Global children’s survey finds what children want is an education

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Give them a dollar or make them president and what would they do? Most children across the world say their first order of business would be to improve education by building schools, providing school supplies and increasing access to education for all children. Their next priority would be providing food and water. Almost half said they would spend their dollar on food or water, ahead of clothes, toys and sports.

These findings are taken from the ChildFund Alliance global children’s survey, Small Voices, Big Dreams*, released this week in recognition of Universal Children’s Day (20 November). The survey polled 3,000 children aged 10-12 from 30 developing countries across the world, from Afghanistan to Zambia, as well as children from Australia.

The survey aimed to find out what is important to children and to help paint a picture of what life is like for children in developing countries, compared with children in developed countries such as Australia, says ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence. The survey was undertaken as part of ChildFund’s ongoing work to listen to children and understand their perspectives, so that we continue to run programs that are relevant and effective for children.

The survey found education, food and water to be the top priorities for children. Globally, more than half (57%) of the children surveyed said if they were the president of their country, the one thing they would do for children is improve education. They had a range of ideas for how this could be done, from improving existing schools to building new ones, providing school fees or making education free, providing school supplies and textbooks, and increasing access to education for all children. Providing food and water was the next most common response (19%).

When asked what they need most in their daily life, food/water and education were the top two responses. A third (33%) of children who responded to the survey said the one thing they need most is food and water, while another third (34%) said education.

The survey also finds that children around the world share some common fears. Three in 10 (30%) said they were most afraid of animal, with snakes (15%) topping the list, followed by death/accidents/disease (20%) and war/terror/violence (15%). Marked differences are found in specific countries, for example, the number of children afraid of war, terror and violence is significantly higher in Afghanistan, where 61% of surveyed children reported this fear.

Growing up in two different worlds: Australia & Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, it is striking to hear the views of children who have never known peace. Living daily through the perils of war, not fought on distant battlefields but in their own homes and villages, children are living a childhood not imaginable in countries such as Australia, ‘I am afraid of war’, said one child, ‘because it has killed the children and youth of our country.’

ChildFund has worked in Afghanistan since 2001, initiating an emergency response just days after the ceasefire that followed the first US-led military action. Today, ChildFund Afghanistan works in 151 communities in the four provinces of Takhar, Kunduz, Badakhshan and Baghlan, reaching 277,000 children and family members. Programs prioritise the community-led provision of health, education and livelihood opportunities for parents, while strengthening the protective environment for children.

While news reports focus on the new US-led military strategy in Afghanistan, it is critical to remember that this country remains one of the most difficult places in the world to be a child.

The stark differences between a childhood in Australia and a childhood in Afghanistan are apparent in the children’s responses to the ChildFund Alliance survey:

  • 61% of children in Afghanistan reported being afraid of war, terror and violence ‘I am scared of aeroplanes, bombs and suicide attacks’, compared to 14% in Australia.
  • 50% of children surveyed in Afghanistan reported spending half a day or more doing work or chores (not including school work), compared to 9% in Australia.
  • 42% of children in Afghanistan said the one thing they need most is an education (My most important need in my life is peace and security, and also to study and become educated), compared to 1% in Australia.
  • Australian children said family and friends (43%) are the one thing they need most (In my life I need my mum the most out of everything else), compared to 1% in Afghanistan.
  • 40% of children in Afghanistan said if they were the president, they would provide healthcare for children (I would build schools, streets, clinics), compared to only 3% in Australia. Afghan children also placed much higher importance on providing playgrounds and recreational activities (Afghanistan 19%; Australia 2%) and infrastructure such as roads (Afghanistan 24%; Australia 1%).

ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence says: Childhoods are so different in different countries, yet there are threads of commonality that run through them. Children everywhere place importance on education, food, water, clothes, toys and sport. At the same time, there are clear differences in the opportunities, resources and support available to children.

This far-reaching survey amplifies what we hear in the thousands of villages where ChildFund works: children in poor communities are acutely aware of the daily struggle of their families to provide, and know that their future is intimately linked to getting a good education. Addressing these issues is vital to achieve genuine improvements in children’s lives.

* The ChildFund Alliance survey was undertaken from July to September 2010. Identical six-question surveys were administered on a one-to-one basis by ChildFund staff with 100 children aged 10-12 in 30 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas. A total of 2,970 children were surveyed, plus 101 children from Australia. (Four of the six questions were open-ended and many respondents included multiple answers.) ChildFund translated and submitted the results to global research firm Ipsos Observer, which tabulated and compiled the results.