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Educating Marginalized Children

Kenyan children in school.
Kenyan children in school.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and human rights activist Nelson Mandela once said that "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Indeed, for many children around the world, education is not merely a road to a better life; it is a question of survival.

Children of mothers with just a few years of primary education have a 40 percent greater chance of surviving into adulthood than do children of illiterate women. And if the mother receives a full basic education, her children are more likely to attend primary school themselves, thus breaking inter-generational cycles of poverty in just one lifetime.

Additionally, education helps turn young people away from violence and extremism. Enrolling boys in primary school decreases the likelihood of civil war as much as 73 percent.

Ten years ago, most of the world's nations met at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, where they signed the Education For All initiative, thus committing to achieving universal basic education by the year 2015.

At that time, 105 million children around the world were not attending school. By 2007, that number dropped to 72 million. Still, according to the latest monitoring report, if that trend continues, 56 million children will still be out of school in 2015.

But the combination of rising poverty and the global economic recession -- and in some instances, lack of political will -- threaten the gains of the past decade. Whereas some of the poorest countries made gains in school enrollment by building new schools, training teachers, abolishing fees and in some cases, even offering free daily meals at school, others have neglected their minority populations, and especially girls.

The United States is among the countries that committed themselves to the goal of achieving universal basic education by 2015. In 2008, the U.S. contributed one billion dollars to Education for All, then increasing that sum by half a billion dollars each year, culminating in $3 billion by 2012.

The United States remains deeply committed to achieving universal basic education by assisting developing countries, and non-governmental and multilateral organizations working to provide all children with a quality basic education.