Childhood Education in the Developing World: Crisis and Opportunity

An Update From Cecilia Ibru and the Michael and Cecilia Foundation

World leaders recognize that one key to improving the lives of billions of people is education. Yet many developing nations continue to experience challenges in building educational infrastructure and delivering these services to young people. The United Nations has promoted Millennium Development Goals, stressing the need for universal education by 2015 for children of primary-school age. However, many developing nations are not on track to meet those goals. As recently as a decade ago, more than 100 million children worldwide were not enrolled in school.

In many parts of Asia, the Pacific, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa, large numbers of young children drop out of school in the primary grades. Girls are particularly affected by this trend. Those children who do go to school frequently study with teachers who have inadequate training and are forced to deal with overcrowded classrooms and a lack of basic supplies.

For example, two-thirds of the people (and four-fifths of all girls) in Nepal are illiterate. People of school age leave their educational goals behind to travel to urban centers to find work as servants and day laborers. People from the more than 100 indigenous ethnic groups in the country are socially marginalized and at special risk.

In Nigeria, children under 15 make up nearly half the population, but their educational needs often remain unmet. Almost half of elementary-aged children do not attend school. The Michael and Cecilia Foundation, guided by Cecilia Ibru, serves Nigeria by assisting a variety of educational efforts at the primary school level and up. The foundation is in the process of funding and developing its own university, which will focus on business and the sciences.