As my three daughters sharpen pencils, don their backpacks, and head back to school, it pains me to remember that far too many primary school aged children — an estimated 67 million worldwide — will never enroll in school.
These children are generally the poorest of poor, for whom even a “free” education comes at too steep a price. For these families, sending children to school often means fewer hands laboring to support the family.
A close look at the profile of the children who remain out of school points the way toward bridging that last mile and achieving universal elementary education. The profiles are strikingly similar in country after country around the world: it is the poor, rural girls who most often stay out of school.
Take a look at this new video that shines a spotlight on the role land ownership can play in getting these vulnerable groups into the classroom. The video illustrates how innovative new programs are helping poor rural families in India to use the kitchen gardens they’ve planted and nurtured on their family’s new small plot of land to grow a better future for their daughters.
These programs and others like them hold tremendous potential for helping governments around the world break the cycle of poverty, by providing families with at least a small plot of land and their children with a chance for a better life.
It starts with access and secure legal rights to land. State governments across India, in partnership with Landesa, an international global development organization are providing the poorest of the poor with title to plots. The plots don’t have to be full-size farms to provide meaningful benefits. Even micro-plots as small as a tennis court can make a transformative difference for destitute, landless families. On such micro-plots, families are obtaining their own address and a real stake in their community. The families building a house and are planting fruits and vegetables to boost family nutrition. The excess fruits and vegetables are sold at market, providing the family with extra income – often the first time these families have any meaningful excess income. And more families are using these meager reserves in a strategic manner — to send their children – including daughters – to school.
These families report that secure title to a small plot of land is often the missing ticket families need to send their children to school, for a variety of reasons that may not be obvious. Sometimes land allows families to stop migrating and grow roots in a community. Other times a land title provides families with the proof of residency they need to enroll their child in school or obtain the tuition subsidy that makes school affordable. And often legal control over land is what allows families to start investing in their land to improve their income and their harvests and that is what pays school fees and buys school uniforms.
And research has indicated that children whose parents – especially mothers – have secure rights to the land they farm, enroll in school earlier, have better educational outcomes and stay in school longer.
Each extra year of primary school boosts a person’s future wages. Girls who finish primary school have fewer children, and healthier and better educated children. And research has shown a link between educating girls and an increase in countries’ GDPs.
Like India, most national governments have committed to the United Nations goal that by 2015 all children will be able to complete primary school. Unfortunately, the world will likely fall short of this aim, but there has been significant progress, and we now know that relatively simple changes can spur long-lasting benefits.
Secure rights to land not only yield productive farmers. They also nurture students who grow to become engineers, doctors, executives, parents, elected officials, scientists and productive members of society in countless other ways. That “second harvest” has an impact far beyond the initial crop.
As my daughters start the school year full of dreams for the future, my hope is that more parents can dream about what the future might hold for their daughters, and how – with the benefit of education – these girls may grow up to change their family, their community, and even their country’s future.