The Transformative Power of Education

Education alone cannot solve all of the world’s problems, but it is a crucial part to the wider solution.

How powerful is education?
Some 171 million people could be lifted out of extreme poverty if every student in low-income countries finished school with basic reading skills, according to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

It is particularly important for girls. Research shows that an additional year of schooling can raise future wages for a woman by up to 20 percent. Girls who complete primary education are less likely to become teen mothers. Nearly 200,000 maternal deaths could be avoided if all girls completed primary education, according to one study. Other benefits include fewer child marriages, lower rates of HIV/AIDS and gains in gender equity.

“I have travelled the world and met people in many countries,” Malala Yousafzai said to the Canadian Parliament in April.

“I’ve seen firsthand many of the problems we are facing today — war, economic instability, climate change and health crises. And I can tell you that the answer is girls. Secondary education for girls can transform communities, countries and our world.”

The problem is that too many children are not going to school. More than 264 million children around the world are out of school – 130 million are girls. They range from the Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, to the children of subsistence farmers in rural Rwanda.

The good news is that more children go to school today that at any point in human history. The number of children not attending primary school fell by half between 2000 and 2013, despite a growing global population. It is an impressive feat.

But more money is needed if the world wants to achieve the goal of providing quality pre-primary, primary and secondary education to every child by 2030. Current spending falls short by $39 billion per year, according to the Global Partnership for Education. The group provides assistance to the countries with the greatest number of children out of school and is trying to increase its annual spending to $2 billion a year – still a fraction of the total needed to achieve universal education.

There is also more work to be done to ensure children not only go to school, but they learn while in the classroom. Students in some countries graduate primary school unable to read simple text nor perform basic arithmetic. Harvard University research Lant Pritchett has tracked the problem for years and even wrote a book on the problem.

“Schooling, however, is not the same as education,” Pritchett says.

“Few of these billion students will receive an education that adequately equips them for their future. The poor quality of education worldwide constitutes a learning crisis.”

One major problem is the priority placed on getting children into the classroom. The Millennium Development Goals, a set of global goals aimed at reducing problems associated with poverty, only called for increases in enrollment. The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals address the problem by including targets aimed at addressing problems like teacher quality and increased access to vocational training. They also emphasize the importance of girls’ education, namely calling for the elimination of gender disparities in education by 2030.

There is still a lot at stake when it comes to global education. It is hard to overstate the power of education in reducing poverty and inequity. Education can do many things beyond basic learning. For example, it helps lower youth unemployment and it can reduce discrimination against indigenous children.