Ed­u­cat­ing ev­ery­one

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The odds are weighed heav­ily against achiev­ing the tar­get set by the Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals (MDGs) of en­sur­ing by De­cem­ber 2015 that ev­ery school-age child is ac­tu­ally in school. With chil­dren in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Nige­ria lit­er­ally in the fir­ing line in re­cent months, the im­mense scale of the chal­lenge could not be more ap­par­ent. After all, ful­fill­ing the prom­ise of univer­sal ed­u­ca­tion de­mands that even those in the most dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, such as child refugees and chil­dren in com­bat zones, can safely ac­quire a ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion.

Aca­demic re­search sug­gests that no coun­try can en­joy sus­tained pros­per­ity – and none can avoid the mid­dle-in­come trap – with­out large-scale in­vest­ment in high-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. This is par­tic­u­larly true for to­day’s knowl­edge-based econ­omy, in which com­pa­nies value them­selves ac­cord­ing to their hu­man, not just phys­i­cal, as­sets, and stock ex­changes as­sess in­tel­lec­tual, in ad­di­tion to phys­i­cal, cap­i­tal.

Ed­u­ca­tion has long been viewed as the num­ber one guar­an­tor of in­come, wealth, sta­tus, and se­cu­rity. Yet mil­lions of peo­ple have con­sis­tently been left out or left be­hind, with nearly half of the world’s chil­dren still lack­ing ac­cess to ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion.

To be sure, for the first five years after the MDGs were in­tro­duced, sig­nif­i­cant progress was made, with en­roll­ment in pri­mary and lower-sec­ondary schools in­creas­ing by 1.5% an­nu­ally. On that tra­jec­tory, the en­roll­ment rate would have reached 97% world­wide by 2022, with Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa reach­ing that level by 2026.

But, after 2005, progress stalled. As a re­sult, only 36% of chil­dren in the world’s poor­est coun­tries com­plete lower-sec­ondary school­ing. By 2030, that rate will have in­creased, but only to 54%.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, girls in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties face the big­gest ob­sta­cles. To­day, some three­quar­ters of girls do not re­ceive ba­sic pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion; in 2030, half will still be miss­ing out. Like­wise, some 90% of girls to­day are un­able to com­plete sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion; by 2030, that fig­ure will have de­clined by only 20%. And, whereas boys in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa will have to wait un­til 2069 for univer­sal ac­cess to pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, girls will have to wait un­til 2086. As for lower-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, it will take almost a cen­tury, if cur­rent trends per­sist, to en­sure ac­cess for all girls in Sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa.

None of this squares with global lead­ers’ prom­ise to de­velop the tal­ents of all of the world’s chil­dren. A re­cent study in­di­cates that Africa is so far be­hind in terms of ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­nity that in 2025 just 2% of young adults in their early thir­ties in Rwanda, Chad, Liberia, and Malawi – and only 3% in Tan­za­nia and Benin – will have a col­lege or univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion. Such low lev­els of ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion make it im­pos­si­ble not only to hire qual­i­fied teach­ers for the next gen­er­a­tion, but also to staff med­i­cal cen­tres and clin­ics with fully trained health pro­fes­sion­als – fail­ures that per­pet­u­ate the seem­ingly end­less cy­cle of poor ed­u­ca­tion, bad health, un­em­ploy­ment, and poverty.

Of course, a few African coun­tries – such as Al­ge­ria, Nige­ria, and Egypt – might man­age to buck the trend. But even in South Africa – cur­rently Africa’s most ad­vanced coun­try – 10% of young adults, at most, will have col­lege or univer­sity de­grees by 2045.

Mean­while, in Pak­istan, a bold ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign led by Malala Yousafzai is help­ing to in­crease the share of young adults with a ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, which stood at a measly 7% in 2010. But the gains are slight; even by 2045, the share is un­likely to ex­ceed 15%. Nepal is ex­pected to ex­pe­ri­ence faster growth in ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, but its lower base means that the 2045 level will likely be around 16%.

Even a ma­jor emerg­ing econ­omy like In­dia will progress by only 11% from 2010 to 2045, reach­ing just 23% – far be­low the level sug­gested by the global rep­u­ta­tion of its in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion. Mean­while, in Sin­ga­pore, South Korea, and Ja­pan, the share of young adults with col­lege or univer­sity de­grees will reach 80-90%.

The as­sump­tion that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and tech­no­log­i­cal progress will in­evitably ex­pand op­por­tu­ni­ties for all is lit­tle more than wish­ful think­ing. In re­al­ity, un­less a con­certed ef­fort is made, the dis­tri­bu­tion of ed­u­ca­tional – and thus eco­nomic – op­por­tu­nity will be­come in­creas­ingly un­equal in the com­ing years.

But the real di­vide is not be­tween the ed­u­cated and the un­e­d­u­cated; it is be­tween those with ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and those who want it. Th­ese long-ne­glected peo­ple will con­tinue press­ing gov­ern­ments and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions un­til ev­ery per­son’s fun­da­men­tal right to ed­u­ca­tion is re­spected. And the next stop in their cam­paign is the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York, with hun­dreds of young peo­ple, rep­re­sent­ing all coun­tries, gath­er­ing to de­mand change from world lead­ers.

As school doors re­open around the world, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should re­new its com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing that ev­ery child, ev­ery­where, has a chance to walk through them.

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