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Children Believe’s Walk to School Survey: Canadian kids’ path to learning is much less perilous than for those in developing areas

With 72 percent of Canadian children having safe transportation to school, Canadian charity encourages families to walk to school in October to spotlight access

By Strategic Objectives

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One might envision two different paths to learning for a Canadian child versus a child living in a developing community elsewhere in the world. A recent Angus Reid survey* commissioned by Children Believe — a charity which has helped more than one-million children globally overcome barriers to access education and other life essentials — reveals how drastically different those two paths are. With International Walk to School Day happening Oct. 6, the survey shows only one-quarter of Canadian children (27 percent) either walk to school or ride their bike, and only two percent travel more than 3 km. Forty-three percent of Canadian kids have safe transport to school — either by car or bus. While such options are available for most kids in Canada, they don’t exist in the communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas where Children Believe works.

A rocky path to learning

In contrast to Canada, the path to learning for children in developing communities is rocky on many levels. About 86 percent of the Canadian parents polled believe primary school sets a child up for success later in life. Yet, according to the United Nations, 260-million children around the world are denied formal schooling due to reasons like poverty, making school-related fees unaffordable, and preventing access to digital learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse.

Girls, in particular, are held back from school because of family and household responsibilities they are expected to take on, a lack of separate washrooms at schools, and the prioritization of marriage over education. Even children who can pursue an education may face a difficult and unsafe walk to school hampered by rugged terrain, debilitating dust, scorching heat and the threat of violence. Most Canadian children don’t experience these barriers.

International Walk to School Day – Wednesday, Oct. 6

While only 16 percent of Canadian parents surveyed said they will occasionally walk their children to school, Children Believe is encouraging more families to take the school journey together throughout October to celebrate International Walk to School Day and be thankful for the relatively simple journey our kids have. Parents are encouraged to share their family’s safe walk-to-school experience while recognizing the challenges for vulnerable populations, using the hashtags #TheLongWalk and #WalkToSchoolDay on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Additionally, a toolkit at childrenbelieve.ca/walk-to-school has information about barriers to education and what’s being done to remove them.

“In Canada, we tend to think of the ‘cost’ of education in monetary terms and the survey showed parents understand finances are among the greatest barriers to education,” says Fred Witteveen, CEO of Children Believe. “However, in developing communities, the ‘cost’ of opting out of school is even greater. Staying out of school leads to child marriage, child labour and other forms of exploitation. That’s why Children Believe helps children access education. It’s their best opportunity to build a brighter future for themselves and their community.”

Pandemic roadblocks

COVID-19 put education in focus for Canadian families like never before, with many experiencing the fragility of our education system and what happens when kids can’t physically be in school. In fact, 84 percent of Canadian families surveyed believe the pandemic set back previous progress in education for children around the world.

In vulnerable populations, COVID-19 threatens to reverse two decades of advancement made in girls’ education, as many are now forced to stay home and support their families. The pandemic has disproportionally impacted the poorest, most vulnerable children. Once access to education is removed, it’s difficult to return to the classroom.

Through COVID-19, Children Believe has supported communities to keep kids learning. In the past year, more than 375,000 teaching aids, computers, furniture pieces and play materials were shared to equip educators and students during lockdowns.

Children and youth were also connected by Children Believe field partners to virtual and alternative learning/education platforms, radio and TV ads, flash-drives and printed materials to help continue studies and minimize learning losses. More than 63,000 students were reached in six countries through these efforts.

Clearing the path to education

While 91 percent of Canadian parents polled believe education should be compulsory for all children aged five to 18, almost all of us (95 percent) know a child's access to school is severely limited in many parts of the world. Additionally, the survey revealed:

  • Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of Canadian parents polled want to help improve access to education for marginalized children, but don't know how
  • Sixty-six percent of Canadians want to make a difference but feel they can’t afford to help

Canadians can learn more about how to help at childrenbelieve.ca/walk-to-school. By sponsoring a child or giving the gift of education through items in the Gifts for Good catalogue, there are many ways to make positive change and to support Children Believe reach its goal of helping half a million children access education by 2024.

About Children Believe

Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in – and be heard. For 60+ years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education – inside and outside of classrooms – is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.

About ChildFund Alliance

A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of 12 child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in more than 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.

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