Lesson plan

Educational disparities persist between developed and emerging economies, and city and rural dwellers

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In education, geography is destiny. Children in developed economies can expect about a dozen years of education. In some parts of the world, however, getting any schooling at all is a struggle.

Within countries, moreover, there are big regional disparities. According to Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Ethiopia has a school attendance rate of more than 70 per cent in its cities. But in rural areas, the figure is half that.

Even in rich nations provision is patchy. In England, London children are far ahead of the rest of the country. In the US, inadequacies within inner-city schooling systems are both long term and chronic.

Alongside that issue is one of family resources: children from educated families tend to outperform those from less privileged homes, even if they go to the same school. For cities where rich and poor live close together, this is particularly problematic.

College Possible, a Minnesota-based charity, seeks to raise children’s aspirations and to dispel “the stereotype that only wealthy, privileged students are meant to go to college”. The scheme uses young recent graduates, who are paid a small stipend, to mentor would-be students.

Dubrovnik’s Education Vertical programme also hopes to open up opportunities. According to the mayor, Andro Vlahusic, the scheme “involves the city covering teachers’ extra hours to work with children on curricular and extracurricular activities after regular school hours in elementary schools”.

Ana Fernández Dodds, whose son died from cancer aged just one year, is seeking to help one specific group in her city: the sick. She has set up Aprendo Contigo to offer schooling in Peru’s largest paediatric hospital.

She says patients “no longer see bleak wards filled with beds and patients, but rooms in which they play and learn, thus completely changing the urban micro-environment with better treatment and welfare for all”.

But education is a broad concept.

The University of Oregon’s Sustainable Cities Initiative deploys the expertise of departments such as architecture and planning to improve local towns and cities, engaging students and staff. In the process, “students learn about real-world problems, and cities get the input of a group of enthusiastic and engaged young people”.

The most offbeat nominee in this category, however, is an organisation that encourages city dwellers to feel they have a stake in their own cities.

Navtej Johar, founder of the Power of Seeing, says that he returned to Delhi in 1992 after eight years away, only to find his “nieces and nephews showed no signs of being connected to their immediate environment”.

Johar says: “It is thus not just an exercise in sensitisation and civic awareness, but is designed to make the children connect not only with the environment but also with each other, thereby making a network.” Children on the scheme have, since 2005, adopted an element of their city and recorded its history.

Rather than just changing the city, this scheme hopes to change the residents – so that they, in turn, force a transformation in the urban environment.

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