Unrealistic Expectations

Global Citizen has called on all people to petition their governments to fund the Global Partnership for Education, what they call “the only multilateral partnership dedicated to putting primary-aged children into school for quality education.” From the article/press release found on Education International’s news section, we learn that a key way to raise awareness of this campaign was the Global Citizen Festival, a concert that promises a 3-step experience: “Watch Live/ Take Action/ See Impact.” I am going to be critical of the approach these organizations have taken to solving global educational inadequacies, and the public image they see as appropriate to raise the mentioned funds (which I will assume is not a misunderstanding of the issue, but an intentional simplification for fundraising reasons).

In the first article above, Global Citizen quotes a UNESCO figure of $26 billion as the cost to “put every child in school by 2015.” First of all, this is simply untrue: this figure refers to the funding gap UNESCO has identified in low-income countries only, as seen in this press release from UNESCO’s Media Services. This of course does not include middle- and even upper-income countries, where there are not-insignificant numbers of children out of school. To be fair, UNESCO itself is inconsistent with these figures: their page on “reaching out-of-school children” makes no mention of the distinction. Also, low-income countries, being most affected by a large number of out of school children, should be the focus of these efforts.

I have two main criticisms of these efforts, though I am leaving behind a host of nitpicky ones. Firstly, GC sees children’s education as important because it is “one of the biggest steps we can take toward ending extreme poverty.” This is echoed in EI’s press release when they provide a short list of world leaders who have “joined the call to end poverty.” Of course it is! Education is a powerful tool, and poverty is unquestionably undesirable. But I would have very much liked to see education touted as a human right, a window to the world, a central capability, or any of the other inherent aspects of a quality education. It is not just a doorway to an economically prosperous future, but to so much more. The author tempers this sentiment by saying that education is an investment that can bring about social change and allows people to reach their full potential, though still within an economic framework.

Secondly, in the next paragraph of that same article is this bewildering phrase: “We know what it takes and how much it will cost.” Forgive the sarcasm, but if Global Citizen knows the secret to global quality education for all and they are hiding it from everyone else, we need to call Tom Cruise and get him to rappel down into whatever secret vault they’re keeping it in. “We know what it takes?” No, we don’t. Definitely don’t. There are a thousand competing ideas about everything from how to train teachers, how to fund education, the subjects to be taught, and even the way classrooms should be laid out! This sort of hubris pervades these articles: we know how to fix this problem if only governments would step up and give us the money to do it.

So what is the connection to girls’ education, other than that girls are obviously affected by this? Firstly, they are disproportionately affected: in this video on UNESCO’s “reaching out-of-school children” page makes the point to mention that “poor, rural girls are most likely” to not be in school. Secondly, as quoted in the Education International article, GPE CEO Alice Albright is quoted as saying “Girls are being killed for going to school.” The most famous recent example is Malala Yousafzai, as covered by Laura here on ED4GIRLS. This is obviously an extreme example of how girls are intentionally kept out of school, but they fail to mention child marriage, girls’ home-based labor, and plain sexism as contributing, though less news-worthy, factors.

On Global Citizen’s About page, they use a phrase I have no problem with: “we need to learn and take action to change the rules that trap [those in extreme poverty] in broken systems.” Here it is – this is a supremely complex issue that requires systemic change across a broad range of issues, governments, cultures, and peoples. The fact that 57 million children are not in basic education programs is not one that can be solved by an injection of $26 billion, or any other amount. And certainly not in 2 years.

Education International. (2013, October 22). GPE launches campaign to get every child into school. Retrieved October 22, 2013 from http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/2727

Global Citizen. (2013, October 2). Call on world leaders to fully fund education world-wide. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://www.globalcitizen.org/Content/Content.aspx?id=dc404fd0-99dc-46ef-b50e-061df4b8b088

Global Citizen. (n.d.). About Global Citizen. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.globalcitizen.org/AboutUs/AboutUs.aspx?typeId=15

UNESCO. (2013, June 5). 57 Million children out of school. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft5sDJG054w

UNESCO. (2013, June 10). Reaching out-of-school children. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/reaching-oosc.aspx

UNESCO Media Services. (n.d.). Funding gap for education growing, according to new figures released by UNESCO. Retrieved October 25, 2013 from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/in-focus-articles/funding-gap-for-education-growing-according-to-new-figures-released-by-unesco-study-also-proposes-ways-to-close-it

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