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Education for All… Before Graduation?

 

Courtesy of: Misty Novitch

 

 Can you imagine not being able to count money, read a book, or write your name? What hope would you have? Would you feel much self-worth? For Emory students, imagining a life without education is just a disturbing exercise. For the world’s poorest children, however, being able to read and do math is often just a fantasy.

Seventy-five million children worldwide, most of them poor, girls, or AIDS orphans, lack access to basic education. Their greatest barrier to education is school fees, charged by many poor governments at the behest of the World Bank and IMF beginning in the 1980s. Instead of generating revenue to repay the debt of poor countries to the rich world, however, this failed policy has kept the most vulnerable children out of school.

Educating kids, especially girls, may be the greatest tool for sustainable development. Girls in poor countries who complete 6th grade are 50% less likely to contract HIV/AIDS , and each year of schooling past 3rd or 4th grade leads to 20% higher wages and a 10% decrease in the risk of preventable death in their own children. A nation has never attained swift, sustained economic growth without a level of adult literacy at 40% or higher.

The world has long recognized the imperative of basic education. In 2000, all UN members nations promised to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which target extreme poverty. One of these MDGs is universal primary education completion by 2015. To achieve this goal, all seventy-five million kids have to gain access to school this year.

The World Bank, recognizing the futility of user fees for basic services for the poor, has since developed the Fast-Track Initiative (FTI) to help poor countries ramp up their education systems. Poor countries need extra economic support (for buildings, books, teachers, lunches, etc.) for the influx of children that will come to school. When Kenya removed school fees in 2003, a million more kids came to school in the 1st week.

The FTI is a good start but insufficient to get all those kids in school this year. President Obama has called for a Global Fund for Education (GFE), modeled on the successful Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM). This GFE would adopt the accountability, scale, coordination, and country ownership of the GFATM to keep pace with the immensity of the problem. This kind of fund, armed with Obama’s proclaimed US funding of $2 billion a year, would leverage aid money from others donors and coordinate and monitor disbursement of funds.

To create this GFE and get all kids in school this year, we need public and political will. In Georgia, Senator Isakson is committed to global basic education, but he is hesitant to support US spending. However, spending now on strategic programs at the scale needed with prioritized accountability mechanisms prevents spending later in terms of military escapades or continued foreign aid. If given the chance to hear the logic and the community permission to spend, Isakson would likely support and even lead on this effort to create a Global Fund for Education.

Local activists from RESULTS, a grassroots citizens’ lobby working to end hunger and poverty using proven solutions, are building community support to inspire Isakson to serve as the republican leader in creating this GFE. “It’s like Roosevelt said: ‘I want to do it, now make me do it,” says Benn Herr, RESULTS activist, “All they need is ‘permission.’ So let’s give it to them!”

One strategy of RESULTS is to reach out to community institutions. Since the global soccer community is supporting basic education, culminating in the World Cup 2010, local RESULTS activists are working with the Atlanta Silverbacks, Atlanta’s professional soccer team, to spread awareness about the need to educate children and encourage Isakson and other members of Congress to sponsor legislation in Congress forwarding a Global Fund for Education.

“Emory is in an especially unique position as a privileged institution. We have powerful voices that can speak out for those without power right now. We need to advocate for a Global Fund for Education on behalf of those that do not have access to basic education,” says Jim McDonough, Emory Law alumnus. Use your power as a constituent; insist that our politicians create a GFE funded at $2 billion a year. RESULTS activists encourage Emory students who wish to equalize power worldwide to call Senator Isakson at (770) 661-0999 and President Obama at (202) 456-1111. We have a chance to be the generation that responded to extreme poverty. We have a chance to give every child on Earth the tools not just to survive but to thrive. We have a chance to do this before graduation.

-Misty Novitch ’10

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