I attend USF on a full ride scholarship, as many other students at this university do too I’m sure, and I will admit that without serious financial burdens barring me from an education, I often forget what it would take for me to earn an education if it weren’t for financial assistance. And, more often than not, do I not think about how privileged I am to have even earned a free public education prior to university.
So for myself, and for others, allow me to put this into perspective.
The CIA estimates the United States to have a population of over 310 million people, with about 64 million of its children enrolled in public schools (from kindergarten through high school, with an estimated 17.5 million enrolled at the university level earning various forms of degrees); on average, the American child spends about 16 years in school. The CIA also reports that 99% of this population are literate (as CIA defines it, the percentage of the population who can read and write and are over the age of 15), men and women alike, and that the government budgets about 5.5% of the GDP for education-related expenditures.
Afghanistan, in comparison, has a population of about 29 million, less than half the number of children in American receiving public education through high school. Furthermore, the CIA reports that only about 28% of the population is literate, but it’s even more interesting to note that while about 49% of Afghan men can read and write, the figure is only 18% for women. An estimated 6.2 million students are enrolled in schools (with the average boy lasting 11 years in school, only 5 for girls), but it’s important to note that girls make up only about 2.2 million of the children.
Allow us to make sense of these figures now. The CIA reports that about 12 million of Afghanistan’s population are between the ages of 0-14, while in the United States about 62 million are of this age; though in America children over 14 still attend school, for sake of argument we will only consider this age group. Of the 64 million Americans in public schools, 38 million are enrolled in primary schools (before high school, appropriate for our age group selection), which means that about 61% of American children ages 0-14 are receiving a public education; note that the 39% does not necessarily imply uneducated children, as there are many children in America who take advantage of the plentiful home-schooling and private schooling opportunities. On the other hand, based on our numbers, only about 52% of Afghan children between 0-14 are receiving education. The percentages here may not seem much, but the 9% disparity is all the difference between receiving an education in one country but not another.
Also note the disparities in literacy rates and length of education. In particular, Afghan girls are far less educated than Afghan boys, let alone American children. Perhaps to make this more relevant, suppose we select 28% of the American population, and suppose you fall under the other 72%. Suddenly, you go from being able to read this blog entry, to only being able to see symbols on a computer screen with no capability of making sense of any of the words you see. And, if you happen to be a university female student, you also go from pursuing a university degree to probably already having finished your education.
While I’m not female, I don’t need to be one to understand the weight of this difference.
But it’s beyond the statistical figures. It’s the quality of education, the condition of schools, the availability of resources, the freedom to even gain an education without fear and being targeted, the proper environments to attend school peacefully and away from troubles of war and security. Afghanistan has certainly come a long way since the Taliban regime, with the construction of schools and adult learning centers increasing many-fold, but there are still many more mountains to climb in the name of education. The smallest of efforts goes a long way.
Point of the matter? Don’t take your education for granted.