Edication:Putting Education First

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10/11/2013(Mareeg.com-LONDON – For far too long, the cause of universal education has taken a back seat to
other great international movements for change. Now, for two new reasons that lie at
the heart of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s launch of the “Education First”
initiative, education has returned to its rightful place atop the global policy

First and foremost, young people have themselves become the biggest advocates of
universal education for girls and boys. Refusing to remain silent while denied
opportunity, young people – particularly girls – have launched one of the great
civil-rights struggles of our time.

Few could remain unmoved by the brave fight of the young Pakistani girl Malala
Yousafzai after the Taliban shot her in the head because she insisted on the right
of young girls to an education. Few have failed to notice the massive public
outpouring of support in Pakistan and elsewhere for the cause that she is

Likewise, we have also seen in recent months the creation by schoolgirls in
Bangladesh of child-marriage-free zones, aimed at defending the right of girls to
stay in school instead of being married off as teenage brides against their will. In
India, the Global March Against Child Labor, led by the children’s rights advocate
Kailash Satyarthi, has rescued thousands of young boys and girls from a life of
slavery in factories, workshops, and domestic service, and has ensured that they
return to school.

These demonstrations by girls and boys demanding their right to education have made
the fight for basic schooling impossible to ignore. Consequently, every government
now feels under even greater pressure to deliver the second of the global Millennium
Development Goals (“achieve universal primary education”) by the end of 2015.

But a second worldwide force also has propelled education to the center of the
policy agenda in most countries: the increased recognition of the importance of
education by those who examine why countries succeed or fail. For years, academics
have debated whether culture, institutions, ideology, or resources cause some
countries to lag behind. Today, a growing number of writers, researchers, and
policymakers see the crucial link between education and national economic success.

The deployment of human capital has become an important factor in explaining why
some countries remain stuck in a “middle-income trap” and why others cannot break
out of low-income status. And research assessing a country’s human capital now
focuses on the quantity and quality of basic skills, qualified graduate manpower,
and expertise in research and development.

Putting education first is urgent in view of the scale of wasted talent and
potential worldwide. Some 57 million children still do not go to school, 500 million
girls will never finish the secondary education to which they are entitled, and 750
million adults remain illiterate.

The link between education and economic success makes the delivery of quality
schooling and training a hugely important issue for business as well. By 2020,
according to the McKinsey Global Institute, we will face the twin problems of a
shortfall of up to 40 million high-skill workers and a surplus of up to 95 million
low-skill workers. By 2030, the global workforce of 3.5 billion will include an
estimated one billion workers who lack a secondary education, significantly
hindering their countries’ economic prospects.

As a result, without urgent action, businesses are likely to face a huge skills
shortage, especially in emerging markets and developing countries, where most
economic activity will be concentrated. Indeed, the adult illiteracy rate in Somalia
is 63%, and 39% in Nigeria; in South Sudan, more girls die during childbirth than
complete primary school.

Unless we act, by mid-century the global economy will be characterized by massive
waste of talent and unequal opportunities. According to new figures from the
Wittgenstein Center’s forthcoming book World Population and Human Capital in the
21st Century, only 3% of young adults in Mali and Mozambique are projected to have a
tertiary education in 2050; the expected proportion is just 4% in Niger, Liberia,
Rwanda, and Chad, and only 5% in Malawi and Madagascar. While the projection for
North America as a whole is 60%, the forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa is 16%.

Such figures reveal a world divided between those who have and those who lack
educational opportunity, with huge potential repercussions not only in terms of
skill shortages and economic waste, but also in terms of social stability. The late
US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren’s words in Brown v. Board of Education,
which struck down the legal basis for racial segregation in America’s public
schools, remain no less relevant today: “It is doubtful that any child may
reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an
education.” As Warren put it, “Such an opportunity…is a right which must be made
available to all on equal terms.”

We have little more than two years to turn basic education from a privilege for some
into a right for all. Secretary-General Ban and I are determined that every day
until that deadline in December 2015, we will work as hard as possible to ensure
every child is in school.

Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer of the
United Kingdom, is United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education.

Project Syndicate, 2013.

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