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Key message

Quality, inclusive education for all begins with the construction of adequate infrastructure to deliver it.

When children have safe, reliable, and welcoming environments to learn in, they are better able to grow and develop. Whereas unsuitable or poor infrastructure can exclude children — often the most marginalised — before they even have a chance at an education, particularly if they are unable to physically or safely access school. Developing quality education infrastructure can increase learning, address issues of equity, and allow for greater inclusion in times of crises.
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Key challenges
  • Education infrastructure shortages are a barrier to learning at all income levels, with particular impact on the most disadvantaged schools. In Indonesia and Jordan, 40% of head teachers noted that infrastructure issues hindered learning.
    (GEM, 2018)
  • When schools are attacked and destroyed without being rebuilt, a generation of children can lose the chance to receive a quality education. Damage to classrooms, materials, and property greatly impacts on student learning, with additional consequences such as overcrowding. In Iraq, 85% of schools were destroyed or closed as a result of war, affecting millions of children.
    (Save the Children, 2020)  (EAC/UNESCO, 2013)
  • Schools are often designed without considering all the needs of the community, excluding children from an education. Zero primary or secondary schools in Niger, Burundi, or Samoa met indicator 4.1 of the SDGs, outlining the proportion of schools with access to ‘adapted infrastructure for students with disabilities’.
    (GEM, 2020)
  • Poor infrastructure can impede students' learning and progress. Overcrowding, noise pollution and inadequate sanitation can create distractions that hinder students' concentration. In Nigeria, in some public schools, teachers are expected to teach over 90 students, and some students share desks and chairs.
    (Iordye et al, 2023)
  • Inadequate school infrastructure can exacerbate learning inequities. In Turkey, 69% of head teachers in schools serving marginalised populations reported that learning was inhibited by infrastructure issues, in comparison to 4% of head teachers serving better-off populations.
    (GEM, 2018)
  • Many schools lack basic infrastructure to support safe and healthy learning environments. 818 million children lack access to basic hygiene facilities like clean drinking water or bathrooms at school.
    (UNICEF, 2020)
  • If infrastructure is not properly maintained, it can become a hazard. Poorly maintained structures pose a threat to children's health. For example, cracks in floors, walls and foundations encourage the presence of insects. Broken windows, exposed nails and broken stairs increase the risk of injury.
    (Iordye et al, 2023)
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  • Basic classroom infrastructure can make the difference between quality learning and marginalisation. Classroom features such as good electric lighting or daylight, shelter from heat, ventilation, and space to sit affect learning. In Southeast Asia, children exposed to higher classroom temperatures lost 1.5 years of school on average, a cost which could be entirely offset by air conditioning.
    (Barrett et al., 2015)  (Randell and Gray, 2019)
  • Creating education infrastructure that provides access for all is cost effective. Building accessibility features into school infrastructure at the outset increases the total cost by just 1%, whereas incorporating accessibility features later down the road increases the cost by 5% or more.
    (GEM, 2020)
  • Access to good education begins with quality infrastructure to enable pupils to get to school. In Mozambique, one-quarter of all students with disabilities dropped out due to difficulties traveling to school, including barriers like a lack of paved roads or motorised transport. In India, connecting a village with a paved road increased lower secondary attendance 7%, with children staying in school longer and performing better on standardized tests.
    (UNDESA, 2018)  (Adukia et al., 2020)
  • Proper school infrastructure can provide extra capacity for children in times of crises. More than 200,000 Syrian refugee children were able to attend Lebanese public schools in 2018, receiving instruction after Lebanese children in the afternoons.
    (Theirworld, 2020)
  • Basic water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities are critical to realizing education for all. Access to basic WASH in schools improves access and learning outcomes — particularly for girls — by providing safe and inclusive learning environments.
    (UNICEF, 2018)
  • Community engagement can help improve school infrastructure. Parent-teacher associations, local businesses and community organisations can provide support through donations, volunteering and advocacy efforts.
    (Opabola et al, 2023)
  • Good infrastructure is conducive to learning. Students feel more at ease and focused when their surroundings are well maintained. Sufficient classroom space, proper lighting and ventilation, comfortable furniture and access to technology, can contribute to a positive learning environment.
    (Umar et al, 2023)
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Key talking points
  • Good infrastructure is key to delivering a quality education for all.
  • Inadequate infrastructure or infrastructure shortages create barriers to learning, particularly in the most disadvantaged schools.
  • Basic classroom infrastructure such as lighting and air conditioning can make the difference between quality learning and marginalisation.
  • Effective transport infrastructure is essential to enable all pupils to access school.
  • Building schools with accessibility features is more cost effective than adding them later.
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