On Monday, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl who survived an attack by the Taliban, and the United Nations secretary-general will co-host a global event to mark the 500 days until the deadline of the eight UN “Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which form a blueprint for reaching various global objectives, such as halving extreme poverty rates and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS .
One of these goals relates to education. Here, there has been significant progress: 42 million more children are now in school compared to 2000. This is important progress toward the goal of ensuring all girls and boys complete primary school and secure gender equality in education by 2015.
But more than 58 million children of primary school age are not in school. For the millions of children who dropped out of school, prospects of returning are slim. Additionally, about 25 million children will never go to school. Fewer girls attend and stay in primary school than boys.
But the issue isn’t just about children attending school, but the quality of the education they receive.
In the nearly 14 years since the MDGs were set, Human Rights Watch has interviewed hundreds of children about their education. Their stories present a different account of what success looks like for children currently in school or for those who have been denied education.
In China, we spoke with children with disabilities who see their chances of continuing education curtailed as they are excluded from schools, with a significant portion recieving no education.
In India, we found that discrimination continues to affect access to education for children from the marginalized Dalit, Muslim, and tribal communities, perpetuating century-old patterns of prejudice.
In Senegal, children are forced to beg and live in inhuman conditions in order to attend unregulated and often abusive and low-quality Quranic schools.
In Tanzania, thousands of children work in hazardous gold mines rather than learning in school.
In over 30 countries, parties to armed conflicts endanger children and hinder their access to education by attacking them, their teachers, and their schools, and by using schools for military purposes.
This is a key moment for governments and international institutions to press for rights-respecting development that is more inclusive, just, transparent, participatory, and accountable. Each country should be openly assessing how well, or how badly, it has done in ensuring its own children receive the education they’re entitled to.
Moreover, as countries come to a consensus on what will follow the MDGs, they should make sure that any future framework adequately captures governments’ obligations on the right to education. This includes ensuring primary education is truly free and compulsory, and addressing discrimination against the children who are currently missing from their data, and, crucially, improving the acceptability and quality of the education they are providing.