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Philanthropy's role in building international schools

The quality and accessibility of schools varies widely across the world

Posted by Joe Lawson-West | December 08, 2017 | International

While many countries have embraced compulsory public education as the basis of a prosperous society, the quality and accessibility of schools varies widely across the world.

In some cases, cultural, societal and religious practices, heritage and beliefs place barriers between some or all children and education. For instance, in some extremist Islamic societies, educating girls is deemed unnecessary and potentially offensive. In China, the One Child policy has resulted in “hidden children” who are concealed from the government and are unable to access schooling as a result. In many places, education is prioritized for boys, while girls are kept at home because educating them is thought unnecessary, a poor investment, or dangerous. Uneducated or under-educated girls are often forced into early, unwanted marriages, early motherhood and an inescapable life of poverty.

In other countries, barriers for children to attend school may be structural, environmental, geographic or economic. The population level might be low and scattered, with minimal access to transportation, or concentrated to the degree that the schools cannot serve all students.

Prerequisites for education such as school uniforms and basic supplies including writing implements can be an insurmountable barrier to families living in poverty. Those in low-income communities may prefer to keep children at home to increase family earning power, or are unable to meet school fees and supply requirements. Even in relatively higher-income areas, cuts to school funding and reduced access to modern technologies, sport and art education, and experienced, qualified teachers can present challenges that are bigger than individual families or communities can overcome, significantly limiting the potential of children.

Even in cases where quality schools do exist, the increasing severity of natural disasters and terrorist activity can suddenly damage or destroy local education without support from more stable areas and local and international donors. Access to books, technology, sports facilities and equipment, art supplies, and skilled instructors can all be barriers to the kind of education that contributes to a society that benefits from skilled, mobile and responsible adults. Outside donations to equipment, budgets and facilities can make all the difference.

Philanthropic contributions play a significant role in helping children access education in adverse circumstances by building more schools and colleges in challenged areas, by funding supplies, meals and other necessities that allow children to go to school, and paying teacher salaries.

In some cases, cultural, societal and religious practices, heritage and beliefs place barriers between some or all children and education.

Here are a few examples of philanthropists around the world from a variety of backgrounds who have made a significant impact on the opportunities available to children by supporting international schools. From facility development and repairs to needed resources such as new uniforms or school supplies, their generosity allows children to access education for a better future.

Vangelis Marinakis is a shipowner and council member known for his ownership of Greece’s Olympiacos and England’s Nottingham Forest football clubs. A noted philanthropist in both his professional and personal life, his generosity extends to several children’s causes. Following significant earthquake damage on the Greek island of Cephalonia, he donated €500,000 toward school repairs.

Olympic heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson partnered with entrepreneur Barrie Wells to open The Sports Centre at Edge Hill, a world-class facility that makes sport accessible to students and the surrounding community.

As illustrated by those two examples, even in developed countries with relatively high economies and support for education, philanthropy helps raise the standard of educational resource availability.

In Emjindini, South Africa, local philanthropy efforts headlined by Gugu Mabuza enabled children from low-income households to have new school uniforms. The children had been avoiding full participation in school due to embarrassment over inadequate dress, and outside investment in basic equipment such as new uniforms helped them attend school and engage in learning.

International model Noella Coursaris Musunka makes philanthropic investments in her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo through her non-profit organization Malaika to empower girls and improve their lives in ways that her birth family didn’t have access to. The accredited school and community centre she set up has educated and provided health services for over 5,000 Congolese in a community that traditionally suffered from low education and poor public health.

While not every philanthropist focuses on her or his home community or country, generosity is often inspired by personal experiences, as well as stories of need. These four philanthropists have acted to provide aid and much-needed resources to schools – in many cases in addition to other philanthropic efforts – to recognize the power of education and the potential of children when they have access to, and are empowered by, good schools.

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