Budgeting for Children Education and it's Impact to Girls' Schooling
In simple terms, ‘child budgeting’ is not about lining up children and placing cash in each and every child’s hands. Rather ‘child budgeting’ is about putting national resources – money, materials, services, facilities, institutions and personnel – to sectors that address the needs of children. But why do we have to advocate for ‘child budgeting’?
In the first place, children, just as all other citizens, have a right to development. But more than that is the fact that children are the products of society without their consent. No child asked to be born. Hence those who produce children bear the highest obligation, morally, legally and politically to take care of those children. It was Nelson Mandela who noted that the true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children. Hence society has an indubitable duty to protect and develop children which is directly linked to the survival, strength and security of society itself.
Children have rights like all human beings which must be recognized and respected. Thus, it is the government, parents and adults who are the duty bearers who must fulfill the rights of the child. Child rights essentially relate to the promotion and protection of the welfare and development of the child, as well as ensuring that the child is able to participate in family, societal and national affairs. If the saying that children are the leaders of tomorrow, then this means that the existence and development of society cannot be divorced from children.
All national and international laws and policies have affirmed that children have rights, and their development is primarily a governmental duty. A former UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy once noted that, “A century that began with children having virtually no rights is ending with children having the most powerful legal instrument that not only recognizes but protects their human rights.” Hence the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child noted in Article 4 that,
“States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.”
A review of these domestic and international laws would indicate that child budgeting is a requirement, a and should be used as a means to the fulfillment of the rights of children and be understood in the context of national budgets. Many people do not realize that the most important tool of a government is not the police, army, roads, natural resources, electricity, offices or vehicles, etc. The most powerful tool for a government is the BUDGET!
The budget is about the income or revenue that a government makes out of our taxes, rates, service charges, royalties, loans, grants and donations that it receives from diverse sources and how it plans to spend that money. It is from the budget that a government funds all its operations, builds roads and hospitals, pays salaries and all office operations, and even pays for the travels that the President and members of the Government undertake. Hence, what is not put in the national budget is not therefore a priority for the Government. Therefore, if the issue of children is not topmost in the minds of the people who make the national budget, then it means that they will prepare a budget that will not allocate money to sectors that serve children.
Focusing on the 2020 national budget, only 4.3 billion dalasi will be allocated to the key child sectors of education (D2.6B) and health (D1.5B) out of a total national budget of 21.3 billion dalasi. This represents only about 20% or one-fifth of the national budget. Is this enough to build Gambian children to truly become empowered and responsible adults who could effectively lead and sustain this country today and tomorrow? That is a question for us all.
For the moment the state of Gambian children leaves much to be desired even though the country has made gains in universal primary education and immunization. Recent studies have identified key challenges in the education sector these include the following:
These are challenges that directly undermine the growth and development of children hence threaten the overall growth and development of The Gambia today and tomorrow. Meantime 7.7 billion dalasi will be spent on debt servicing in 2020 alone! One wonders, where did all of those millions of dollars of loans go to while the country remains highly indebted and poor?
It is in light of the above that the need to advocate for child budgeting is urgent and necessary. It is time to make sure that policy makers, lawmakers, politicians, leaders in all categories and citizens in general understand a budget and also know what is child budgeting and why it is so important. In a broader sense, child budgeting also addresses and fulfills gender and pro-poor budgeting as well. They all refer to the need to have the Government spend more resources in the social services so that people can have their needs met.
When we talk about social services, we refer to education, healthcare, water and electricity supply and skills development. These are opportunities and facilities that will enable children to grow and develop themselves with the right mindset, ability and dignity to become true leaders, inventors, creators and producers of today and tomorrow. Child budgeting is therefore an investment in children hence investment in the future and continued growth and overall development of society. Thus a proper child, gender and pro-poor budget is the bedrock for national development.
Having a child-friendly budget however is not the end of the story. The next step is the monitoring of the budget to ensure that it is properly utilized. All citizens including children should therefore know how to track budgets. This is not merely a question of being an activist; it is a matter for every citizen to become vigilant in order to hold the Government accountable.
The foundation for development and performance is accountability. It is only through accountability that we can know whether resources are being used properly or misused; whether we are making progress or failure; whether public institutions and officials are doing their jobs rightly or wrongly and effectively or are lazy. Without accountability, standards fall, corruption becomes the order of the day and provision of social services collapse and everyone gets miserable because cost of living goes up while people are denied opportunities such as good facilities and quality services that they have already paid through their taxes.
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Why girls find it difficult to access and stay in school.
Do we want to eradicate global poverty? Give girls access to schooling because educated women usually participate more in the labour market, tend to be healthier, marry later and have fewer children, says the World Bank. This line of argument just moves my moral-o-meter, if that’s even a word, to the red! I think we should never substitute a human rights argument into an economic one. Girls should be given access to schooling equally as boys because it is their right. It is as simple as that.
The UN recognises this fact when it called for quality education for all by 2030. However, this is no mean feat and there is a myriad of barriers to achieving this goal. This is the purpose of this blog; to identify the obstacles to girls’ access to education in developing countries, especially in The Gambia. The Gambia will not achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) number four – Quality Education - if it does not recognise and remove the obstacles it faces.
