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Extreme inequality in children's access to education

September 16, 2019

Oxfam's new report reveals a huge difference in educational opportunities for children depending on family income and assets. In low-income countries, a child living in poverty is seven times less likely to complete secondary school than a child from a rich family. Income, like ethnicity, geography and gender, is a key determinant of who gets access to education. Many of the world's poorest girls never set foot in a classroom.

"All children have the right to education, not just those with parents who can pay. Governments that do not invest enough in universal, free education put children's future at risk and contribute to an unequal society."

Robert Höglund, Head of Communications, Oxfam Sweden

Moreover, schools in rich areas tend to receive more support than schools in poorer areas, which are often overcrowded, lacking qualified teachers and resources such as textbooks and toilets. In countries such as Malawi, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Lesotho and Senegal, over half of government education resources go to the richest 10%.

Even in rich countries, only 75% of children from families in poverty complete secondary school, compared to 90% of children from the richest families.

The report 'The Power of Education to Fight Inequality' shows a clear link between lack of investment in free education and the number of children out of school. It also highlights how the privatization of education drives inequality. All types of school fees result in the exclusion of children living in poverty. Low-fee schools also have to keep costs down by paying extremely low salaries to unqualified teachers, which affects the quality of education. At the same time, inclusive education systems have shown positive effects in reducing inequality.

"Governments must invest in free education to give all children a level playing field. Taxing rich individuals and companies more fairly could help pay for that."

Robert Höglund, Head of Communications, Oxfam Sweden