Kids in the Tampa Bay area are excited about getting time off from school for the holidays. But 75 million kids around the world can only wish they could get into a school. Why should we care, and what should we do?
In this time of economic stress in our own country, how can anyone think about putting our money into foreign aid? Why would we spend our tax dollars to educate young girls and boys living in other countries?
Anyone who would suggest that the United States put $2 billion into a Global Fund for Education must be a fool. Well, I'm that fool.
Consider what education does for girls and boys, for their families, for their countries, and for us. According to President Barack Obama's economic adviser Larry Summers, "Investing in a girl's education yields a higher rate of return than any other foreign aid investment." On average, for a girl in a poor country, each additional year of education beyond grade four will lead to 20 percent higher wages and a 10 percent decrease in the risk of her children dying of preventable causes. A child born to an educated mother is more than twice as likely to survive to the age of 5 as a child born to an uneducated mother. Women with six or more years of education are more likely to seek prenatal care, assisted childbirth and postnatal care, reducing the risk of maternal and child mortality and illness.
Education is a prerequisite for short- and long-term economic growth. No country has achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without at least 40 percent of adults being able to read and write. Failing to offer girls the same educational opportunity as boys costs developing countries $92 billion each year, according to a study by Plan International.
Education nourishes peace. Save the Children finds that every year of schooling decreases a male's chance of engaging in violent conflict by 20 percent. The 9/11 Commission report stresses the link between strong U.S. leadership to eradicate extreme poverty and creating security: "We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors. America and Muslim friends can agree on respect for human dignity and opportunity. To Muslim parents, terrorists like bin Laden have nothing to offer their children but visions of violence and death. America and its friends have a crucial advantage — we can offer these parents a vision that might give their children a better future. … That vision of the future should stress life over death: individual educational and economic opportunity."
Former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson underscored the importance of education in fighting extremism in a 2008 Foreign Affairs article: "A crucial effort in fighting terrorism must be support for public education in the Muslim world, which is the best way to mitigate the role of those madrassas that foment extremism. Development alleviates the injustice and lack of opportunity that proponents of violence and terrorism exploit."
We can live in a world which is more secure, more able to care for itself, less likely to engage in hostile acts against us and others, and less likely to foster diseases which spread across borders. We can help failed nations lift themselves out of poverty and into peace and prosperity.
When Obama was running for office, he pledged to put $2 billion into creating a Global Fund for Education. Of course, the economy wasn't in such bad shape then, but I believe we should still lead the world in this effort. It isn't just altruistic. It's also a good investment for our own interest.
Ken Schatz of Tampa is a volunteer with RESULTS, a citizens lobby to create the public and political will to end poverty.