Here are 5 of the challenges in girls’ access to education that The Gambia needs to rectify if it is to achieve SDG 4: Quality Education by 2030:
1. Being the ‘wrong’ gender.
In a report outlining the status of gender disparities in The Gambia education system, it indicates that the country has so far achieved gender parity at the Lower Basic level of education . A slight disparity can be found at the upper basic level and a further increased disparity at the senior secondary level. As a result, only 25% of girls complete senior school compared to 32% of boys. This figure widens significantly in rural areas. We do know that gender stereotypes are still resilient in the division of labour within the household in The Gambia, particularly in rural areas. These stereotypes must be removed or the domestic workload on girls and women offset by labour-saving devices.
These stereotypes are usually ingrained into our Gambian psyche that it is carried, and practiced, outside of our borders. For instance, in the UK, where both a Gambian male and female generally do the same amount of work, women usually find that domestic chores are primarily left to them. A Gambian woman is expected to work and earn some income for the family and also expected to do most of the domestic chores and look after the children too if there are any. How, then, can the Gambian girl excel in education if these heavy gender stereotypes are placed on her wherever she goes?
2. The expense of education
The right to attend school is a basic human right and in The Gambia, there is a free lower and upper basic school for every child no matter what their financial circumstances are. However, for many families in the Gambia, education remains expensive. The poorest families are left to find the extra cash for compulsory items like uniforms, books and other stationery items, and pay exam fees. Some are even asked to pay to maintain the school building. It is therefore clear that the burden of education is heavier on the poorest than their affluent counterparts. Consequently, poorest families are forced to decide which, or how many of their children are sent to school.
However, there are schemes designed to help alleviate these extra expenses with the support of UNICEF. One of these is the Mothers’ Clubs (a community-led advocacy group), which, among other things provide support for children’s education, especially girls. Although this programme has some visible impacts on the enrolment rate and retention of girls, it has limitations such as mobilisation and management. This limits the number of girls they can reach and prevents timely intervention.
3. Distance from home to school
Many a times the distance between home and school are so far apart that it is off-putting for families of girls because of safety concerns, especially if the family was reluctant to let their daughter attend schooling in the first place. However, the donkey “school busses” are helping in allaying parents’ concerns that their children can get to and from school safely.
Although the Gambia government has increased the number of communities that have schools within three kilometres to 95% in 2018, there are still some communities where girls have to endure a very long walk to school under the blistering sun.
4. Scarcity of trained and qualified teachers
Shortage and effectiveness of teachers are the most important predictors of not only girls’ education, but student learning in general. Around 69 million new teachers are needed to achieve universal primary or secondary education. As a result, girls are not receiving a proper education. One of the policies that are common among policy-makers, and which is widely adopted and recommended, is that of recruiting more female teachers to teach girls. This is because there is some evidence that in developing countries, learning for girls increases when they are taught by a female teacher relative to male teachers. This seems like a paradox, or at least difficult to achieve in the case of The Gambia. If fewer girls are completing secondary and tertiary education, then where will the government find the adequate number of female teachers to recruit, train and retain? Female qualified teachers in public schools constitute 37.3, 23.8 and 11.1 per cent in lower basic, upper basic and senior secondary school respectively. It is lower in private schools.
In its Education Sector Strategic Plan 2016 – 2030, the Ministries of Basic and Secondary Education and Higher Education Research Science and Technology pledges to continue to monitor teaching quality in all public lower and upper basic schools and also to provide tailored support to those that fail to meet the required teaching standards. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this supervisory role by the ministry is yet to produce the appropriate number of high-quality teachers for girls.
5. Menstrual hygiene at school
Menstruation is another key pressure point for girls' education in The Gambia. A lack of hygienic and gender-separated bathrooms in many schools, especially in the rural Gambia can disrupt a girl’s ability to participate in school. Furthermore, teasing from classmates, unsupportive male teachers and access to sanitary materials can prevent girls from attending school during their menstrual period. There are many girls in The Gambia, and around the globe, who feel embarrassed and shameful simply because they are on their period.
It is common for girls to rather stay at home than attend school during those few days of their menstrual cycle. Few days that could make all the difference in studies, revision and assessment preparation. There is more that needs to be done for girls to understand what is happening to their bodies. First, we must talk about menstruation so that it can be normalised. Then, copying South Africa, The Gambia must abolish taxes on sanitary products to make it cheaper and thus, make it widely available. In this day and age in The Gambia, menstruation should not stop a girl from attending school. Unfortunately, it does.
If this new and prosperous Gambia that everyone talks about is to be truly realised, the country must unleash its full potential by making sure that all barriers to girls’ education are removed across the entire country, not just the urban areas. Only then can the nation fully make the most of its best resource; its people.
The SaGG Foundation (Sponsor a Gambian Girl) is a girl’s education movement, with aim of championing the cause for girl child education in The Gambia. Education is a basic human right; our vision is to advocate and pair up girls with sponsors.
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