Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Quality and Quantity of Education a Priority

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, May 8 / 17

Zack Gross

Quality of education in our schools is often a topic for critique and debate in Manitoba and across Canada.  The proficiency of our Manitoba students is often compared with their peers around the country – and Canadian students with those in other “developed” countries – particularly these days in mathematics, sciences and technology.

Quantity of education, that is, numbers of school-aged students attending is generally not an issue in Canada as it is mandatory that children and youth attend.  There are definitely young people “falling through the cracks” and schools are struggling in situations of social breakdown, but it seems to be a minority. 

I recently attended a community forum presented by a Manitoba school division looking at issues facing their staff and students.  Quality education came up as a topic, especially the feeling that rural schools can’t always supply their students with the same advantages that urban schools can, in terms of new courses and some technologies.  Much of the discussion, however, was about the impact of the internet and smart phones on communication and learning, and on topics that often surface these days, as they should, for example how students treat one another.

In “developing countries”, while there have been improvements in this century as countries aim to meet the objectives of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (2000-2015) and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (2016-2030), a crisis continues in education of both poor attendance and poor quality.  This is particularly a concern in the two poorest parts of our planet, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

My own experience with “global targets” and children’s education comes from visiting a friend in Tanzania, East Africa who told me that before the MDGs he had few students, as many stayed at home and worked.  However, now that it was mandated that children go to school, he was faced with many more students than he could cope with and no resources with which to support their learning, such as textbooks, pencils and desks.  Thus, his school had gone from low quantity and mediocre quality to high quantity and low quality.

If one were to add up all of the money being spent on global humanitarian aid, one would find that less than 2% is being directed toward educational initiatives.  This is half of what the international community had agreed upon as a target.  A Committee of the British Parliament looking at this issue found that only $10 per student per year is spent on education in the developing world. (Health spending is a similarly tiny amount!)

Girls, disabled children and refugees face the biggest challenges in receiving quality education.  UNICEF estimates that 90% of children with disabilities in the Global South do not attend school.  Estimates tell us that more than 250 million children worldwide are not in school and another 330 million attend but don’t really learn.

Nobel prizewinner Mulala Yousafzai, who was the victim of an assassination attempt due to her leadership on girls’ education, and now travels the world speaking about the need to educate girls in all societies so that they have skills, money, good health and independence, also has weighed in on this issue. 

Taking a longer view of our development assistance to the global south, it was more than a generation ago, in 1970, that the UN called upon wealthy countries to commit 0.7% of their GNPs to overseas aid.  Forty-five plus years later, only six countries – Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Luxembourg - have met or exceeded this target, while the average for all of the “North” is just 0.4%.  Canada has in recent years come in at around 0.34%. Thus, there has not been enough money in the system to deal with the problems in education, health, governance and more that plague the majority of the world’s population.

As school winds down for another year in the wealthy parts of the world, it is important to realize that, aside from doing “the right thing
,” ensuring both an education (and/or technical training) for the world’s youth will mean a healthier, wealthier and safer world for all of us. It could mean that countries we invest our aid in today will move to the coveted “middle class” status, so that we can target our aid efforts on other challenges in the future.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s
The Marquis Project.

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