First-graders Zayra Munoz, left, and Mercy Okeke are among the children at Charles R. Drew Elementary School who are thinking about the future. (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

This year grown-ups will vote to choose the president. They will make their decision based on a lot of issues that are important to them: the economy, crime, how the United States behaves toward other nations and — and this may surprise you — how children are cared for.

You’ve probably heard it before: Children are the future. But it’s true: How children are educated and taken care of, and the opportunities they are given can affect in very significant ways the future of their country and the future of the world.

It was with that idea in mind that ChildFund International, a group that tries to improve the lives of kids worldwide, asked more than 5,000 10- to 12-year-olds, “What would you do as president (or leader) to improve the lives of children?

The answers to that question (and some others the group asked) showed how caring and aware of the world kids are, but it also highlighted some differences based on where the kids lived.

Different answers in the U.S.

For example, “improve education” was the top answer of kids everywhere except in the United States. Kids here thought the biggest problem a president could solve would be to make sure that kids have homes.

Anne Lynam Goddard, president of ChildFund, says the differences in answers shows that many kids in the United States take going to school for granted, but that’s not true elsewhere.

In many parts of Africa, Asia and South America, Goddard says “so many kids look at their parents working as farmers. . . . They see education as their ticket out so they won’t wind up being a physical laborer like their mother and father.”

But Goddard says that the answer of American kids indicates what they are seeing in the world around them as well. “I think it says something that American kids want to do something about homeless children. [The problems with the economy] are obvious even to kids. Maybe kids are afraid that they could become homeless.”

What’s very clear from this report (see the charts on this page) is that kids care very deeply about their fellow kids and want to solve the problems they see around them.

Local kids speak out on issues

At Charles R. Drew Elementary School in Silver Spring, students talked to KidsPost about what they saw as the biggest problems kids face today.

Gabrielle Moore, 6, wanted the president to help prevent kids from “being bullied,” while Mercy Okeke, also 6, was thinking about kids far away when she said a leader “should help them by keeping them safe during a war.”

Making sure that kids who don’t have parents are still cared for was a high priority for Zayra Munoz and Youssouf Toure, both 7.

Zayra said that the president “should make sure that kids who don’t have a mom or dad still can have food.” Youssouf added, “I would make sure that kids were safe if they lost their family.”

What kids like to do, want to be

ChildFund didn’t just ask kids about serious stuff, though. The group also asked kids to name their favorite thing to do when they have free time.

On that subject, kids all over the world were in agreement. The top answer in Africa, Central and South America, Asia and the United States was the same: Play!

Goddard, of ChildFund, thinks that’s an important answer.

“Kids need to play,” she said. “It’s a real learning thing, cooperating with others, working toward a goal, healthy competition.” And, of course, it’s fun.

One other area where American kids differ from their counterparts in other countries is in answering that always-asked kid question: “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

In most parts of the world, “teacher” was the most popular answer. In the United States, “professional athlete” was tops. But maybe even that difference isn’t so surprising, according to Goddard. In many parts of the world, going to college to become a teacher is as big and hard-to-imagine a goal as becoming a pro sports star, she said.

So, it turns out that kids all over the world have one other thing in common: They dream big dreams. Given that kids will control the future, that’s a very good thing.

— Tracy Grant

“I’d put an end to world poverty.”

11-year-old from Brazil

“I’d build nice schools and provide notebooks and pens to all children.”

10-year-old from Afghanistan

“I would ... reduce crime and protect my people.”

10-year-old from Ethiopia

”I would educate children so they can prevent violence.”

10-year-old from Nicaragua