Two weeks ago I participated in one of the most engaging and enlightening dialogues of my life. Through an opportunity with my Wagner Introduction to Public Policy course, twenty of my peers and I sat a round table with the head seat filled by Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown. Questions on education, financial stability, healthcare coverage, global interaction, and overall productively on an international level kept the conversation going for a solid hour. In my opinion, the most remarkable point made by Gordon Brown, on global health versus global education, had me thinking for hours after the conversation ended. Gordon Brown stated how American corporations gave $7 billion to aid global health efforts last year. In that same year, American corporations gave only $500 million for enhancement of global education efforts. The point was made after a realization that the classroom was split with half of the Wagner students interested in health and half interested in education. The health students were primarily focused on global and international healthcare, while the education students were concentrating on domestic issues. It was surprising that the gap in interests of the students in our classroom were similarly correlated to the interests of American global aid as well. As students of the field we are aware that public health interventions are successful when education, resources, and cultural norms work together to benefit a local population. A direct example of the cyclic nature of education and poverty can be seen from the promising effects of education interventions that focus on ‘hand washing’ in communities of high rates of parasite diseases and diarrhoeal infections. Diarrhoeal and infectious diseases cause thousands of children to miss school. These diseases also cause adults to loose days of productive contribution to their societies. It is a stoppable cycle.
Gordon Brown also emphasized the point that in one day, around the world, 71 million children will not attend/have the capability to go to school. These thoughts lingered with me, and I decided to do some research on what is preventing aid and attention from reaching education efforts on an international scale. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were adopted by the international community placed focus on universal primary education and gender parity in school. However, according to a series of articles published by the Brookings Institution, the MDGs in education are unlikely to be accomplished due to the widespread reduction of support for education by bilateral aid and by multilateral donor contributions. There is a serious global learning crisis contributing to low literacy rates, a decrease in productivity and efficiency of workplaces, and increased poverty in many communities. With a lack of access and availability to quality education, the children and youth of developing countries are more likely to be malnourished, disease-prone, without access to healthcare, and therefore be pushed deeper into the cyclic nature of poverty. These problems are slowing our development goals, and have been seen to decrease life expectancy and worsen maternal and child health. The crisis is stifling economic growth and creating unstable societies, a fact which should be recognized by the business community. Corporations and the business world are “direct stakeholders in the quality of education of the world’s children and youth.” (1) Even though the business community is impacted by the technology, finances, and employee skills that are affected by the learning crisis, corporate aid is still inefficient and fragmented. There is a drastic need for action and collaboration among the global businesses to narrow the “talent gap in developing and emerging economies.” (1) Without appropriate interventions, we will not see any productive changes in the financial, social, and political stability of these nations.
Justin W. van Fleet with the Brookings Institution writes in his blog that we may need to search for “the Bill Gates of Global Education.” Research has been done on the 69 American billionaires that contribute to global philanthropy, however the results show that supporting education in developing countries is not a high priority. Money that is given to education is done so domestically. The billionaires of emerging economies such as Brazil and India are shown to give finances and resources for education, but critics say it is still unsystematic, not collaborative, and experimental.
To ensure cost effective outcomes of our foreign aid money and successfully promote global security and health efforts, we need quality basic education to reach the populations in need. What can be done for the global learning crisis to capture the eyes of philanthropy and foreign policy? How can we expect the health status of vulnerable communities to truly alter, when millions of children in these areas are not attending school?
1: Fleet, J. W. v. (2011). “The Case for a Global Business Coalition for Education.” Brookings Institution. from http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2011/09_global_business_coalition_vanfleet.aspx.