FAQs on Poverty and Education: Understanding How They Affect Each Other

Most of us have heard that education is the best possible way for a child to exit material poverty. But how, exactly, does that work? What do the numbers reveal? Learn more about how poverty and education affect each other. 

  1. What does data say about poverty and education? 
  2. How does poverty affect education?
  3. How does poverty affect girls’ school attendance? 
  4. How does poverty affect education for those with disabilities?
  5. How does education affect poverty? 
  6. How can we end global poverty? 
  7. How does Wellspring invest in education? 

What does data say about poverty and education?

Data from most major research bodies reveals that receiving an education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and creating a better and more equitable future for societies, and lack of access to education results in passing poverty from generation to generation. 

Here’s some data to help clarify the relationship between poverty and education:

  • One extra year of schooling increases an individual’s earnings by up to 10% (GEM Report).
  • 420 million people would be lifted out of poverty with a secondary education (UIS/GEM Report).
  • The cost of 250 million children not learning the basics is equivalent to a loss of US$129 billion per year (GEM Report).
  • 10% fewer girls under 17 would become pregnant in sub Saharan Africa and South Asia if they all had primary education (UNESCO). 
  •  In 14 of 15 low and middle income countries, people of working age with disabilities were about one-third less likely to have completed primary school (UNESCO).

How does poverty affect education?

Vulnerable families or families living in material poverty are often forced to choose between education for their children, or tending to basic needs. Wellspring sees this in Rwanda’s rural Rubavu District, not far from the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where many families depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Many parents never completed their schooling themselves, and thus don’t understand the importance of their child receiving an education. Oftentimes, parents will pull their kids out of school after a year or two so they can look after younger siblings or help in the fields. Paying for uniforms, books and school supplies often isn’t a priority for families who desperately need older children to help provide food and shelter.

When kids are absent from school, they often don’t return. Poverty pushes children away from the classroom and into work, but when children leave school early to enter the workforce, they’re more likely to find occupations that limit their chances of breaking out of the cycle of poverty (GPE).

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How does poverty impact girls’ school attendance?

Poverty is one of the most important factors to determine if a girl will access and complete her education (World Bank). Poor households lack resources to support the learning of their children, and if families are able to send children to school, parents will often choose to send their sons to school instead of their daughters. We see this in Rwanda. Why? Because it is believed that the girls will take the education and wealth that was gained from their schooling and steal it away for their family-in-law when they are married. Educating girls is seen as a waste because parents think it will not benefit them. Without an education and with their circumstances set against them, girls are left without hope for their future.

Lack of access to safe health and menstrual hygiene resources can often cause girls to remain home rather than run the risk of shame or harassment (Global Citizen). Child marriage and teenage pregnancy is also a critical challenge that causes girls to dropout of school. Child marriage results in girls being more likely to drop out of school and miss out on the chance for an education. They also tend to have children earlier, compared to their peers who stay in school longer and marry later (World Bank).

In Rwanda, teenage pregnancy rates outside of marriage are astronomical. Teenage pregnancy carries a stigma that leads many Rwandan families to disown their daughters, leaving the girls homeless and at high risk for sexual exploitation and trafficking. Without a family or any means of income, many of the girls turn to prostitution in a Rwandan district that has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the country instead of sitting in a classroom, soaking in lessons and glowing in the light of her bright future.

An educated girl not only has the opportunity to increase her personal earning, marry later, and raise healthier and happier families, but she helps reduce poverty in her family, community, and country (World Bank).

How does poverty affect education for those with disabilities?

Reaching children with disabilities requires increased financing (UNESCO). Students with different learning needs and abilities are not only less likely to start school, but if they do, they’re unlikely to make the transition to secondary school (GPE). Their access to school is often due to lack of understanding of their unique needs, along with a lack of funding and resources—trained teachers, classroom support, and facilities. Many schools in rural or impoverished areas are often physically inaccessible and lack sufficient financial support to ensure that children with learning needs and disabilities are met with a quality education (UNESCO). As well, families with children living with disabilities may also require additional financial support to care for their children’s healthcare needs.

Schooling can be a factor that closes the poverty gap between adults with and without disabilities. A study across 14 developing countries found that an additional year of schooling completed by an adult with a disability reduced the probability of their being in the poorest two quintiles by between 2% and 5% (UNESCO).

How does education affect poverty?

There is a direct correlation between education and poverty, one that is cyclical. The less money you have, the less likely you are to receive a quality education. The less likely you are to receive a quality education, the less money you have. On and on, the pattern goes.

How can we end global poverty?

Ending poverty is multifaceted and requires a response across many sectors. However, one of the best ways to help end global poverty is by investing in education. 

Education is a powerful tool to ending poverty: it can break the cyclical nature of poverty, increase personal and national income, increase health and nutrition, delay early marriage, reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, build stronger communities, and more.

Looking at the rate of return on investment in education, “a dollar invested in an additional year of schooling, particularly for girls, generates earnings and health benefits of $10 in low-income countries and nearly $4 in lower-middle income countries”, according to the Education Commission. An investment in education not only increases learning rates and expands future opportunities, but it helps secure a country’s economic future. It helps to close the poverty gap and create a more equitable and just society for all. 

Investing in education produces short-term outcomes as more students access safe and vibrant classrooms filled with growth at the heart and mind level, but it secures the future of each child and helps to break the cycle of poverty, one student at a time. Education has the power to change the world. When more students are educated, the ripple effect is tremendous.

How does Wellspring invest in education?

At Wellspring, investing in quality education means investing in every person in the educational ecosystem—school leaders, teachers, and parents. We know that quality education is the key to thriving individuals and societies and that the foundation of a healthy and flourishing society starts now and begins with equipping students for their bright future.