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How to reduce poverty’s impact on education

On October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, it’s worth remembering that progress in fighting poverty is inextricably linked with progress in achieving education for all.
Although poverty continues to decline in many countries, it remains a crucial barrier to reaching the goal of universal primary education.

As we found in the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, the direct costs of sending children to school, as well as the indirect costs of losing a source of labour, can be formidable for poor parents. As a consequence, not only are poor children less likely to enrol in primary school, but those who do so are more likely to drop out. Low quality education reinforces this problem, as parents are less willing to bear those costs if they cannot see the benefits of education.

In sub-Saharan Africa alone, about 10 million children drop out of primary school each year. Although the reasons why children drop out of school vary across and within countries, household income plays a major role.

The 2011 GMR suggested several policies that can help reduce the impact poverty has on dropout levels:

  • Cash transfers to poor families, with eligibility linked to school attendance, can help to counter the effects of poverty. Such a programme has been successfully employed in Mexico, where it both improved enrolment and average years of schooling achieved.
  • Early childhood nutrition programmes can ensure that children are physically prepared for school. Children damaged by malnutrition are more likely to start school late, learn less, and to drop out. In Kenya, for example, a relatively cheap deworming programme improved school attendance by seven percentage points.
  • Ensuring that schools have the necessary teachers, resources and infrastructure is essential. In Colombia, a programme to improve the quality and relevance of education significantly reduced dropout rates. Flexible timing of classes can also reduce the indirect costs of sending children to school.

In countries that have been able to improve education access and quality, education has proved a powerful tool for eradicating poverty, as the Global Monitoring Report team’s Education Counts exhibition showed:

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty has been observed every year since 1993, when it was instigated by United Nations General Assembly. The theme of the 2011 observance is “From Poverty to Sustainability: People at the Centre of Inclusive Development.”

With global attention focused on the upcoming Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), it is critical to draw attention to the importance of poverty eradication for building sustainable futures for all.


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