This Mother’s Day we celebrate women everywhere who are determined to build the best opportunities for their children. Whether they spend their mornings packing lunches and cleaning faces as they rush out to make a nine-o’clock meeting, or whether they wake up before dawn to collect the water and firewood they need to make breakfast for their family, most mothers agree that quality education is the clear path to a bright future for their children. Yet 263 million children and youth around the world cannot attend school.
The day is coming to an end, the sun drifts lower onto the horizon. But its heat lingers, leaving a thin layer of sweat glistening on my forehead as I walk into the yard of our home in Vihiga, Kenya. I’m greeted by the laughter of the youngest generation as they race each other across the grass to their homes, eager to be free from the constraints of the buttons and pleats of school uniforms and into the comfortable embrace of their play clothes.
Agnes, our neighbour, emerges from the bright green tea field behind the house, casually balancing a 20-litre jug of water on her head. Her face is lit up by a familiar warm, energetic smile and she greets me with a wave as she nears the house. She slides the heavy yellow jug off her head and places it next to seven others, a visual reminder of the number of trips she’s made to the water spring to replenish our supply.
Although she has already spent the day plucking tea leaves under the hot sun, and the day before that helping yet another neighbour prepare land for planting maize, Agnes shows no hint of exhaustion. I know she still has the energy to prepare dinner for her family and finish all the tasks for her own household. She embodies the grace and determination of any mother who is focused on doing what’s necessary to build a life of opportunity for her children.
Agnes did not attend secondary school. Still, she firmly believes that education is the best way for her six children to reach their full potential. She pours her energy into casual labour so she can see her children through school. This is no easy task, but Agnes is relentless. Each day’s work allows her to send her oldest daughter and son to secondary school despite high tuition costs, even at public schools. This is unique and outstanding – almost 60% of adolescents in Kenya cannot attend secondary school.
Access to Education
Despite their best efforts, many parents are simply unable to give their children quality education.
As children grow older, there is increased pressure to earn an income and take care of household responsibilities. On top of diligently pursuing opportunities to earn money, Agnes takes on all the household responsibilities so her daughters don’t need to stay home from school to help. In many other families, this is not the case.
In general, girls have a much more difficult time accessing education than their male peers: they are 1.5 times more likely than boys to be excluded from primary school. As a result, nearly two thirds of illiterate people in the world are women.
Educated or not, girls hold a tremendous amount of responsibility. They grow up to be leaders in their communities, and mothers of future generations.
The Power of Girls’ Education
In much of the world, mothers are largely responsible for taking care of their families, in addition to earning an income. Educating girls is one of the most powerful things we can do to build healthy communities and productive societies.
Educated women are more likely to:
- have smaller families
- give birth to healthier babies
- make better informed decisions for the wellbeing of their children (through vaccinations, breastfeeding, providing adequate nutrition, and sending them to school, just to name a few)
Healthier people mean greater productivity and lower healthcare costs. Each additional year of secondary school an adolescent girl completes results in a 12 percent increase in her adult wages.
Educated girls also gain confidence in the strength of their own voices. They can become powerful advocates within their homes, their communities, their nations, and the world.
Just last month, Canada’s Parliament heard from Malala Yousafzai, a 19 year old woman who is both a Nobel Prize Laureate and a fierce champion of keeping children in school. She challenged Canada to be a leader in ensuring all children across the globe can enjoy the benefits of education and we should be taking up that challenge.
Investing in girls’ education is an investment in the future, not just for the children in school but for the community as a whole. Educating girls can break the cycle of poverty and set the stage for generations of children to become healthy adults, strong leaders, and productive members of society.
So let’s celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, acknowledging the tireless work of mothers like your own, and mothers like Agnes, whose first priority is to build a bright future for their children. Education is the path to that future and we can help to clear the way.