In most developing countries, few children graduate from secondary school and many don’t even finish primary school. In Ghana, for example, only 50 percent of children complete grade 5, and of those, less than half can comprehend a simple paragraph. The UNESCO program Education for All, which as part of the Millennium Development Goals aims to provide free, universal access to primary schooling, has been successful in dramatically increasing enrollment. But, according to annual Education for All reports, many kids drop out before finishing school. Why don’t they stay?
There are numerous reasons, including the difficulty of getting to school and the cost of schooling. Even when tuition is free, there are often expenses for lunch, uniforms, and examination fees. And because the quality of education is often poor, parents are forced to pay for additional tutoring to enable their children to pass tests. Opportunity costs may be even larger—while they are in school, children forgo opportunities to produce income working on the family farm or selling in the marketplace. It is not surprising that when education investments do not result in adequate learning, or even basic literacy and numeracy, parents do not keep their children in school.
Even when learning outcomes are adequate, very few students continue on to secondary school. Job prospects for most people in the developing world are poor, and staying in school past grade 5, or even through grade 10, does not improve them significantly. In impoverished regions, the vast majority will not secure formal employment and will be supported primarily through subsistence level agriculture and trading. Health outcomes in these regions are also dire. Millions of children die every year from controllable diseases such as diarrhea, respiratory infections, and malaria.
Educational programs typically adopt traditional Western models of education, with an emphasis on math, science, language, and social studies. These...
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