Global Challenges | Education Part I

A recent report published by UNESCO, the United Nation’s educational, scientific and cultural body, said that 25% of young people in developing countries are unable to read. This situation is creating what the UN call’s a “legacy of illiteracy”. Furthermore, the report points out that 125 million children, who have spent at least four years in school, are not learning basic reading and maths skills. All this has lead us, in 2017, to what is called a “global learning crisis”, and this has incredible costs for developing countries, and in a broader perspective, for the whole world. What’s more disappointing is that, in 2000, the World Education Forum summit, held in Dakar, Senegal, identified six global goals to meet the learning needs of all children and adults by 2015. These goals are far from being achieved. Although there seems to be willingness from the international community to solve this huge issue, the results are just not there. So, is this another case of Political ideology unable to conduct a real change in the real world for real people?

It has been commented, by many specialists in the field, that for a variety of reasons, UNESCO has lost a lot of its leadership capability that it first had at the time of its foundation, at the end of WWII, up until the 1980s. Two main reasons explain this situation. First, as many Supra-governmental organizations over the past decades, UNESCO has seen a strong increase in politicization, which strongly influences its decisions and creates many inefficiencies in its operations. Second, and more importantly, it has suffered a resource issue, largely caused by the non-payment of approximately $130 million dues by the USA as a response to the organisation’s admission of Palestine in its ranks. Again, politics seem to remain more important to international leaders than people in real need around the world. As one would say, sad, very sad!

New Education System

But, on a positive note, many developing countries are relying less and less on these international organisations, whom are not working efficiently to solve the educational issue. In fact, many of these countries have committed themselves to much more than simply achieving universal primary education. They are looking to expand the concept of universal education, so it can include secondary education, and for several countries, there’s willingness to develop a new basic education system much more relevant to their own realities, and not those of western countries.

In light of this introduction on the issue of education, we will push our thoughts in three main directions for this first article of our series on the seven global challenges (See article called The seven global challenges if you haven’t read it). First, we will try to understand exactly why education is important for our global community. Secondly, we will dive in the details of the actual issues concerning education around the world. Finally, since we, at Humble Dreamer, are solution focused, we will look at a few solutions that have already been implemented by a few social businesses and organisations invested in solving the education challenge that we collectively face as a global community of human beings.

Why is Education Important?

To start, let’s make sure we understand why education is so important to our global society. Not only are the early years in a human’s life, from prenatal stages up to about 8 years old, are hugely important for supporting holistic development and preparing the child’s future life, but without the basic fundamental tools acquired through education during infancy, a person can literally be handicapped for its entire life. Especially in the modern world that we’ve created in which reading, counting and thinking skills are more crucial than ever for one’s survival. We can agree that it is, for most of us, common sense that education is truly important. But let’s explore three key arguments that explain why education is an important challenge to solve.

First Argument is Human Right

First, and this is the most important argument, education, and especially elementary education, is a human right, point blank. It was enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of the most fundamental rights of any human being. But for some, this argument is not sufficient, as it is irrelevant to the economic environment, which is the all mighty standard for many people blinded by the capitalistic society values. For those, we need to pull out a second argument, an economic one that focuses on the fact that education, especially at the elementary level, results in increased productivity and leads to economic growth. Thus, education is essential for economic development. Finally, if these two arguments were not already sufficient, a third one has recently been developed to complement the rights and the economics argument on why education is important. This powerful argument was exposed by Amartya Sen, a world-renowned philosopher, and it is called the capabilities argument. He says that individuals can only reach their full potential, in other words their inherent capabilities, if they are equipped by education to do so. As he argues that the possibility of reaching one’s full potential should be the element that makes us all equal as human beings, if one is not offered basic education, society is putting that particular individual at a serious disadvantage compared to others. That is why education is so important for each and every single human being.

The Importance of Education

Before we move on to the numerous issues surrounding the state of education in today’s world, we want to offer a few more facts that demonstrate the importance of education. It has been proved that educated girls and women are much less vulnerable to HIV infections, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. As well, educated girls are more likely to marry later and have fewer children. Thus, education has a direct impact on health, demography (population) and human rights, three of the seven global challenges. Quite significative.  Furthermore, children that are born to educated mothers are much less likely to be stunted or malnourished. To be exact, each extra year of maternal education helps reduce the child mortality rate by 2%, which is huge. Staying with the extra year of education logic, did you know that in developing, low-income countries, every additional year of education potentially increases a person’s future income by an average of 10%. Talk about a way of alleviating poverty! And if the income is earned by women, it has been demonstrated that they re-invest 90% of their income into their families, as opposed to 30-40% for men. To sum up, by focusing on education, it has been proved that 4 other global challenges can directly be partially solved. With what we have just seen, it is quite hard to deny that an educated world is a much more healthy and humane world for us all, whether we live in the richest or in the poorest nations of earth.

What Are the Issues?

