Ed­u­ca­tion and the in­vis­i­ble child

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In his 1952 novel, the late Ralph El­li­son fa­mously por­trayed Amer­i­can blacks as silent, long-suf­fer­ing, and en­tirely un­no­ticed by the ma­jor­ity white pop­u­la­tion. In 2016, there is a new – and global – in­vis­i­ble class: the 260 mil­lion boys and girls who are cur­rently de­nied ac­cess to ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion.

To­day’s in­vis­i­ble vic­tims are refugee chil­dren holed up in tents, shacks, and hov­els who will never en­joy a first day at school; they are the mil­lions of 9-12-year-olds con­demned to child labour, and the mil­lions of young girls des­tined for child mar­riage and de­nied an ed­u­ca­tion sim­ply be­cause of their gen­der. En­sur­ing a bet­ter fu­ture for these chil­dren is the civil-rights strug­gle of our time.

Out-of-school chil­dren are los­ing out be­cause of our fail­ure to in­vest in ed­u­ca­tion; but so, too, are an­other 600 mil­lion boys and girls who are in school, but not learn­ing. In low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, half of all pri­ma­ryschool-age chil­dren don’t learn ba­sic lit­er­acy and numer­acy skills.

All told, 900 mil­lion of the world’s 1.4 bil­lion chil­dren reach adult­hood un- or un­der-ed­u­cated. Ac­cord­ing to a forth­com­ing re­port from the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion on Fi­nanc­ing Global Ed­u­ca­tional Op­por­tu­nity (the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion), which I chair, mem­bers of this ne­glected ma­jor­ity lack the skills they will need to suc­ceed in a quickly chang­ing global labour mar­ket.

In the in­ter­con­nected world of the fu­ture, chil­dren will need to be taught in­for­ma­tion-tech­nol­ogy and com­pu­ta­tional skills if they are to find gain­ful em­ploy­ment. How­ever, in low-in­come coun­tries, where tech­nol­ogy is most needed to im­prove ed­u­ca­tional ser­vices and in­clu­sive growth, only 10% of pupils at­tend schools with In­ter­net ac­cess.

To close these ed­u­ca­tion gaps, a “busi­ness-as-usual” ap­proach is un­likely to suf­fice. In­deed, by 2030 – the year by which the UN sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment agenda prom­ises to de­liver uni­ver­sal ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion – 1.5 bil­lion adults will have had no ed­u­ca­tion be­yond pri­mary school. Worse still, half the world’s young peo­ple will still be en­ter­ing the work­force with no recog­nis­able qual­i­fi­ca­tions, and will prob­a­bly suf­fer long pe­ri­ods of un­em­ploy­ment.

For years, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has held sum­mits promis­ing to re­dou­ble its com­mit­ment to ed­u­ca­tion. But, time and again, it has failed to ful­fill that prom­ise, thus de­priv­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of the most valu­able gift it could be­stow. In 2002, 13% of over­seas de­vel­op­ment aid went to chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion; to­day, that fig­ure is 10%, and in low-in­come coun­tries it amounts to no more than $17 dol­lars per child, on av­er­age.

By short-chang­ing the world’s chil­dren, we are squan­der­ing the most valu­able un­tapped re­source we have. More­over, we could be set­ting the stage for a mod­ern dooms­day sce­nario, be­cause an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of un­e­d­u­cated, alien­ated young peo­ple will make easy prey for ex­trem­ists and ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions.

For­tu­nately, how to im­prove ed­u­ca­tional out­comes isn’t a se­cret: the best schools hire ded­i­cated and com­pe­tent teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors, and teach cur­ric­ula rel­e­vant to chil­dren’s fu­ture needs. More­over, the In­ter­net en­ables the poor­est chil­dren in the re­motest ar­eas to ac­cess the world’s best li­braries and teach­ers. With au­dit­ing and ac­count­abil­ity sys­tems, we can make fu­ture in­vest­ments de­pen­dent on re­sults, and trans­form every class­room into a learn­ing hub for every child.

To­ward this end, the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion – which in­cludes lead­ers from govern­ment, academia, busi­ness, and eco­nomics – just pub­lished a roadmap and a pro­posed global bud­get to pro­vide uni­ver­sal, high-qual­ity pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. Our ev­i­dence shows that if de­vel­op­ing coun­tries can adopt do­mes­tic re­forms to match the re­sults of re­cent suc­cess sto­ries, such as Viet­nam, they can de­liver ed­u­ca­tion for all by 2030.

For our pro­gramme to suc­ceed, the global in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion will need to rise steadily from $1.2 tril­lion now to $3 tril­lion by 2030; and low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries will need to mod­ern­ize their ed­u­ca­tion sec­tors by in­creas­ing their do­mes­tic in­vest­ments to 5.8% of na­tional spend­ing, 1.8% above the cur­rent av­er­age.

If coun­tries are will­ing to make this level of com­mit­ment, they should not fail to de­liver uni­ver­sal ed­u­ca­tion for lack of fund­ing. To en­sure that the money is there, the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion is of­fer­ing de­tailed pro­pos­als to re­form the cur­rent global frame­work for fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion, and to bring mul­ti­lat­eral de­vel­op­ment banks to­gether to pri­ori­tise ed­u­ca­tion and re­lease new re­sources.

Ed­u­ca­tion is the most cost-ef­fec­tive in­vest­ment we can make, so the eco­nomic case for in­creased fund­ing could not be clearer. The Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion’s goal is to make to­day and to­mor­row’s chil­dren a “learn­ing gen­er­a­tion.” If we suc­ceed, we ex­pect low-in­come coun­tries’ per capita GDP to be 70% higher by 2050 than it is now.

By con­trast, if the world suc­cumbs to in­ac­tion and paral­y­sis, we pre­dict that it will cost global GDP $1.8 tril­lion by 2050. The brunt of this cost will fall on low-in­come coun­tries, where 25% of pop­u­la­tions will still live in ex­treme poverty. Those are the quan­tifi­able costs of ig­nor­ing an in­vis­i­ble gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple; the other costs, in terms of lost op­por­tu­ni­ties and rav­aged, alien­ated lives, are im­pos­si­ble to quan­tify, but should be equally wor­ri­some.

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