Brad L. Brasseur explores the current problems in creating good education for the socio-economically disadvantaged in developing nations and looks at some of the solutions.
The United Nations recently claimed that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that focused on primary education increased global enrolment from 83% to 91%. Despite these gains, today it is estimated that 124 million children do not attend school and 757 million adults are illiterate.
The nearly one billion people without proper education is distressing as a good education is a proven foundation for alleviating poverty, sustainable economic progress, healthier lifestyle and enhanced social development. Inexplicably, the international community continues to fail the global socio-economically disadvantaged by not creating access to legitimate education programmes that allow them to conquer poverty.
The UN’s MDGs on education may have achieved some progress, but overall they were ineffective as they concentrated more on the quantity of education for children attending classes, rather than the quality of education at every age group.
Substandard education was highlighted in a UNESCO report that stated over 29 million children drop out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa each year. In many of these classrooms, class sizes are too large and teachers are unpaid, inexperienced, or have no training.
As a result of the poor quality of education, an uneducated parent is more focused on their short-term needs and neglects the long-term benefits of education and thus pulls their children out of school to work. This can be seen as a result of the UN not making great gains in improving adult education. Since the parents have not personally experienced an improvement in their quality of life resulting from education, they do not see the advantages for their children and thus remain trapped in the cycle of poverty.
Other education problems include: ineffective, outdated, or irrelevant curricula that do not teach students the most essential skills for success where they live. In addition, many children do not receive the correct nutrition to properly think as schools lack funding for food programmes. Such food programmes can also be an added incentive for enrolment, as a parent’s financial burden will be alleviated as their children will receive free food.
Fixing education in the developing world
In September 2015, the UN announced a revised set of goals, dubbed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which would include improving the quality of global education. This time around, the new goals are more broadly focused on all levels of education and aim to eliminate gender and wealth inequalities.
This is a step in the right direction toward achieving quality education. The UN’s new goals will involve increased investment in infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum development, classroom materials, technology, food programmes and lowering schools fees. Most importantly, the ultimate goal should be ensuring any programme is focused on learning, and not just attendance.
Today, no universal education model will work for every country, as each educational system must be adapted to the local and cultural dynamics that exist in every unique location. This means that national governments should give local leaders, parents, and teachers greater educational autonomy, including increased input in setting the curriculum in their region.
More emphasis needs to be put on teaching skills that are applicable for obtaining jobs in each specific region. Mineral-rich countries like Peru or the Democratic Republic of the Congo should put more value into teaching skills aimed at securing legitimate jobs in industries by developing better math, science or geography programmes that can produce engineers or geologists (some of Peru’s highest paid professions).
Education innovations can be part of the solution
There is hope for improving global education as successful innovative ideas are being used by many organisations, such as One Laptop per Child, who have developed and distributed millions of durable, economical, low-power laptops that allows rural children to digitally access updated textbooks, classes and information.
Also, in isolated rural areas, Internet problems have been solved by Alphabet’s Loon project (Google’s holding company) as they have developed technology that can supply Wi-Fi access to isolated rural areas by launching balloons into the sky. In fact, India is attempting such a project to combat their low Internet user rate and improve their education performance.
Plus, Bangladesh-based NGO BRAC, has been successfully providing quality education to the socio-economically disadvantaged with their non-formal primary education programme, which has a dropout out rate of less than 5%. In addition, they have a thriving adult education programme that puts emphasis on women by teaching them to read, write, and share their resources so they can successfully run businesses.
Another great innovator is The Economist 2015 innovation award-winner Bridge International, which has developed a low cost model for building nurseries and primary schools that deliver high quality education in East Africa.
These innovations can advance global education but need to be combined with increased global investment into the education sector. Corruption and the lack of knowledge of the importance of education means that governments are not investing enough money into their education sector and sometimes even spend more on their military.
Developed countries can also take some of the blame. Kevin Watkins, from Overseas Development Initiative, has previously stated that only two percent of yearly international global aid given to developing countries is invested into education. To combat this, countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and EU countries must put stricter conditions on their aid and make sure that it is invested effectively in the education sectors of developing countries.
Obviously, education is not the only solution to achieve sustainable human and economic development, but it is undoubtedly the foundation for true progress. In the next decades, with the help of increased investment and advances in technology, we have a great opportunity to give the world’s disadvantaged a quality education and, with it, the tools to alleviate poverty.
This article was originally published with Global Policy Journal on 4 January 2016.
Brad L. Brasseur is a Canadian international development specialist who has travelled to over 80 countries in the world, while working in several NGOs, including extended time on education programmes in Peru and Ukraine. You can follow him on twitter at: @brbrasseur.