Transforming lives through education


Education has an incredible power which can transform the life of a person and also the society as a whole. It can make people and nations healthier and wealthier, empower women and bring social change, hope, equity and employment. Especially, at a time of heightened global tension, when human rights, freedom of speech, peace and the future of the world itself may seem challenged as never before, the transformational power of education is of critical importance. Today we are confronted with a very strange paradox: the world’s population has never been better educated, and yet, according to the UNESCO, 263 million children and young people are out of school, 617 million children and adolescents worldwide do not meet the minimum threshold for literacy and mathematics, at least 750 million adults are illiterate, and girls remain more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom. However, education is still called upon to address inequalities, poverty, terrorism and conflict. It is seen as one of the keys to global citizenship and sustainable development.

Under the title, “Education: Still searching for Utopia?”, the latest issue of the UNESCO Courier, a premier magazine published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), evaluates the state of global education and explores how it responds to some of the main challenges we face. “Can education really transform lives?” – this issue of the Courier approaches this vital question from several different angles. Education can really change lives if we are to listen to Kailash Satyarthi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 from India. He has been at the forefront of the fight against child slavery and labour since 1980, when he founded his movement, the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), which has helped liberate more than 85,000 children in India from exploitation – through education and rehabilitation. Satyarthi, an electrical engineer by training, tells the UNESCO Courier how his quest to improve the lives of children began, what he hopes for from his new cause to make schools safe, and why he believes true liberation starts with education.

Drawing on his experience in the field, journalist Brendan O’Malley (UK) offers some leads how we could stop schools from becoming targets in times of war. In times of conflict or crisis, being able to send children to school offers parents and communities a semblance of normal life; a safe place to leave their children while they work; a place where vital services, such as vaccinations, can be delivered and where vital safety information – such as how to avoid landmines – can be learned. But above all, it is a means to give their children an education that will enable them to build a future for themselves and for their community and country. However, the author observes, the reverse is also true. When schools are destroyed in areas of instability, hope is destroyed along with them – fear of going to school and indeed, staying in the area, can spread. People may flee for their own safety and, with that all hope of an education is gone.

Brain drain is an acute problem in sub Saharan Africa. In October 2016, a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast that “migrants [from sub-Saharan Africa] in OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries could increase from about 7 million in 2013 to about 34 million by 2050,” adding that “the migration of young and educated workers takes a large toll on a region whose human capital is already scarce.” But, is this brain drain inevitable? In the article “African brain drain: is there an alternative?”, Cameroonian researcher and specialist Luc Ngwé argues that it is possible to turn the situation around so that everyone benefits. African universities have to include time spent studying abroad as an integral part of their courses, while encouraging short-term migration that allows these well-educated citizens to return to their home countries. Technological and scientific advances have changed the way we relate to the world. The role of the humanities has been ousted by an economics-centric approach. In this context, universities are confronted with a dilemma: should they be producing technicians who are intrinsically productive, or more generalist graduates who are able to reflect on the future of societies? Professor Jean Winand, a faculty at the University of Liège, Belgium, believes that economic realism cannot be the sole response to today’s challenges. In an ideal university, the humanities would have a central role to play.

It is imperative to equip the next generation with an education that will help them understand, care about and address the global risks we all face. Only then can we live in peace with one another, and with the planet we inhabit, argues International Education Policy expert Professor Fernando M. Reimers, a faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has created two innovative Global Citizenship Education curricula at Harvard University to help students become global citizens. In his article “A road map to change the world”, Fernando Reimers rightly observes: “There is solid evidence that intentional high-quality curricula and effective pedagogies can empower students to become active global citizens. Education is indeed a most powerful avenue to help students improve the world. The task to educate each of the 1.2 billion learners as global citizens has never been more urgent.”

Two  prominent women activists share their insights in this issue – the Sudanese-British TV personality Zeinab Badawi, who has recently adapted UNESCO’s General History of Africa into a nine-part series for the BBC, and Yemeni journalist and human rights activist  Tawakkol Karman, who won the Nobel Peace Prize 2011. Besides elaborating on what it took to make this ground-breaking series, Badawi also discusses the continuing gender hierarchies in the media, and the difficulties professional women encounter when aiming for a work-life balance. The Yemeni feminist, journalist and human rights activist Tawakkol Karman firmly believes that non-violence is the most effective way to combat tyranny and find a way out of complex conflicts. It is always possible to resort to it. But that demands faith, courage and the capacity for self-sacrifice. In the end, change is achieved at a lower cost, and its effects are more powerful and more effective. Those who choose violence to change things, she argues, do not always get what they want.

The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail:

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 34
  • Issue 42

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