Poverty and Education
There are wealth differences in school enrolment and attainment
in virtually all developing countries, but the gaps wary widely
across countries. Children aged 6-14 from the wealthiest 20 per
cent of households are substantially more likely to be enrolled in
school than children from the poorest 40 per cent of households
in almost all countries.
The differences between rich and poor are particularly large
(more than 45 percentage points) in several West African countries
-Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal-and in Morocco and
Pakistan. In contrast, small differences are seen in Kenya,
Malawi, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
Measures of school attainment also
demonstrate wealth gaps that vary across countries.
For example, in India the gap (in this case in the median
number of years of schooling attained among 15-to-19-year-olds)
between the richest 20 per cent and poorest 40 per cent
is 10 years, whereas in Tanzania it is only two years
(2). In many countries,
most children from the poorest households have no schooling.
A recent study of 35 countries in West and Central Africa
and in South Asia showed that, in 10 countries, half
or more of 15-19 year olds from poor households never
completed grade one (3).
There is longstanding international agreement that primary
education should be universal by early in the 21st century. The
gaps in educational attendance and attainment according to wealth
imply that the poor are much farther away from achieving this
goal than others.
Many countries would reach the goal
by raising enrolment among the poor. For example, in
Colombia, Peru and the Philippines, over 70 per cent
of the shortfall in universal primary education is attributable
to poor children (4).
There are only a few developing countries in which the
rich have not already achieved universal primary education
(see Figure 11).
REASONS FOR THE GAP Why are
enrolment rates lower and educational outcomes worse
among the poor? Both supply and demand are at work.
First, it is harder for poor children to reach a school.
Schools tend to be concentrated in cities and areas
where wealthier households reside. For example, in Guinea,
the average travel time to the nearest primary school
is 47 minutes in rural areas but only 19 minutes in
urban areas (5).
But the physical availability of
schools is not the central issue in most countries (6).
Expenditures on education have increased over the last
few decades in many places, but increases in spending
without special attention to the needs of the poor can
reinforce wealth disparities rather than reduce them.
The evidence from a range of developing
countries suggests that a larger percentage of public
spending on education goes to government actions that
benefit the wealthy (7).
In Latin America, attainment disparities have been attributed
to ineffective public school systems, upon which the
poor depend, and a relatively low proportion of spending
on primary and secondary education, the type of schooling
that tends to benefit the poor most (8).
Even when governments direct sufficient resources to
improving access to and quality of education among the
poor, they may lack the administrative capacity to deliver
Crises such as war, civil conflict,
economic collapse and epidemics disrupt services and
hold back school attendance. In the former Yugoslavia
and Central Asia, enrolment rates for basic education
were far lower at the end of the 1990s than at the beginning.
These problems are likely to have a greater effect on
the poor than the non-poor (9).
The quality of schooling-including
curricula, textbooks, teaching methods, teacher training,
pupil-teacher ratios and parental participation-helps
determine educational outcomes, including school retention,
attainment levels and test scores (10).
For example, recent research in South Africa shows that
pupilteacher ratio has a significant effect on the number
of years of completed education (11).
In Egypt, dropout rates are related to a variety of
elements of school quality and the learning environment.
Boys and girls respond to different elements of the
school environment (12).
In some countries, declining fertility is reducing the pressure
on public school systems, providing an opportunity to increase
quality without necessarily increasing expenditures.
FOOD FOR EDUCATION
Bangladesh's Food for Education
Programme is a government initiative addressing
household food insecurity and low female education among
the poorest families. Launched in 1993, the programme covers
about 5,000 primary schools all over the country. It supplies a
food ration (wheat) replacing children's contribution to family
livelihood and releasing them to go to school.
Attendance has increased for both boys and girls, but about
10-15 per cent more for girls. Besides the effect of education on
empowerment, there is some evidence that it has led to
delayed marriage, with important implications for women's
DEMAND AND EXPECTED BENEFITS
Demand for education depends on perceived returns to
the family, mainly anticipated income for educated children
(but also better health and lower fertility) (13).
One study estimates that, when opportunities are available
for educated workers, earnings can increase on average
by 10 per cent for each additional year of schooling
In some countries, the expected
return from education is lower for a variety of reasons,
lowering the demand for education among the poor. In
Latin America, these factors include the cost of education,
the low quality of public schooling, and discrimination
against some ethnic or linguistic groups and against
women in the labour market (15).
In contrast, returns to education
in East Asia and in some countries in South Asia have
remained high because of investments in physical capital,
improvements in technology, and pro-export and other
beneficial trade policies, as well as support for education
handed down within families (16).
Programmes that reduce the cost
of education for the poor can raise demand. For example,
the PROGRESA programme in Mexico, which provides subsidies
to poor families contingent on their children's regular
attendance at school, has reduced dropout rates and
improved grade progression (17).