Introduction to Education and Childhood

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Introduction to Education and Childhood

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that every individual has a right to an education. It advocates free and compulsory elementary education, but does not specify what such an education should entail—other that it should promote peace and tolerance—nor does it specify for how many years children should attend school.

While the goal of universal elementary education is realized throughout most of the developed world, children in developing nations are less likely to have access to education. Some nations in Africa, Southern Asia, and the Middle East have the illiteracy rates of forty to fifty percent. In some nations schools are not provided, or rural children do not have schools near where they live. In other areas, children are kept from school and sent to work, either to earn income for struggling families or to participate in farm work.

Women are especially affected by educational inequalities. In some regimes, they are wholly denied a meaningful education. During the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, girls were barred from schools, and women risked their lives to establish underground schools in homes. After the Taliban was removed from power in 2001, Afghan schools were once again opened to women. However, as the article "Attacks Beset Afghan Girls" Schools" notes, educating girls remains controversial to religious fundamentalists and Islamist factions. Girls" schools were routinely attacked and vandalized, and teachers harassed.

This chapter also briefly surveys some of the events that made the United States education system increasingly more inclusive. "Brown v. Board of Education" discusses the racial desegregation of schools. Other articles profile legislation that demands equity for women's sports or created special education programs for handicapped students. Finally, "Plyler v. Doe" profiles the landmark case that guaranteed foreign-nationals and undocumented alien students the right to attend U.S. public schools.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights also proclaims that childhood should be valued and protected. The UN Convention on Rights of the Child (included in this chapter) further enumerates these goals. However, for many of the world's children, childhood remains a period of substantial burden and peril. A lack of adequate housing, food, and potable water challenges the health of most of the world's endangered children. These issues are covered in depth in the chapter Health and Housing. Children are also often victims of human rights crimes, some by the actions of their own family. This chapter highlights child soldiers, laborers, and sex workers, as well as the practice of child marriage.

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Introduction to Education and Childhood

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Introduction to Education and Childhood