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Education: A Cross Cutting Issue

Tsunami waves have brought the worst in the lives of thousands of people. Over one hundred and fifty thousand people dead and thousands of others whose lives have been affected by this disaster. The silver lining in this grim situation is however, that a huge tide of sympathy and help came forth from all corners of the world. Since more tangible cooperation efforts are being designed in the form of long term rehabilitation programmes for Tsunami victims, it adds up to the value of development cooperation in a new dimension. It is also a sign that despite a strong market driven materialistic culture, the humane component is still a strong element in our societies even today. We can also hope for a better tomorrow for children by empowering them through education and learning. There are several bottlenecks in achieving Education For All goals which the international community has pledged to, but one cannot deny that while civil society is getting vocal and stronger, governments are being compelled to bring education into the global political agenda and above all the demand for Education as a basic human right is emerging fast from the masses which needs to be catered to. The Global March Against Child Labour and the Global Campaign for Education have been long advocating for the recognition of education as a fundamental human right for all people and that education be addressed as one of the key features or components of development.

 

“HIV/ AIDS is undoubtedly the greatest health threat that we, as a race, face today. An analysis by GCE suggests that if all children received a complete primary education, the economic impact of HIV/AIDS could be greatly reduced and around 700,000 cases of HIV in young adults could be prevented each year – 7 million in a decade."

This was one of the issues I raised at the Meeting of the High Level Task Force on Global Mapping and Implementation Plan of EFA, constituted by UNESCO in Paris on the 24 th - 25 th of January. Since education is largely perceived as a sectoral issue, it remains one of the many areas of focus for UNESCO and other UN agencies as well as a result of which it often doesn't get the priority that it needs. Similarly, education has remained a sectoral issue within various government departments as well. For instance, the ministries of social welfare, labour and finance work in a disjoint manner. Even the education ministries and department of education work in isolation. This problem is also seen in civil society at large. The result is that education is often perceived in isolation and a holistic solution to problems with education as the binding force to all is not sough.

 

s most you might be aware, the High Level Group on Education For All had been constituted in Dakar with the objectives of mobilising political will in favour of education, monitoring progress of EFA Goals and providing help in filling the financial gaps. The group in it's current form is structurally inappropriate to achieve these aims. It is far too large and diffused and consequently lacks clear objectives for it's meetings. Communiqués remain at the level of worthy rhetoric and there is no monitoring from one year to the next to check whether promises made have actually been implemented. The ineffectiveness of the HLG creates a political vacuum that weakens the momentum and profile of the EFA movement outside of a narrow community of education specialists.

 

To understand and define the spectrum of education holistically as also recognise it as a cross cutting issue with several inter-linkages, I suggested UNESCO take on a research and come up with comprehensive position papers for advocacy and inter – linkage purposes. These papers could be structured around the following points:

Investing in Education for Sustainable Development

Sustainable development as a concept is hard to define. Like many other issues within development it can be interpreted in many ways and needs to be contextualised keeping the cultural, social and economic environment of a place in mind. But broadly a few features it would incorporate would be development for the present, but not at the cost of the future and certainly something that is planned anticipating long term needs, economic growth, conservation of natural resources, adequate education and health facilities for all, equitable access to food and safe drinking water and peace and stability across the world. Education for sustainable development would actually mean investing in systems of education and curricula that support and ensure all of the above. In December 2002, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to put in place a UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, lasting from 2005 to 2014. UNESCO was tasked with leading the Decade and developing a draft International Implementation Scheme (IIS). This is a wonderful opportunity for us to ensure that education is laid as the foundation for sustainable development and a future in which environmental, societal, and economic considerations are balanced in the pursuit of development and improved quality of life.

Investing in Education for Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction

t is difficult to talk about poverty reduction without talking about economic growth in the same breath. Poverty reduction or eradication for that matter pre-supposes economic growth for all, but it is not always vice- versa. And therein lies the challenge. To ensure that economic growth takes place in an equitable manner within a community or nation for it to be effective in reducing poverty. I think the role of education towards increasing economic growth and thereby reducing poverty is one that has been elucidated for many centuries and something that needs no further debate. No country or society can achieve overall economic growth without ensuring quality education in the era of this knowledge based economy. Distribution of the fruits of globalization, if any, very much depends on sharing of knowledge and information which would be possible only through the universalisation of education. Some of the most powerful evidence comes from East Asia, where research by the World Bank found that primary-school enrolment rates in 1960 were almost twice as important as investment levels in explaining the subsequent growth performances of South Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In South Korea , the formula was simple, to invest in schools and education before investing in industry, manufacturing and trade. The high levels of education among the citizens they thus achieved, meant that people were automatically in a position to use more sophisticated technologies and therefore able to increase their individual earning capacity and the country's economic growth.

 

Investing in Education for Social and Gender Justice

A lot of talks are on around the issues of social justice, both in economic and political contexts in a number of countries. Issues relating to dalits, ethnic minorities, indigenous people, adivasis and other socially excluded communities are gaining significance. Over a period of time is has been observed that those people from the above-mentioned groups and social strata who were able to obtain good quality mainstream education were empowered in the process. They were then able to raise the isues pertaining to these groups and lead the process of ensuring social justice, in the process diluting the process of social exclusion. India is a case in point for this. Gender based discrimination is also closely linked with education. Out of the total number of out of school children in the world, two-third are girls. Losing out on education gets translated into other disadvantages later in their lives, such as lack of access to information, economic stability, proper health care, food, water and sanitation. Educating girls on the other hand has a far reaching impact and results in improved maternal and child health care, a more likely next generation of learners and educated children, good food habits, sanitation and hygiene and increased life expectancy. Not to mention the fact that it will create a community of knowledge empowered women, who are aware of their rights and able to lead a productive life. The State of Kerala in India is a good example of how educating women positively impacts a community. One of the distinguishing features of Kerala's development was the early promotion of female literacy. When compared with other states in India , Kerala is found to have much higher rates of life expectancy among children and women, improved public health services and a literacy rate of 86% among women.

