Karen Kilberg's Blog

Universal Primary Education: Falling Short or Making Progress?

The Education Problem

In 2000, world leaders gathered to discuss the future and fate of our quickly evolving world. One, if not the greatest, challenge of our time is the prevalence and severity of extreme poverty in which most of the world lives. Far too many continue to live without access to sanitary drinking water, nutritious food, essential and basic medical care, and even education.

Many students around the globe take advantage of their education everyday (myself included), whether intentionally or not. I have seen first-hand the education crisis in developing nations like Sierra Leone, yet I still find myself bemoaning the homework and tests of the University I am so extremely blessed to be able to attend, while many children worldwide go without stepping foot inside a primary school classroom at all.

As I sit in my college dorm room writing this, I am surrounded by dozens of books I am able to read and understand and I have an endless pool of information on the internet at my fingertips. Yet when I read the statistics, it causes me to pause. I am again reminded of the small percentage of the global population I belong to; a true minority compared to the rest of the world. The facts speak for themselves: One in four adults in the developing world – 872 million people – is illiterate (Oxfam UK) and more than 100 million children remain out of school (UNFPA). The problem is evident.

A Little Bit of Background: The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

MDG goal number 2 that the UN created seeks to “ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling”. Although a seemingly large feat to complete, universal primary education would neither be that costly nor difficult to achieve. The cost for a year of universal primary education is only half of what Americans alone spend on ice cream in a given year (UN Population Fund), girls the age of 18 have received approximately 4.4 less years of education than boys. This puts them at a severe disadvantage, almost condemning them to not live up to their full potential.

A report by ActionAid highlights a few of the issues concerning low girl enrolment in schools:

(1) Violence against girls around schools is pervasive and can discourage girls from wanting to attend school. This can prove to be a roadblock when it comes to trying to increase the number of girls in schools.

(2) School fees are often more than what families can afford. Some families choose to send their sons to school but not their daughters.

(3) 41 million girls are still out of school; the majority being in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/West Asia.

(4) Furthermore, the percentage of girls that complete their secondary education is even lower; only 63% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 79% in South Asia. Enrollment is the first step but completing primary school is a much more difficult challenge.

A Brighter Tomorrow?

Progress won’t happen overnight. I’ll spare you from a certain cliché saying about Rome for the time being, but it’s true. Although it is frustrating to see the slow progress that these goals are making, we must be reminded that this is a huge problem to tackle. The fact that progress is even being made should be cause for a celebration in itself.

Although it is clear that these MDGs will not be achieved by 2015, we must still remember that even the littlest steps in the right direction make a huge difference. You can never know who that one child who didn’t have access to education and now does might do with their life. The possibilities are endless.

You can help make even further progress by sponsoring one of the students or projects of our many wonderful partners. Your donation (every bit counts!) can help a child open the door to endless possibilities. Education opens far more doors than anything else, so providing these children with the opportunity to complete even their primary school education will make a significant impact. If poverty is to be tackled, we must identify the underlying issues concerning poverty, one of the main ones being lack of education.

So please, do your part! Step up and pay it forward. Chances are that if you are reading this you’ve been given the chance to at least some education – so what I ask of you is to give even the smallest amount so that another child can experience what you did. You won’t regret it.


Students in primary school in Sierra Leone, West Africa - Credit: Karen Kilberg

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