The United Nations recently claimed that the Millennium Development Goal that focused on primary education increased global enrollment from 83 percent to 91 percent. Despite these gains, today it is estimated that 124 million children do not attend school and 757 million adults are illiterate.
The nearly one billion people without a proper education is distressing as a good education is a proven foundation for alleviating poverty, sustainable economic progress, healthier lifestyle and enhanced social development. Inexplicably, the international community continues to fail the global poor by not creating access to legitimate education programs that allow them to conquer poverty.
The UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) on education may have achieved some progress but overall it was ineffective as it concentrated more on the quantity of children attending classes rather than the quality of education at every age group.
Substandard education was highlighted in a UNESCO report that stated that over 29 million children dropped out of school in Sub-Sahara Africa each year. The reason can be attributed to the children not receiving a high level of education as in most cases classroom sizes are too big and teachers are underpaid, inexperienced or have no training.
As a result of the poor quality of education, uneducated parents are more focused on their short-term needs and neglect the long-term benefits of education and thus pull their children out of school to go to work. This can be seen as a result of the UN not making great gains in improving adult education.
Since the parents have not personally experienced education to improve their quality of life, they do not understand the advantages for their children and thus remain trapped in the cycle of poverty.
Other education problems include; ineffective, outdated, or irrelevant curriculum that does not teach students the most essential skills for success where they live. Plus, many children have the impossible task of concentrating without having the correct nutrition to properly think as schools lack funding for food programs. Such food programs can also be an added incentive for parents to enroll their children, as they will receive free food.
Fixing Education in the Developing World
In September 2015, the UN announced that one of the new Sustainable Development Goals (the new MDGs) would be improving the ‘Quality’ of global education. This time the new goal is more broadly focused on all levels of education and aims to eliminate gender and wealth inequalities.
While this is a step in the right direction, ultimately achieving quality education, will involve increased investment in infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum development, classroom materials, technology, food programs and lower schools fees. Most importantly, the ultimate goal should be that all programs are focused on learning and not just attendance.
Today no universal education model will work for every country, as each education system must be adapted to the local and cultural dynamics that exist in every unique location. This means that national governments should give local leaders, parents and teachers greater educational autonomy, including increased input in setting the curriculum in their region.
More emphasis needs to be put on teaching skills that are applicable for obtaining jobs in each specific region. For example, a place like Palawan Island in the Philippines, which was voted the most beautiful island in the world but is also one of its poorest regions in the country, should focus more on tourism skillsets, such as learning languages. Mineral rich countries like Peru or the Democratic Republic of the Congo should put more value into teaching skills aimed at securing legitimate jobs in industries by developing better math, science or geography programs that can produce engineers or geologists (one of Peru’s highest paid professions).
Education Innovations Can Be part of the Solution
There is hope for improving global education as successful innovative ideas are being used by many organizations, such as One Laptop per Child, which has developed and distributed millions of durable, economical, low powered laptops that allow rural children to digitally access updated textbooks, classes and information.
Also, in isolated rural areas Internet problems have been solved by Alphabet’s Loon project (Google’s holding company) as they have developed technology that can supply Wi-Fi access to isolated rural areas by launching balloons into the sky. In fact, India is attempting such a project to combat its low Internet user rate and fight its weak education level.
Bangladeshi based NGO BRAC has been successfully providing quality education to the poor with their non-formal primary education program, which has a dropout rate of less than 5 percent. In addition they have a thriving adult education program that puts emphasis on women by teaching them to read, write, and share their resources so they can successfully run businesses.
Another great innovator is The Economist 2015 innovation award winner Bridge International, which has developed a low cost model for building nurseries and primary schools that deliver high quality education in East Africa.
These innovations can advance global education but need to be combined with increased global investment in the education sector. Corruption and the lack of knowledge of the importance of education means that governments are not investing enough money in their education sector and sometimes even spend more on their military.
Developed countries can also take some of the blame as Kevin Watkins from Overseas Development Initiative has previously stated that only two percent of yearly international global aid given to developing countries is invested in education. To combat this, countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and EU countries must put stricter conditions on their aid and make sure that it is invested effectively in the education sectors of developing countries.
Obviously, education is not the only solution to achieve sustainable human and economic development, but it is undoubtedly the foundation for true progress. Over the next decades, with the help of increased investment and utilizing advances in technology, we have a great opportunity to give the world’s poor a quality education and with it the tools to alleviate poverty.
We can use South Korea as an example, as in the 1960s, Korea was a poor country with a horrendous education system and today it has transformed itself into an economic powerhouse by having one of the best education systems in the world.
This article was originally posted in Global Policy Journal.