Monday, August 26, 2013

Costly Education

Yesterday, as I was driving home, I passed through the toll booth with my small friend knocking on my window.  I rolled down the window for his greeting.

“Hi, Mommy!”  grinned Christian.  “Do you want popcorn?”
“No, not today, Christian.  I am going to come talk with you one afternoon, okay?”
“Yes, Mommy.  I will be waiting.”  
(Mommy is a common name for any older light skinned woman.)

I watched Christian trot away to the next car and was saddened by his life circumstances.  After asking several people about this young boy, perhaps 12 years of age, I’ve learned he has no parents.  He is living with a woman who sends him to sell popcorn for her at the toll booth.  I am quite certain the profit feeds both she and the young boy.

Christian is not in school.  Along with several other children who sell daily at this toll booth.  Their days are spent hawking bread, drinks, plantain chips, apples, and popcorn.  They stand in the dust hoping for a sale.  Trucks cover them with diesel smoke, and their little flip-flopped feet chase the cars that move forward before paying.  At times, their little faces are dripping with sweat from the hot sun.  Their clothes look dirty with tears and holes adorning them.  

This is their childhood.

We recently learned of young girls prostituting themselves for the payment of a bottle of coke or maybe 2 cedis ($1) for an unthinkable sexual act.  Why would this ever be permissable?  Families turn a blind eye if this income from the streets can pay school fees or provide needed food for families.  Prostitution or starvation?  Prostitution for education?  This is reality.

One young boy we are close to is 17 years old.  He has just been promoted to 2nd grade.  Why?  Because when he was a child, he was given over to fishermen.  He fished in a wooden boat bailing water and eventually helping to toss the large net into the sea.  His family needed money so the small amount he was given for a day of work justified keeping him out of school.  Nightly, he would bring home 1 cedi ($.50) for his family.  He received his first opportunity to go to school last year, at age 16.       

In Paulkrom, a rural community within the Eastern Region, the public school meets under the trees.  (As do others in Ghana.)  Children walk for miles because it is the best school in the area.  Several miles or more is the twice a day trek for many students.  When it rains, the teachers do not come.  Even if the road is passable, rain is the needed excuse for teachers to miss work.  The desks are crammed together seating 5-6 students each.   Classrooms bump up against each other with the only divider being the chalk board.  There are no textbooks here.  Most students have one notebook to use for all subjects.  A notebook is a small composition book with about 60 sheets of paper bound on the spine with string or two staples.  In Ghana, only 68% of children in rural communities attend primary school (through grade 8). 

Today, our family sat in the middle of a group of hovels talking to young 12 year old boy about going to school for the first time.  He grappled to understand our English because he has never been in a classroom.  After both of his parents died, he lived in the market with this grandmother.  Once she passed away, a lady allowed him to sleep on her concrete floor.  This fall, he will have the first opportunity in his life to go to school.

This is the reality for most of the world.  I once read you are one of the wealthiest people in the world if you know how to read.  In Ghana, the recorded literacy rate is 80%, but only 50% of males enter secondary school (9th grade and above) with a startling 47% for females entering secondary school.  Surprisingly, these numbers are only the enrollment figures.  Looking at the actual attendance of secondary schools, it is even more concerning with only a 40% attendance rate in 9th grade and above!   By combining these figures, only about 20% of Ghanaians graduate with the equivalent of a high school diploma.  One in five people.

The average annual income in Ghana is $1410 per year.  People here are supporting families at an average pay of $3.86 per day.  The Ghanian national poverty line is earning less than $456 per year or $1.25 per day.  

Sadly, 34% of the young population here in Ghana statistically spend their childhood in child labour.  Do you think many of these children ever receive an education?  While some of their peers are in school settings, these young ones are fishing on boats, picking cocoa beans, cutting firewood, or farming.   

(All statistics are compliments of Unicef, dated 2011.)

School is starting in America.  Parents and their children are filling grocery carts with school supplies.  Folders covered with Justin Bieber, special colored pens, paper clips shaped like rockets, the new Crayola set of crayons, a new backpack and lunchbox for the new school year help start the new year right.  (Yes, I have bought all of this for our boys.  Well, not the Justin Bieber folder, but everything else, yes, I have bought it.)

Today I was on Facebook.  There were several posts about “how expensive” school fees are.  There were complaints about the school supply lists and having to buy thumb drives and science lab fees.  It made me so sad.  Oh, do you realize what you are receiving for what you are paying?  There isn't a complaint that the students have access to science labs and computers, but the rub is that it is not "free."

Here’s a spotlight on comparing statistics in the United States (from Unicef) with the ones you read above.  

Avg. Annual income   $48,450
Poverty Line Annual Income $11,490 (+ $4,020 for each person in family)
Poverty Line Daily Income $31.48
Primary School Completion 95%
Secondary School Completion  90%
Education or Training Beyond 12th Grade 70%

Friends, I know there are provisions at American schools for families who can not pay the fees.  Yet, honestly, I wonder if the families who say it’s too expensive are struggling to eat everyday because they have no money for food.  I wonder if they do not have money to take a child to the hospital when he desperately needs to go.  I wonder if they live in homes without electricity or if they walk long distances to carry water to their houses.  I wonder if students come home from school and fill their afternoon with chores for survival - building fires to cook, hauling water, hand-washing their laundry, etc...  The students in America can work on schoolwork after nightfall.  Those who live here without electricity end their productivity with eyesight about 6:30 pm unless they have candles or a flashlight, and either luxury would be an added expense for the family.  All of these situations are actual families that we have served here - whose children were not in school because the families could not afford it.

