It’s the time of year when more than 50 million American public school students return to the classroom. No doubt, most are looking forward to reuniting with friends after a busy summer, even if they’re dreading homework. Every store is stuffed with notebooks, paper, and backpacks, and families are buying new school uniforms in bigger sizes. But these annual rituals elude more than 124 million children and teenagers in nations across the world who don’t attend school.
As a U.S. representative and the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, which oversees foreign aid and humanitarian assistance, I know that an education is the bedrock of our international-development goals—from poverty reduction and economic prosperity to the improvement of health outcomes and community participation. We simply will not make sustained progress if generations of children grow up without basic literacy skills. Access to quality education has been a driving force behind my congressional career.
Girls in the developing world face innumerable obstacles to accessing an education, including gender discrimination, societies that do not value their education, poverty, unsafe school environments, and inadequate sanitation facilities.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, for every year a girl stays in secondary school, her future income increases between 15 percent and 25 percent. Educated women are more than twice as likely to send their children to school, and studies show they are also likely to invest 90 percent of their income in their families and households.
An education is also critical to the future success of boys. According to a recent report from the International Labor Organization, the global youth-unemployment rate is expected to reach 13.1 percent in 2016. That is why the United States must aggressively continue efforts to prioritize education access for children around the world.
We simply will not make sustained progress if generations of children grow up without basic literacy skills."
An influential next step would be to pass the proposed Education for All Act, which would develop and implement a strategy to expand access to basic education for children worldwide and is scheduled for a vote by the House of Representatives this week. My colleague Rep. David Reichert, R-Wash., and I introduced this bipartisan bill in the House earlier this year. This bill was also introduced in the Senate by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
This legislation places the United States squarely in a leadership role in pursuit of achieving access to quality education for all children regardless of where they live. By working with foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations, and international groups, we can help nations develop and implement comprehensive, quality programs, address key barriers to school attendance, and increase completion rates for the poorest and most vulnerable children worldwide.
Expanding access to quality basic education across the globe will benefit U.S. national and economic security and improve life for our current and future K-12 students.
The act, which was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July, also has the support of 30 nonprofit advocacy organizations across the country.
Last year, I hosted the extraordinary student Malala Yousafzai and her father on a visit to the U.S. Capitol. After surviving a brutal assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman at the age of 15 simply for going to school, she has become a well-known advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan. Her story of courage and perseverance is incredible.
Despite the changes to Malala’s physical appearance as a result of the attack and the trauma of continued threats from the Taliban, she and her father are crusading to help millions of children who are currently out of school. They are challenging world leaders to invest in “books, not bullets,” as she says.
Congress should heed Malala’s call. For the sake of so many girls like Malala and for so many vulnerable boys, let’s pass the Education for All Act and help children around the world realize their dreams by receiving the education they so desperately deserve. Let’s blaze the trail for children everywhere.
A version of this article appeared in the September 07, 2016 edition of Education Week as ‘Books, Not Bullets’