As part of our nonprofit mandate, The Little Market is committed to crafting meaningful educational content for our audiences, centered on the many intersecting social justice issues affecting underserved women around the globe. Access to education, both formal and informal, facilitates a mutual understanding and cohesion across communities.
Today, we recognize International Day of Education. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on December 3, 2018.1 UNESCO describes education as a human right.2 There is wide recognition of the role of education both in peace and development efforts.
UNESCO advocates for “inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all” as a conduit to gender equality. Countries that prioritize education are better positioned to develop healthy economies — and break the cycle of poverty for their most underserved constituencies.
There are deep disparities in access to education hinging on gender, socioeconomic class, race, ethnicity, diverse ability, and other markers of identity. Young women and girls are disproportionately deprived of academic attainment.
UN Women has published the following global statistics:3
- Approximately, two of three illiterate people around the world are women. Globally, there are an estimated 796 million individuals who have not had access to formal education including reading and writing.
- Just 39 percent of rural girls attend secondary school compared to 45 percent of boys. These figures show a significant disparity compared to urban school attendance standing at 59 percent for girls and 60 percent for boys.
- Every additional year of primary education for girls is correlated between 10 to 20 percent of earning potential later in life.
- The continuation of a girl’s education typically results in postponement in marriage and greater reproductive autonomy.4 In addition, higher levels of education generally increase a woman’s economic autonomy while reducing her vulnerability to violence.
The theme for 2021 is “Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation.” The pandemic has exacerbated disparities in food security, education, and virtual connectivity across the globe. These elements are critical to favorable education outcomes, particularly in a remote setting. The United States has the highest rate of COVID-19 positivity and mortality.5 The nation has faced various degrees of lockdowns and unique challenges to virtual instruction. Many low-income students are experiencing significant academic regression.
A 2020 report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) states that “the shutdown of schools, compounded by the associated public health and economic crises, poses major challenges to our students and their teachers. [The American] public education system was not built, nor prepared, to cope with a situation like this […].”6 We must recognize that historic disparities in the United States, including overcrowding and underfunding, codified by problematic policies, have left many students behind. The pandemic has created further gaps, which will inherently affect the economic outlook of many under-resourced communities for generations to come.
On this International Day of Education, we invite you to reaffirm your commitment to a world in which each individual, regardless of their identity or geography, has access to education. We recognize that educational aspirations vary from person to person. Nonetheless, we look forward to a world, in which education pathways are accessible to all communities in an equitable manner.
1UNESCO, Commemorations and Observances: International Day of Education, accessed 1/17/2021.
3UN Women, Facts and Figures, accessed 1/17/2021.
5World Health Organization, Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard, updated 1/17/2021 at 4:35pm CET, accessed 1/17/2021.
6Garcia, Emma., Weiss, Elaine., “COVID-19 and student performance, equity, and U.S. education policy: Lessons from pre-pandemic research to inform relief, recovery, and rebuilding.” Economic Policy Institute, 9/10/2020, accessed 1/17/2021.
Malala.org and Malala Fund COVID-19 Initiative