Educating the Poverty Away
Thursday, May 17 2012
Since the Global Financial Crisis, worldwide poverty levels have shifted. Today, more than double the population of Australia live in poverty in the United States.
A similar picture of growing inequality has been mirrored in the United Kingdom, where income inequality has risen faster than any other developed nation since the mid-1970s. In April 2012, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Jonathan Sentamu, expressed concerns that Britain has a “vision of poverty.” Consequently, it has never been more pressing to protect, rather than cut, education budgets. Economic prosperity cannot come from an underfunded education system, which is the risk that both the U.S. and Britain are entertaining. Whilst maintaining a well-funded education system, developed nations must not, in a challenging economic climate, lose sight of their commitment to education in Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs) via the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).
One need only look to LEDCs where poverty is endemic and comprehend the magnitude of ensuring comprehensive primary education by 2015; education budgeting in the West is offensive by comparison. UNICEF contend, in their report The Global Financial Crisis: poverty and social protection that the GFC will only “exacerbate poverty and inequality and undermine progress towards the Millennium Development Goals [of which MDG Target 2.A is to ensure universal primary education]”. Whilst this may appear alarming, the World Bank’s latest data suggest a decline in poverty in the developing world and a fulfilment of the MDG of halving world poverty ahead of schedule. Moreover, MDG Target 7.c—to halve the proportion of those without access to safe drinking water—has been met in advance of the 2015 deadline. Whilst this is welcome news and testament to partial commitment to the MDGs, approximately twenty-two per cent of the world still lives on less than $1.25 per day. Furthermore, hope is waning for the education target to be met by 2015. Most do not dispute the goal of increasing median incomes in developing countries as a vehicle to remove individuals from poverty. All too often, however, education is undervalued or sidelined as a key element in this process.
It would seem that the global economic model is innately inept at dealing with both domestic and international poverty. Hans Baer, Senior Lecturer of Population Health at the University of Melbourne, told Farrago: “the capitalist world economy is full of so many contradictions that it is imperative … the world move onto an alternative world system, one based upon social parity and environmental sustainability … for me, a critical anthropology of the future calls for moving onto something better for humanity and the planet.” An alternative system could place greater emphasis on education as the vehicle of social equality and as a platform for environmentally sustainability. An alternative world system is little more than an aspiration at present. Crucially, developed nations have the fundamental pricinple of universal primary education right. The current world system can be used to achieve greater justice through a universal education system. And it can be achieved by 2015. Working towards MDG Target 2.A should be intensified and developing nations should look to education as a more serious contender in fighting poverty.
Gordon Brown, former prime minister of the UK, has been a longstanding proponent of universal education. Brown’s campaign, Education Without Borders, harks back to Labour 1997 election manifesto in which education was a cornerstone. “Education, education, education”, Tony Blair espoused for Britain’s rickety state education system. Blair’s alter ego is now campaigning for primary education in all countries, irrespective of the barriers created by armed conflict, a feat far harder to achieve than patching up a leaky roof in a Leeds comprehensive. Education, however, is fundamental not only to the future prosperity of a nation, but to divert children away from crime and violence. Less than two per cent of humanitarian aid is given to education and it is time for the international community to take education more seriously. In the Congo, where civil war rages and the education system is in disarray, over one million children are out of school, representing a serious impediment to the future of the volatile, landlocked nation. As a University of Melbourne law tutor recently told Farrago: “I think education is an incredibly important vehicle for helping a country develop. In … the Congo, a stronger education system is one element (amongst many) that would help the country develop. The difficulty lies in how to achieve a better education system during … conflict.”
It is clear that the global economic system is not naturally adept to solving poverty, but an alternative model is unlikely to establish itself overnight. This is why education requires greater attention from UN members. A disregard for the role of education fundamentally breaches the rights of the individual, stymies the economic future of a country and resigns millions to a life of economic and social disadvantage. Developed nations should use their representation at the UN and other supranational assemblies to further encourage education in LEDCs as part of a piecemeal solution to weaken the hold of poverty. Education allows the full development of the human mind and is key in fostering respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Few could deny a child their formative years and that is why this important issue must be fought as a key method for tackling poverty.