two children sitting in a rubbish dump, honduras
Young boys working long hours with little food, on the rubbish dump of Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Giving poor children an education

In August and September each year we celebrate the beginning of  a new term and the new school year at schools around the world.

For the poorest children in the developing world and particularly for those children in these countries who have been deprived of learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, the opportunity of a place at school remains an unattainable dream.

Poor children are unable to reach schools which are closed, too remote or too expensive to travel to. They are without the necessary equipment or connectivity for virtual learning. They are unable to afford the uniform or materials needed for school. They are required to work long hours at home to help the family. These are the children who will drop out of education and miss the vital learning, skills development and most importantly the protections that a place in school provides.

Girl stirring food in Tanzania
Girl in the slums of Tanzania 2022

The consequences of lost learning

The poorest children often have complex home environments with difficult early lives. Without a place at school and the chance of an education they are exposed to the multiple stresses of neglect, abuse, involvement in violent crime and, in the case of girls, early marriage. Most importantly they are without the educational tools they need to create a different and better future for themselves, their families and communities.

The consequences of a lack of early learning are delayed development, insufficient skills needed for life and work and limited future productivity causing transmission of poverty down through generations. These effects last a lifetime but this lack of learning (or learning poverty) amongst the most impoverished is not new.

In 2019, the World Bank and UNESCO launched the learning poverty indicator to focus on this ‘global learning crisis’ and in June reported that because of lost learning more than “70 percent of children in low and middle-income countries may not be reading with comprehension at even a minimally adequate level”.

Failure to provide equality of access and quality of delivery in education to help the poorest children develop critical foundational skills makes it much harder for them to acquire the skills they need to thrive. In an increasingly demanding employment market, countries need human capital to sustain inclusive economic growth and for this they require a skilled and educated workforce.

boys in class
Boys studying in class Philippines, 2022

Ensuring quality and equality

The focus of our work is ensuring the poorest children can access a quality education.

In 13 schools in 6 countries in the developing world, the Sisters of Mary provide an education, accredited by the education authority in each region. The programme is open to any child living in poverty and each year we educate nearly 20,000 children aged 11-18 in our secondary schools including younger children (aged 3-5) in day care places and young women (aged 17-22) in our dedicated training centre.

The programmes focus on building a good foundation for skill acquisition together with thorough secondary learning and vocational development ready for graduation into work at age 17 or 18. The skills taught are relevant to the local job market and taught in conjunction with employers to ensure the children finish school work ready and equipped for success.

girls with student in chemistry class
Girls in science, Tanzania Girlstown, Summer 2022

As we work towards the UN SDG4 target of universal quality education for all children by 2030, in our care the poorest children have equal opportunity to progress through education, receive the protection they need to grow and thrive and fulfill their potential.

With the vocational skills taught during their time at school the children are equipped for local work immediately after leaving school and successful in achieving stable employment. When they secure jobs, they  build lasting careers in sectors including engineering, finance, medicine, teaching and IT.  Many of the children will set up their own businesses or opt for further education.

Once they are economically productive they are able to support themselves and are motivated to support their families out of poverty – permanently – multiplying the impact of our work many times over.