a.m. A sound almost like a wolf’s growl comes from her empty stomach. The muddy road after the heavy rain last night doesn’t seem to help either. Her foot feels heavier and heavier as she takes another step. After walking for about two hours, she arrives, exhausted, at her school.
It’s the only school available in the village. It doesn’t have electricity, toilets or even proper classrooms. Neary enters an overcrowded open air hut containing around 40 students and takes a seat.
Learning is very difficult since there are only eight outdated and worn-out textbooks in the classroom, so five students have to share one textbook during class. Also, not many teachers are willing to teach here because of the school’s poor condition and salary of $35 per month.
When she’s back from school, Neary helps her mom cook some lunch. Then, she leaves again after lunch to sell palm cakes that her mom had made. Sometimes, those palm cakes are quickly sold-out and she gets to come home early. Sometimes, she comes home late with some remaining palm cakes.
Neary wishes that her life was easier than this. She thinks maybe it would be better if she just stopped studying and would help her family instead. But, she knows that if she gets to study and have a good job in the future, she surely can help her family better. She always keeps this thought to motivate her whenever she thinks of giving up her studies.
As she grows two years older, her parents ask her to drop out because her younger brother is old enough for school. They cannot support both of their education. They tell her that education is more important for her brother. So, she should give it up and help her mom doing household chores as well as selling palm cakes instead…
Her heart sinks after hearing that. “Why did I even try to study in the first place if I have to give it all up in the end?” she thinks to herself. She is quite upset at her parents for saying that, but at the same time, she understands her family’s struggles. Ever since she was young, she has kept questioning herself too whether education was really worth it, because it was so hard to help her family and study at the same time. So, when her parents told her that, it felt like her question was answered. It’s probably the best solution to help them and let her brother study.
Many children with disabilities still face a lot of challenges in schools because of the lack of facilities. ©️ Global Partnership for Education – GPE/2013/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
These scenarios Neary faces are happening to real children given that many challenges still exist for children to go to and stay in schools. Education is known to be a solution to poverty. But, what if it’s the poverty that stops children from getting education? That’s the case for our country. Many parents still can’t afford the study costs, and children have to help the family by working or doing housework. On top of that, children with disabilities and those who belong to ethnic minority groups also can’t get proper access to education. Therefore, even if the figures show that many more children are enrolled in schools, (the enrolment rate increased to 98% in 2015) these challenges surely stop them from going further in their education. At the end, it seems like education still might not be ‘for all’.
Making sure that education is inclusive has always been the primary focus of the world, as we can see in Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. In fact, getting to have an education is actually everyone’s right. But, more than 265 million children still can’t get to enjoy this right.
This can be a reminder that some of us are very privileged and fortunate to have access to education. It’s something that we should never take for granted because some other people don’t have that same kind of privilege.
Many children, especially girls, can’t finish school because they have to work and help their families. ©️ ILO in Asia and the Pacific/2007/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Of course, the commitment from the government is always important. However, it doesn’t just end there. Individuals can also take part by spreading the word of the importance of education. When you see a post related to children’s rights and their education on your Facebook feed, share! This one click can make your group of friends see and know what’s happening. You can also sign the petition to make sure that the governments promote children’s rights, especially their right to education. As for this year’s World Children’s Day, UNICEF created a petition to do just that.
You can also contribute to promote education by donating study materials. For instance, there’s a program called Let’s Read, organized by JCI, that allows the donors to give their books or other study materials to those in need, especially in the provinces. Not only that, contribution in terms of money can also help build infrastructures at school such as libraries or toilets.
Another way is to volunteer to teach children in communities. We can help more children receive education when it’s free of charge. For example, you can volunteer through a Global Peace Foundation’s project called The Basic English Language Instruction Program. By joining this program, you give primary school students more chances to learn English.
Therefore, your contribution, big or small, can change a child’s life! Let’s use our privilege to help others! Spread the word, take actions and help make this important privilege more accessible for every child!
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.