Tue, Sep 20, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Children left out of the classroom risk losing future

By Gordon Brown

In his 1952 novel, Invisible Man, the late Ralph Ellison famously portrayed American blacks as silent, long-suffering and entirely unnoticed by the majority white population. This year, there is a new — and global — invisible class: the 260 million boys and girls who are denied access to basic education.

Today’s invisible victims are refugee children holed up in tents, shacks and hovels who would never enjoy a first day at school; they are the millions of nine-to-12-year-olds condemned to child labor, and the millions of young girls destined for child marriage and denied an education simply because of their gender. Ensuring a better future for these children is the civil rights struggle of our time.

Out-of-school children are losing out because of our failure to invest in education; but so, too, are another 600 million boys and girls who are in school, but not learning. In low and middle-income countries, half of all primary-school-age children do not learn basic literacy and numeracy skills.

All told, 900 million of the world’s 1.4 billion children reach adulthood uneducated or under-educated. According to a forthcoming report from the International Commission on Financing Global Educational Opportunity (the Education Commission), which I chair, members of this neglected majority lack the skills they would need to succeed in a quickly changing global labor market.

In the interconnected world of the future, children will need to be taught information-technology and computational skills if they are to find gainful employment. However, in low-income countries, where technology is most needed to improve educational services and inclusive growth, only 10 percent of pupils attend schools with Internet access.

To close these education gaps, a “business-as-usual” approach is unlikely to suffice. Indeed, by 2030 — the year by which the UN sustainable development agenda promises to deliver universal basic education — 1.5 billion adults would have had no education beyond primary school. Worse still, half the world’s young people would still be entering the workforce with no recognizable qualifications and would probably suffer long periods of unemployment.

For years, the international community has held summits promising to redouble its commitment to education. However, time and again, it has failed to fulfill that promise, thus depriving the next generation of the most valuable gift it could bestow.

In 2002, 13 percent of overseas development aid went to children’s education; today, that figure is 10 percent, and in low-income countries it amounts to no more than US$17 dollars per child, on average.

By short-changing the world’s children, we are squandering the most valuable untapped resource we have. Moreover, we could be setting the stage for a modern doomsday scenario, because an entire generation of uneducated, alienated young people would make easy prey for extremists and terrorist organizations.

Fortunately, how to improve educational outcomes is not a secret: The best schools hire dedicated and competent teachers and administrators, and teach curricula relevant to children’s future needs. Moreover, the Internet enables the poorest children in the remotest areas to access the world’s best libraries and teachers. With auditing and accountability systems, we can make future investments dependent on results, and transform every classroom into a learning hub for every child.

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