Gordon Brown on Eduction First
If there is one idea that inspires our modern world, it is that every child should have the opportunity to rise as far as their talents can take them. If there is one reality that exposes our failure to deliver, it is that where you come from still matters much more than where you are going.
New figures to be published next month will show that a total of 61 million girls and boys round the world are not going to primary school and that for them educational opportunity is a hollow promise. For the first time in decades progress has stalled and, despite the promises made in the second Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015, Africa is sliding backwards. Its out-of-school numbers have already worsened by 2 millions. On current global trends, there will still be 24 million children out of school in 2025, and education for all will be a distant dream until at least 2064. Contrary to accepted wisdom, we are not on an irreversible upward path to universal education. Indeed, when I visited South Sudan, the newest country in the world, where there are 150,000 girls aged 14,15 and 16, only 400 were at school. As these girls, and others, become connected globally while still denied education locally, their discontent will grow. Educational opportunity will become, in the words of Condoleezza Rice this month, the civil rights issue of our generation.
I have never believed in the politics of envy – that for the poor to do well the wealthy should do badly. But when the advantages of birth and background explain 8O% of global inequality, and we are doing little to change that; and while we fork out upwards of $100,000 - 250 times more - to school a western child to the age of 16, we invest just $400 - 250 times less in the schooling of her African counterpart.
Yet investment in educational opportunity does not only change individual lives: it transforms the prospects of nations. The brilliant minds that for centuries have tried to understand why some countries are rich and others poor – why, for example, Americans are 39 times richer than the Nepalese and 140 times richer than the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo – are now telling us that no nation can aspire to become a high-income country without education. While, in the past, academic attention has focused on whether what spurs us on or holds us back is geography, culture, technology, capital conflict or poor institutions, papers at this month’s Nobel Symposium in Stockholm on Growth and Development emphasize just how much the future wealth of nations will be determined by investing in education.
And extending educational opportunity is not just a moral and economic imperative; it is also a security imperative. When I visited a dilapidated run down aid funded school in Nigeria with children cramped together, three to one desk, I was told their pupils were deserting in droves for the free education offered in new buildings by a highly doctrinaire madrasa. We all lose if, by neglecting aid for education, we leave African and Asian children prey for the hateful indoctrination of religious extremists.
Next week Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will launch the Education First initiative that unites businesses, foundations, NGOs, governments, teachers, parents and pupils in a 1,000-day campaign to get every child into quality education by the end of 2015. As the new UN special envoy for Global Education I know that to succeed, we have to be bolder than ever before in battling prejudice, discrimination and exploitation. We have to tackle the culture that takes 10 million girls out of school to become child brides; outlaw the forced employment of 15 million under-twelves who are allowed to enter a classroom; and end the brutalization of untold numbers forcibly conscripted into armed groups, used by criminal gangs to perform illicit activities or sold into prostitution.
And yet there are also good grounds for believing that we can move quickly to make a difference Everywhere I go from Africa's biggest slum in Kibera, Kenya to the Dalit untouchable communities outside Delhi in India, I meet parents who understand that education is the foundation of their child's success. The mothers who had just crossed as refugees from Sudan into South Sudan told me that, while they certainly needed food shelter and security, what they wanted most for their children was education. And neither a scientific breakthrough nor a transformation in technology – but a revolution in political will - is required to train the two million more teachers and build the four million extra classrooms that we need. Of the 28 million children living in conflict areas and out of school, we can start the educational equivalent of the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières to take teachers and schoolbooks into the camps.
Can the education of a child in a poor country be seen as a worthwhile investment for a citizen of a rich country? No parent I meet would think that the $13.50 we give in annual educational aid for an African child is generous. I believe that we can persuade not only governments but the public to give more commitment equivalent to just a dollar a year from each of the one billion people who make up the developed world’s middle class. We could begin raising the first one billion in public subscriptions for action today. That’s just two cents a week in a final push so that we do not betray the Millennium promise we made to every child that they would be at school by 2016.
This year at the Olympics we have seen what investment in young people and their potential can achieve. When we now know what education can do not just for individuals but for whole countries, can we afford to deny the next generation their chance?