My heart breaks to give some perspective on the rest of the world.  70% of the world!  I want to cry out to the people in my homeland, “Why are you complaining?”

Computer fees?  Very few schools have them here.  I’ve seen teachers teach about computers by drawing them on the chalkboard.  Many children have never even seen a computer.  Very, very few schools have a computer lab.  

Lab fees?  I’ve never seen a science lab in Ghana.  

Special clothing for gym, labs, etc...?  Children here buy one new uniform for the year.  They wear it everyday.  One boy we know was wearing a uniform that had been worn by others for eight years because his family could not afford another one.  Holes, tears, etc... but it was his daily uniform.  How many new clothes does the average American student receive before school?  

Extra fees for music or sporting teams?  If a school here has a soccer team, that is it.  No track, swim-team, baseball, football, basketball. lacrosse, or rugby teams exist here to my knowledge.  I’ve never seen a marching band or heard a school choir or ensemble.  (However, some churches are teaching their youth how to sing!) 

Remember, there is no school-bus fee, so FREE transportation is available to and from school in America.  Students here walk.  For miles.  MILES!  There is not a FREE transportation system.

In the USA, there are free and reduced lunches available for those in need - not to mention the numerous food pantries.  We have had students refused entry into school because their families couldn’t pay the “feeding fee.”  The average “feeding fee” here is $.25 - $.50 per day.   For many students, the only time they eat during the day is while they are at school.

Textbooks?  The schools provide them in the United States.  Not here.  Many of the textbooks, if they are available, here have been “donated” after years of use in other countries.

Classroom posters and cheery educational decorations?  If any, they are handmade, rough drawings on construction paper that fades in the sunlight.    

Teaching credentials?  In the US, many schools require at least an undergraduate, if not a Masters degree.  Here, students are blessed to be taught by someone with a secondary school degree.  The equivalent to a high school diploma.

But still there is complaining by those with access to one of the best education opportunities in the world...

Need I go on?

As you look at what you are being asked to pay for by the schools, maybe it’s time to ask the question if the items are really needed for education and if your child will be better off for the receiving of them.  Are new sports uniforms needed every season?  New notebooks, bookbags, and lunchboxes - are they needed every year?  Scrubs for labs?  Would an old t-shirt suffice?

Please, please, be thankful.  There is so much to be thankful for with regards to education in the United States.  And, yes, there is a fee attached to the benefits enjoyed.  Some of the fees, I honestly cringe to think people are paying it when children around me have ZERO access to education.  However, as parents, you have the privilege to invest in your children’s future.  And, guess what?  If you can’t pay the fees you are being asked to pay, your child can STILL GO TO SCHOOL.  A public education is not in jeopardy if you can not pay school fees.  Americans can choose homeschooling, private schooling, or public schooling to educate your children.  

I've heard the new catch phrase, "first world problem" as it relates to having too many discount cards on a keychain, difficulty at the ATM, etc...  I'm amazed these things can be joked about as "problems."   A website has even been developed so people can post their "problems" of living in a developed, privileged nation.  Here are three quotes I found today.  (I wasn't choosy.  These are the first three listed.)

"I have to get dressed so that I don’t look too lazy when I go out to pay the gardener.”

“I cant find the right balance between my fan and my electric blanket.”

“I went to go babysit for an hour and the kids didn’t know what their own wi-fi password was.”


From where I sit, I don't find the humor in these things.

I know many people don't truly comprehend what we see daily or what life is like for the least of these.  However, people who have been on mission trips or adopted children from third world countries, I beg you not to forget what you have seen.  You are responsible for what you now know.  I pray the faces and images will remain imprinted on your heart so that hearts are turned to gratitude instead of complaining.  I pray hearts of gratitude for blessings will overflow with gratefulness.  

Our education as a Christian is costly.  We are constantly in God's classroom for instruction.  I am still learning.  Sadly, I lived most of my life with very little thought for the rest of the world.  God has placed our family into a new classroom.  We are learning in new surroundings through very different teaching methods.  Our teacher has not changed, but many of His teachings are stronger than ever before - caring for the poor, seeking justice, providing for those in need, loving the orphan and widow, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing a cup of water for the thirsty - these are the Scriptures lived out daily in obedience.

We don't pay school fees to sit in God's classroom, but there is a blessed cost, isn't there?  The amazing thing is that what we see as a "cost" in the beginning can become an "offering of love" over time.  

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for all these reminders. Yes, we are so abundantly blessed. My husband and I lead mission teams every year... even so, WE still need to be reminded that this culture is in the top 2% of the WORLD. It's so easy to slip back into the status quo of materialism when we're back in the states. So thank you for these words of TRUTH and conviction.

God bless you and your family for being not just hearers of the WORD but also DOERS of the WORD.