Sheer hopelessness keeps poor people mired in misery for a lifetime. Adam Smith famed for his authoritative publication of 1776, The Wealth of Nations, once said, “The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.”
Life is, indeed,one long nightmare of poverty for nearly half of the world’s population.More than 3 billion of the world’s 7.4 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, while over 1.3 billion live in absolute poverty with less than $1.25 a day.This is according to the Human Poverty Index (HPI), a measurement used by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for over a decade. The World Bank too, until 2013, used the HPI to gauge global poverty.
In 2013, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) developed a more comprehensive method to measure international poverty called the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index.Launched in 2014 in the UNDP Human Development Report, the new indexfocuses on critical factors of deprivation of the poor – not just in monetary terms, but also in terms of education, health and living standards. It is the first international measurement that reflects the intensity of poverty. For instance, the indicator for education is weighted according to years of schooling, and school attendance. Health is weighted according to child mortality and nutrition, while living standards are weighted according to deprivation of electricity, drinking water, sanitation, flooring, cooking fuel and assets.
The flip side of the poverty coin is to create conditions to propel people towards extricating themselves from poverty. One of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, said, “I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.”
Thought leaders and national leaders are unanimous in their belief that education is the most effective weapon to drive away poverty. Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, said, “Education is the best weapon through which we can fight poverty, ignorance and terrorism.”
Former US President George H.W. Bush said, “Education is the key to opportunity. It’s a ticket out of poverty.” Former US President Barack Obama said, “The best anti-poverty program is a world-class education.” Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, with extensive experience dealing with global poverty, said, “To educate girls is to reduce poverty.”
However, reality is relentlessly cruel and unforgiving. The very people who need to be helped are the ones who are mercilessly abandoned. The UNESCO publication, Education for All, Global Monitoring Report 2017, reports that globally, some 61 million children of primary school age are deprived of schooling, and 53% of them are girls. More than half the kids who don’t go to school (32 million), live in Sub-Saharan Africa and almost 11 million live in South Asia.
Another inherent problem in poor communities, is the inability of kids to complete their education, particularly in primary school. Many poor kids enroll in school in Sun-Saharan Africa, but only 59% complete their primary school education. An earlier UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report states that 62 million young people did not go to secondary school, after they finished primary school.
Not just the sheer numbers, but poverty-stricken communities also lack quality education. Poor communities are unable to attract skilled teachers, and they are compelled to manage with poorly trained teachers who lack effective teaching skills and whose knowledge is sub-standard. UNESCO estimates that globally, over 50% of primary school kids and over 60% of lower secondary school kids, have no basic level reading skills. UNESCO also found that two-thirds of the 750-odd million over 15-year olds and adultsunable to read or write in poor families, are women.
As one unfortunate consequence leads to another, UNESCO discovered that over 140 million young people end up as educational failures, unable to sit for the school-leaving examination that would open the door to college education, or qualify them to engage in a technical skill and employment.
Former Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said, “We are witnessing a young generation frustrated by the chronic mismatch between skills and work. The best answer to the economic downturn and youth unemployment is to ensure that young people acquire the basic skills and relevant training they need to enter the world of work with confidence.”
Despite these discouraging numbers, there are courageous individuals who will not give up.
One such is Malala Yousafzai. In a society where women are hidden away even at birth, Malala wanted to become a doctor. When the Taliban destroyed over 150 schools in 2008, and ruled that no girls would attend school after January 15th 2009, Malala would not be discouraged. “The Taliban could take our pens and books, but they couldn’t stop our minds from thinking,” she said.
Malala, thus,became a beaconof hope for poverty-stricken communities, and a savior of school-deprived kids. As an 11-year old, she dared to stand up to a ruthless terrorist group as she spoke up for the rights of children. “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” Her vision of uplifting poor communities by educating kids, made her a heroine in the developing world. Her words will not be easily forgotten. “Children should not wait for someone else to speak up for them. Their voices are really powerful and they should speak up for their rights.”
The key is surely turning in the door to opportunity.