In this section, we will explore all the small issues concerning education that once summed up, give rise to what has been called “the global learning crisis”. We feel that this method can be helpful to anyone who would want to focus on a specific “sub-issue” of the larger education issue, as often we are faced with a huge task, and feel paralyzed. Thus, by breaking the issue down, it can help our community to take action and build innovative social businesses focused on solving these “sub-issues”.

The Lack of Funding

The fundamental issue of education in developing countries is a lack of funding. No surprises here. But the challenge has become worse in the past few years. In 2010, there was a peak in aid for education, but since, there has been a global decrease in funding for education. The ripple effect of this situation is that the major share of funding has been going to the neediest low-income countries, while the not so poor, but still poor countries, have seen a drastic decrease in their aid towards education. The issue of funding is quite obvious, so let’s look closer at some of the smaller issues concerning global education, which can give us a direction of where to look for innovative, entrepreneurial solutions.

Shortage of  Qualified Teachers

One of the main issues resulting from the lack of funding towards education in developing countries is the shortage of teachers, or in many cases, a shortage of qualified teachers at the elementary level. Globally, the UN estimated a need of 1.6 million additional new teachers around the world to achieve universal primary education by 2015, which has failed to be accomplished. Furthermore, it has evaluated that in a third of our world’s countries, less than 75% of teachers were trained to national standards. The author of the UN’s recent report that we mentioned at the beginning of this article, Pauline Rose, points out that many developing countries have rapidly increased their teacher numbers by hiring people without training in order to achieve objectives set by the UN. Although it helps get more children in school, it has a negative impact on the quality of education given to these children. As she mentions, “What’s the point in an education if children emerge after years in school without the skills they need?”. This is yet another classic case, that we see sadly too often in our rapidly growing economic word, of an increase in quantity, but a decrease in quality. And when it relates to education, it is not a good trade-off!

Overcrowded Classroom

Another issue that many children face in developing countries, even if they have a qualified teacher, is often having an overcrowded classroom, or one that is falling apart, or even in many cases, having no classroom at all. This is a problem that is experienced in many sub-Saharan African countries and it greatly affect children’s capacity to learn and concentrate. In Malawi, the average is about 130 children per classroom in grade 1. That ratio just doesn’t make sense.

Lack of Learning Materials

For other children in developing nations, the classroom is not the issue, it is rather the lack of learning materials. For many, the only textbooks they have access are outdated and worn-out textbooks. Those are often shared by several students at the same time. In Tanzania, only 3.5% of all grade 6 children have sole use of a reading textbook, and in Cameroon, there are 11 primary school students for every reading textbook and 13 for every grade 2 mathematics textbook. Efforts are being done to remedy this situation, but a lot remains to do. This represents an interesting social business opportunity for motivated and inspired entrepreneurs.

Disrespect of Human Rights

Another set of reasons that deny children access to education in developing countries are based on the disrespect of human rights. Indeed, in many countries, children with physical and mental disabilities are simply denied the right to have an elementary education. For another set of human beings, it is simply being of the “wrong” gender that denies them the right of receiving an education. It is estimated that over 100 million young women living in developing countries are unable to read a single sentence. In some countries, where poverty forces families to choose which of their children will go to school, boys are often prioritized due to the belief that there’s less value in educating a girl than a boy. Instead, girls are sent to work or made to stay at home to look after siblings and contribute on household chores. We can all agree that these girls should have the same opportunities as any other child to receive an elementary education, at the least.

None Avoidable Related Sub-Issues 

Finally, some of the other “sub-issues” related to the “global learning crisis” are not easily avoidable. For many, the fact of living in a country in conflict or at risk of conflict is sufficient to deny them access to education. In 2011, it was evaluated that around 50% of all of the world’s out-of-school children were living in countries affected by conflict. Hard to go to school when bombs are blasting around you! For others, it simply is the fact that their home is really far from school. It is thus the distance from home to school that becomes an obstacle for them to receive an education. Hunger and poor nutrition is another huge obstacle for children living in poverty. Indeed, it is quite hard to concentrate when the only meal you had in the morning was some fresh air. If all the issues we have previously seen were not enough, one last obstacle affects quite a lot of children in developing countries. It is the expense of education when it comes to informal fees. Although in many countries education is theoretically free, parents are faced with informal fees to pay for “compulsory items” such as uniforms, books, pens, exam fees or even funds to support the school building. For the poorest families, even though formal fees for education are covered by the state, these informal fees are simply too much to cover, so their children cannot attend school, and the cycle sadly continues.

Global Challenges - Education Part II

We, at Humble Dreamer, never stop our thought process at the problems. Although we explore in depth what are the issues, to have a clear understanding of a situation, we always conclude our thought effort with solutions, business solutions. And this is precisely what we will do with this article. In the second part of this article, we will offer an in-depth perspective at some real, effective solutions that are already doing a lot to solve some of the “sub-issues” of the global education challenge. Therefore, if you have been moved by what you have just read, make sure to read part II of this article that will focus on what are the solutions. You might read about ideas that you have already thought on your own, and be inspired by social entrepreneurs who have taken on themselves to create social initiatives aimed at fixing the “global learning crisis”.

By Tobi Rodrigue

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