NEW YORK — Global education can reduce poverty. Ahead of the U.N. High-Level Political Forum currently held in New York under the theme of “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world,” a UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) policy paper released last month broke down important facts in the inextricable relationship between education and poverty and saliently demonstrated how global education can reduce poverty.
The most striking fact of all? If all adults completed secondary school, 420 million people would be lifted out of poverty with global poverty cut into half. In fact, two-thirds of the reduction would be in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia alone, where a greater number of people have been dropping out of secondary schools.
It is easy to forget that poverty is an affliction with both monetary and non-monetary dimensions. From health care to sanitation to electricity, people experience many different forms of deprivations. In their struggle to move upward, those affected still have a mountain to climb. For many, obtaining an education at all remains a distant dream despite the fact that UNESCO has recognized education as “a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights.”
Sadly, the most promising group in the fight against poverty – the youth – are four times as likely to be out of school as children and twice as likely to be out of school as adolescents. Nearly 60 million people could escape poverty if adults had just two years of secondary school education.
If poverty is to be meaningfully addressed, education remains our best hope. Study after study has shown that classifications such as income disparities, productivity levels, labor demands and other economic indices can be mitigated by the provision of a quality education. By serving as a long-term investment in the futures of many lives, global education can reduce poverty.
As part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which envisions eradicating poverty by 2030, this new analysis by the UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report team was published in a paper titled, “Reducing global poverty through universal primary and secondary education.”
The paper compiled data from 1965 to 2010 to show the average effects of education on growth and poverty reduction in developing countries. If the current trends continue, it is estimated that 17 million children of the 61 million primary school age out-of-school children will never step foot inside a classroom.
Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, said the report showed “that we have a concrete plan to ensure people no longer have to live on barely a few dollars a day, and that that plan has education at its heart.” Education not only prepares the children of today to become the leaders of tomorrow but also inculcates in them the knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in a challenging world. Yet about 264 million youth, children and adolescents are out of school in the world today.
Already having to suffer the deprivation of hopes and crushing of dreams, young children are vulnerable to risks of a substandard livelihood and, sadly, simply ignorant of their choices and options.
This carries over to their adulthood when they will be inadequately equipped with the knowledge and foresight to grapple with problems of livelihood and provisions. Furthermore, they can be subject to exploitation in a labor market seeking to profit off the cheapest source of labor. Illiterate children are also the biggest sufferers of poverty, hunger, violence and exploitation.
Females face a particular disadvantage in the prevailing gender biases, stereotypes and discrimination and are more likely to be deprived of educational opportunities. While access to a good quality education empowers women and liberates them from limitations in a society, girls of primary school age are more likely to be out of school and thus be at a relative disadvantage compared to boys.
Girls of all ages have historically been excluded from education and continue to face considerable barriers to education in many countries, according to the report. This is particularly dispiriting because, once they begin their studies, girls are actually more likely than boys to complete their primary education and pursue secondary level studies.
The UIS data shows that the rate of exclusion for youth, children and adolescents has remained steady in recent years, despite progress in the last decade. Nigeria remains the country with the highest rates of out-of-school children and – together with Pakistan, India, Sudan, Indonesia, and Ethiopia – comprises six countries with more than one-third of all out-of-school children.
Other low-income countries such as Afghanistan, Niger and Burkina Faso, account for a disproportionately large share of out-of-school children, youth and adolescents as well as a generally higher out-of-school rate.
More than one out of four out-of-school children will never enter a classroom. Whether that is due to permanent exclusion, dropping out, or a failure of opportunity, is relatively immaterial. Not only is it certain that global education can reduce poverty, but education has also been a key predictor of success and the surest way to individual self-development, understanding and freedom. Eradicating poverty for all begins with education and its singular, forceful reach.
By enhancing the quality of life for households, communities and societies, education has the potential to effectively and meaningfully provide relief for the world’s poorest. Governments can and should do more to ensure that children and adults are afforded a cost-blind education unmatched in its quality and inclusion.
– Mohammed Khalid