Locally, nearly one in 10 students miss more than a month of school, according to a recent Miami Herald report. Not surprisingly, schools with the highest concentration of poor students fare the worst. Imagine what it’s like around the world, where some 20 percent of humanity lives on less than $1.25 a day?
Turns out, some 67 million primary school-aged children are not in school; the majority of them are young girls. While that number had shrunk in past years, it’s now estimated that the number will jump to 72 million by 2015, setting us back to 2008 levels, if we don’t do something quickly.
We need to act. Our global economies depend upon the strength and stability of developing countries. 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.
Global education is also imperative if we really intend to promote democracy abroad. People of voting age with a primary education are 1.5 times more likely to support democracy than people with no education.
Educating young girls is particularly important. Educating women of reproductive age is credited with reducing child mortality by an astonishing 50 percent since 1970. A child born to an educated mother is more than twice as likely to survive to the age of five. Educating women not only reduces poverty, improves the health of women and their children, delays marriage, and increases decision-making power, it also reduces atrocities such as genital cutting and contraction of HIV/AIDS.
No wonder education is known as the “social vaccine.”
Knowing how important global education is, what can we do? One important step is to garner greater support for the bipartisan Education for All Act of 2011 (“EFA”) sponsored by Reps. Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and David Reichert, a Republican. The EFA seeks to improve U.S. policies so we can more effectively get kids into school.
Among other things, it focuses on educating girls, and children marginalized by war or humanitarian crises. It also calls for multilateral global education initiatives, such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
The GPE has supported the building of more than 30,000 classrooms and trained more than 337,000 teachers throughout the world. It is the only multilateral mechanism focused on funding primary and secondary education. For every additional $1 million invested in GPE: 74 new classrooms will be constructed, 8,000 more children will enter primary school, 500,000 textbooks will be distributed, 1,000 teachers will receive a year of training.
For the next three years, $2.5 billion for the GPE’s “Education For All Fund” is needed to meet new demands. The desired U.S. pledge amounts to $375 million — just 15 percent of the annual need.
No doubt, the stock response will be a “push back,” based on the tight federal budget and an irrational attack on funding foreign aid. Americans mistakenly believe we spend up to 25 percent of our budget on foreign aid, when the truth is, we spend less than 1 percent.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a conservative, understands the difference. As he has said: “The real problem in America’s spending is not foreign aid. Sometimes in the press and in the minds of many, our foreign aid is exaggerated; it really is a minuscule part of our overall budget, and it’s not the reason we have this growing debt in America. . . . Foreign aid is important; if it’s done right, it spreads America’s influence around the world in a positive way.”
Overall, these educational measures are small investments that pay big dividends, and strengthen global economies. The United States should not back away from committing to the EFA. Right now, of the 69 House Members supporting the EFA, only one is from Florida (Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa). We need other supportive members in the House and Senate to step forward.
Carla M. Barrow is an attorney and group leader of RESULTS (Miami Chapter), a grassroots nonprofit group that advocates for programs to end poverty.