Education: The Big Picture

An Ivorian refugee child reads from a chalkboard at a school in the town of Douplay, in Nimba County.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0025/Frederic Sautereau

Why can’t every child go to school?

Every girl and boy has the right to a good education, but millions of children and young people miss out. Education isn’t just about finding a job. When one is educated one is more likely to be aware of his/her rights, and better able to make sure that those rights are respected. Education gives people choices-- and the confidence to take advantage of those choices.

Education is important not just for the individual, but also for members of the individual’s community. For example, a student can share what she has learned about staying healthy with her family. She can teach her friends about safety issues. She’ll be in a better position to be an active, participating member of her community and may even convince someone of the value of an education for every child. She’ll also be exercising her right to education, which is a right defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Some of the reasons why so many children might not be able to attend school include:

  • Poverty: Families may have difficulty affording school fees or the cost of uniforms, or may need and children to work to contribute to the family income.
  • Safety: Families may keep their children at home if they feel the journey to school is too long or that it's dangerous to walk to school alone. They may also be worried about bullying, sexual harassment or violence, especially for girls.
  • Local traditions: In some countries, families place more emphasis on the education of boys, and may not believe it is important to send their daughters to school. Girls may also be forced to marry young, drop out of school, and dedicate themselves to housework.
  • Emergencies: Conflicts, economic crises and natural disasters prevent millions of children around the world from getting an education.

Other forms of education

Most often we think of schools when we think about education, but learning happens in other ways too:

  • Non-formal education involves learning via organized activities outside of school. For example, teens learn organizational and leadership skills by volunteering in their community or being part of a youth organization.
  • Informal education happens while talking to friends or parents. For example, one can learn important life skills such as how to prevent HIV by discussing it with friends.


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