Investing in Education towards the prevention of HIV/ AIDS

HIV/ AIDS is undoubtedly the greatest health threat that we, as a race, face today. An analysis by GCE suggests that if all children received a complete primary education, the economic impact of HIV/AIDS could be greatly reduced and around 700,000 cases of HIV in young adults could be prevented each year – 7 million in a decade. What is a cause for concern are the other threats that HIV / AIDS poses to already impoverished people and communities in terms of the high cost implications, losing out on means of livelihood etc. While education cannot be cited as the only solution to HIV/ AIDS, it is most certainly one of the key factors or tools that could be used towards combating it, especially in the case of women and girls. Research has shown that educated women are able to use the information they receive on the subject to make choices that are preventive in nature. For instance, the proportion of women who do not know that HIV infection can be transmitted to children is three times higher for uneducated women than for educated women, while the proportion believing that there is no way of avoiding HIV/AIDS is four times higher. Education among young girls and boys or adolescents also empowers them with information that then translates into behavioral changes among them, effectively reducing their chances of contracting the disease. There is therefore, a clear need to use education as an effective tool to put brakes on this epidemic, which is spreading like wildfire.

 

Investing in Education for Peace and Stability

The World today is full of conflict and violence. A majority of countries in the world allocate a large portion of their annual budgets towards military expenditure, which far exceeds their annual expenditure on education, health or any other fundamental right. Their justification for doing so is the need to keep their country secure, it's borders secure from external threat, or in some cases expend the money in resolving internal conflict. If this money was spent on educating the people in the first place, my belief is that there would be no need to have such large sums spent on warfare and warfare technology. Here again, education can play a vital role. Educating people for peace and stability is a process that urgently needs to be put in place in what is now nothing more than a global village. Educating people on ethnic and religious differences, teaching them to appreciate and respect cultural differences, understanding the need for international co-operation and solidarity, respect for human rights and struggle against all forms of discrimination are issues that need to be included in Education systems worldwide. Education also empowers people to understand their rights, and most importantly to think, and therefore needs to be free of any form of religious indoctrination. When the state and society as a whole fail to provide quality mainstream education for all, it is the people from poor communities who are vulnerable to the influence of fundamentalists who target them by appealing to their religious sentiments. There are reports from Madrasas in India and Pakistan , that under the garb of providing education, the children are in fact subject to religious indoctrination and later turn into extremists. This holds true of other religions like Hinduism and Sikhism as well. Quality mainstream education, which inspires a child to think, to judge between what is right and wrong is a sure shot way to combat terrorism. I have been arguing for long that gone are the days when problems relating to conflict, violence and terrorism are localised. There are many examples, but if we take the example of 9/11, it is clear that issues born in one corner of the world don't take much time to reach the rest of the world and shake us out of our slumber. It proved that no nation is safe from terrorism and that problems and solutions cannot be looked at in isolation without keeping the global perspective in mind. Peace, therefore, is no longer Piecemeal. It is a global challenge and must be addressed collectively with education being one of the key tools

 

Investing in Education for Effective Democracy and civic participation

Which leads us to the relationship between education and democracy. Many of the gains achieved from education results from the fact that education empowers people, enabling them to exercise greater choice and to exert more control over the events that shape their lives. It is only an educated and informed citizenry who will have the right skills to make an appropriate choice of their political leadership and participate actively in an effective democratic process. Constitutions and laws set up a framework of operation for a country, but what gives it it's functionality is when the citizens are aware of their so called ‘Rights' and the laws and are therefore able to use them for their benefit. And that will only be possible, when people are empowered with this knowledge which can only come through education.

Investing in Education for the protection of Child Rights

Finally we come to the issue of Education for child rights. This is an issue that is very close to my heart, something that I have personally struggled with for over 25 years. Every child is born with equal rights. The rights of each human being are non-negotiable and cannot be altered by economic and social status of individuals. Education or the right to quality education is a fundamental right of all people, and most certainly for children. There cannot be any debate about a government being too poor to provide education, or to say that some children, who cannot afford education, can be excluded from their obtaining their rights. Various parties including the state, community and parents responsible for ensuring child rights, if not well informed and educated, can never create a societal culture wherein the rights of children are respected. On the other hand, if free, meaningful, child friendly and compulsory education is not provided for, along with the creation of adequate infrastructure and resources, children can never achieve not only their right ot education but any of their other rights as well. As far as educating children to ensure that they have access to their other rights of health care, a happy and safe environment conducive to their development, adequate nutrition etc, I think the points I have made above say it all. Suffice to say, that children are our future, and education is the foundation that helps them build their future. Without it they will be lost.

In conclusion I will say that I have given only a sketchy framework on the importance of seeing education as a cross cutting issue and a pivotal one at that. Many of my colleagues in the Global March and the Global Campaign on Education would probably have a better and deeper understanding, thinking and knowledge on the subject. I think it would certainly be very relevant and useful, if as readers of this piece, you would like to add to it any way and give your comments on the subject. Do write back to us at childhood@globalmarch.org to share your views.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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