Placing Fundamental Before Right
“Education should train the child to use his brains, to make for himself a place in the world and maintain his rights even when it seems that society would shove him into the scrap-heap.” — Helen Keller, “Going Back to School,” The Home Magazine, September 1934
This article is the continuation of a mini-series focused on innovative solutions to create an educated and a more humane world. If you have not read my introduction titled “The Unifinished Classroom”, read it here. This article will introduce readers to the present state of education worldwide and the diversity of challenges that the developed and developing world faces.
Many Stars Need to Align
It is October and winter has arrived in the city of St. Louis like clockwork. The cold reminds me that it takes the love of my family to keep me warm. On a Friday evening in October, I could not help but brood as the sky turned dark and the day turned into night. But, I was excited as well. I was on my way to a TEDx talk organized by a not for profit TEDx-Gateway Arch. For those not familiar with the term TED, it stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It is a series of talks delivered by experts in their respective fields to spread ideas and spark growth.
As I listened to Marcus Adrian, an architect in the firm of Mackey Mitchell Architects in downtown St Louis, I realized the complexity of designing living and learning spaces for children i.e. schools. It takes more than four walls to make a home and a school needs great design to foster collaboration and to allow children to blossom.
Even before that, the conditions to enable a willing mind and an environment supportive of education need to be created. It all begins by never forgetting that the word ‘fundamental’ precedes the word ‘right’ when it comes to education.Think about it: nearly 130 million girls across the world have no access to education. Worse yet, the conditions that enable access to education have to be created and then brought on par with the rest of the world. You might say this is something we already know. However, there are 3 reasons that inspire me to spread awareness about illiteracy:
a) it does not take a lot of digging to figure out that most of the social and political issues plaguing the modern world today are driven by inequality
b) one of the best ways to root out financial inequality is to empower people through education so they can be financially self reliant and,
c) As Richard Thaler says, it takes a constant nudge to inspire the right actions. Consider this article a ‘nudge’ to start thinking about solutions including utilizing Education Technology (EdTech)
The Atlas of Illiteracy
As the debate for gender equality rages on, women share a disproportionate burden of getting left behind. In addition, areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have a greater incidence of illiteracy.
63% of illiterate adults aged 15 and younger are women. This puts the figure at 473 million of a total of 750 million adults.
Poverty is the leading cause of illiteracy. Adults would prefer working than study to support a family. Other conditions such as illiterate parents, inaccessible or hard to reach schools, lack of money and poorly implemented education programs. While billions can be channeled into investment and billions of dollars are lying around as cash, it is surprising that programs that provide vocational education are poorly funded.
In addition, lack of electricification in some parts of the world, a mindset that does not focus on educating the girl child which is further enhanced by local culture and societal practices.
In addition to these challenges, technology has created a digital divide and has aggravated job displacement. There are also local differences in levels of education and employment within countries.
The bottom line is that an education or in some countries — a different education that directly leads to work such as that in small business or cottage industries with a bonus provided for studying over the weekend or even at night could be a possible solution. However, it is easier said than done.
Teachers compensation is key to creating a fertile learning experience as the experience of the OECD shows:
The Right Kind of Vocational Education is Hard To Achieve
Illiteracy is more pronounced in South Asia particularly India and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Not surprisingly, the countries with the least literate population include Soth Sudan, Mali, Afganistan, Niger, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Chad and Ethiopia. Africa also represents the young workforce of the future. There is a danger that outsourcing of manufacturing could result in shortchanging the future. For instance, The MIT Technology Review reports that: as Artificial Intelligence (AI) progresses, employment in India’s Information Technology (IT) services sector declines precisely because the jobs displaced by AI are the ones that were outsourced. The challenge, therefore, will be to impart skills that can allow adults to keep their day jobs while supplementing those skills with coding, data science and machine learning to make them future ready:
Making sure the basic skills required for employability are met before providing additional education. Setting up a global fund that incentivizes the right education can be a solution. A basic income that is not predicated on a minimum effort could create social upheaval. Teaching As A Service (TaAS) can be provided, by people displaced by jobs in the western countries, to people in the lesser developed nations. In return, these teachers can be given basic income. Blockchains can record donations made to the fund and make sure there is treaceability.
Slow Down To Accelerate
On the surface, what appears as political tension is actually a symptom of a deeper malaise — unemployment and inequality. Now, more than ever, there is a need for global co-operation on creating a universally accepted curriculum that will lead to direct employment with a bonus to hone skills needed in the future. Public-private partnership is indispensable.
In public discourse, there is disproportionate attention given to issues and not so much to solutions and changing the mindset. Technology has already created a ‘metal collar’ worker that is taking jobs away. Paradoxically, automation is clearly visible but it’s effects are not perceived by many. I am not an alarmist but I prefer being proactive.
It is time to reclaim the future of humans as a species by coming together just as our ancestors — the homo sapiens did. The common story binding us would be a crusade for hope and a brighter future. As it always was.
The next article will discuss the alternative forms of education, technological innovations and the individuals creating out of the box solutions to tackle illiteracy. We all need to slow down to sharpen the proverbial axe, focus on creating the right solutions before we strike the rot called inequality.