Barriers to education

Education is the great equalizer. Through it one can find the path to freedom, equality and prosperity. One can understand the future, find solutions to complex problems and recognize the disparities in life and why they occur. This is the reason education is often denied. People recognize its power and want to deny others of possibilities. One of the most egregious examples would be the denying of slave’s education in the antebellum US. It was recognized that educating slave would make them more aware of their oppression and perhaps give them the ability to fight that oppression. Another example would be the Dalits of India, who have been habitually denied education since the 1850s. The best way to keep anyone in a subservient role is to deny them education.

In 2017 many people are still denied education. For much of history gender has been a guarantor of oppression, as women have fought back and demanded change, the path to education has been further impeded and narrowed to keep women “in their place”. Societal and cultural norms cause many parents to question the value in educating their female children. This is especially true of families living in poverty in the developing world. You may ask yourself, why would you not educate your child? This is the path to his or her better life. What are the barriers to education for girls and women? According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics(UIS), “there are 130 million girls not in school. 15 million girls of primary-school age will never enter a classroom and over half of these girls live in sub-Saharan Africa.”[1] Let’s look at some of the obstacles to educating girls.

Poverty is a primary factor in determining if a girl can access education. For many families in the developing world the opportunity cost of education female children is low. Girls and women are expected to care for the home. Female children are required to aid their mothers in caring for the younger children and older relatives. Girls and women are responsible for providing the family with water and household labor.  Many poor families do not see the value in losing labor for schooling or cannot afford to the lose the labor. In many developing countries once a girl is married she moves in with her husband’s family. Because of this many young girls are denied education as their families do not see the advantage in educating a girl who will use that education for the benefit of another family.  Opportunity cost is not the only reason families in poverty deny their female children education.

Girls are also denied education because school can be expensive. Even if school fees are covered, families must provide books and supplies as well as buy clothes and shoes for school. For poor families, this is a heavy burden and would mean having to choose between food, rent, or medicine and school. If money is tight families often choose to educate their sons over their daughters because societal and cultural norms define this as a better choice. Another reason families choose education for boys over girls is the issue of safety for girls and a poor school environment for girls. In many communities, schools are not located in convenient in locations. Girls in rural communities often must walk many miles on desolate roads or paths to get to school. For children, especially girls, this walk is unsafe due to the potential of traffic fatalities, physical and sexual harassment, or rape. The same fears are also experienced by many girls in urban communities. Within the schools themselves, many lack adequate water and sanitation facilities, which is especially taxing for girls who have reached puberty. As there is no place to procure adequate hygiene necessities. Girls, too, are often burdened with unwanted advances of male students/peers and at times even the teachers who are meant to assist in the growth and well-being of the children. For some parents, the lack of safety and oversight in schools is a deterrent in sending girls to school.

Social exclusion perpetuated by societal and cultural norms is difficult to overcome. Girls are often denied access to school not only because of gender but also because of caste, ethnicity, religion or disability. The weak position of women in society has created generations of undereducated women and acceptance of their subservience to men.  This highlights the circular nature or poverty and discrimination. Education would aid in alleviating poverty and disproving these archaic norms.

Over the years positive reforms in education have yielded progress in educational access has produced improvements in adult literacy and educational attainment. “Illiteracy among youths has been eradicated in many regions of the world, and the vast majority of young women and men presently have basic reading and writing skills. However, an estimated 781 million people aged 15 and over remain illiterate. Nearly two thirds of them are women, a proportion that has remained unchanged for two decades.”[2] There is still much work and innovation to be done to help girls attain education. Communities, non-profits and government agencies must work together to find sustainable solutions to obstacles in education.


In my next blog, we will look at resourceful approaches of grassroots organizations and NGOs in the developing world to make education accessible and give girls the education they deserve and need to become productive citizens and community leaders.


Blog post by Linnie Pawlek, founder of Teach By Tech, Inc. a 501 (c)3 organization located in Colorado, USA. To learn more about how Teach By Tech is working to make education accessible to women of the urban slums in the developing world visit our webpage:




[1] “Girls Education”.

[2] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “The World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics” 2015, pxi.