Three of the key ways in which poverty acts as a barrier to accessing and completing a full course of quality primary education are: Education Costs, Child Labor and Economic Migration.


Poverty Barrier

Cost is a pervasive barrier globally for sections of societies with low household income. Even in countries where the state or faith-based providers absorbs most of the direct cost, some costs remain and acts as a barrier for very poor households.

Poverty Barrier

In 2012, there were about 168 million child labourers in the world, of whom more than two thirds (120 million) were 5 to 14 years old. Worldwide, it is estimated that some 22,000 children are killed at work every year.

Poverty Barrier

For children who are swept along with their families, they leave the place where provision may have been made for them to access primary schooling, and settle temporarily in a place where there may be no such provision.

What are the costs of primary education?

There are direct and indirect costs of primary education for children and their families. Direct costs are primarily fees families pay to send their children to school.  Other out-of-pocket expenses for items such as books, transportation, school uniforms, school supplies (notebooks, pens, chalk, etc.), food, lodging, and other items are also direct costs. Indirect costs include the value of children’s time and effort, typically measured as foregone earnings. Children’s time is considered a cost because, if not in school or an education program, they could earn an income or perform other activities to help their families.

In economic terms, the value of a child’s time is called an opportunity cost since it is not a direct, out-of-pocket expense. Even though indirect, the opportunity cost of time is a very important cost to consider in evaluating barriers to education.

Direct Cost Indirect Cost (Opportunity Cost)

Out-of-pocket expenses borne by a child or a child’s family, including:

  • Fees paid
  • Transportation costs incurred
  • Purchase of books, school uniforms, supplies, etc.
  • Lodging costs
  • Food costs

Income foregone by a family, i.e., the value to the family of the best alternative use of a child’s time, including:

  • Earnings foregone
  • Value of production foregone in family business/farm
  • Value of services performed in the household

To find out how cost of education affects the poor, click here.

What is child labor?

Child labor is work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity. It is harmful to the child’s physical and mental development.

It refers to work that:

  • Is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to a child
  • Interferes with a child’s right to education

In its most extreme forms, child labor involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses, and left to fend for themselves usually on the streets of large cities. Child labor may begin at a very early age.

Whether or not particular forms of work should be termed child labor depends on:

  • A child’s age
  • Type of work performed
  • Hours of work per day
  • Conditions under which work is performed

Typically, child labor refers to work that:

  • Is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
  • Interferes with their schooling by:
  • Depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
  • Obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
  • Requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

What is child labor therefore varies from country to country, and within a country, as well as from sector to sector within countries.

Not all work done by children should be classified as child labor and targeted for elimination. Children or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development nor interfere with their education may be regarded as positive or in the least not harmful. This includes activities such as helping families around the home, assisting in a family business, earning money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.

More information on how child workers are excluded from education is available in Child labor as a barrier to education.  [links reader to page 1b)

What is economic migration?

Migration is the process of moving, either across an international border, or within a State.  Economic migration is the process of people leaving their normal place of residence to settle outside their country of origin in order to improve their quality of life.

Certain forms of human migration create barriers to school access as each one involves the migration of children, sometimes but not always with their families, far from their home communities. The forms of migration defined by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people, and economic migrants. (The Glossary on Migration)

Economic migrants or migrant workers are often the result of poverty or the desire to seek out better economic conditions elsewhere. They are people who are engaged in a paid activity in a state of which they are not citizens. Economic migrants may be documented or undocumented migrants.

Note: See the section on Refugees for a definition of this group of migrants; internally displaced people are defined under Fragile and Conflict-affected situations.

The ways in which migration acts as a barrier to quality primary education are further explored in Migration.