Blog: Education – who cares?


Education: who cares?

Blog for DevEd, 9 april 2013
Mieke Lopes Cardozo and Ralph Schreinemachers argue why education should remain a priority area.
Mieke T.A. Lopes Cardozo and Ralph Schreinemachers, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

It’s the education, stupid!
The Dutch newspaper NRC Next opens on the 17th of December 2012 with the title ‘Who Cares?’ and a full page picture of children attending a school in an unspecified country in Africa.  The title refers to a debate on the budget cuts on development aid to be held in parliament that day. It is a justified question. Globally there are 250 million children that receive no or poor quality education. Are we concerned in Europe with the right to (good) education in countries in the so-called Global South? And maybe more relevant, should we be concerned? We argue that education matters – also, and maybe even more so – in times of ‘crisis’.

‘Education has a proven positive effect on both individual developments – income growth, health (especially for girls and women), decreased malnutrition and child death – and the society as a whole. Every euro being invested in education has a tenfold return on economic growth’, according to Kees de Jong (director of the Dutch NGO Edukans) representing the Global Campaign for Education-Netherlands in a letter to the members of Dutch parliament on the 6th of December 2012. Parents around the world send their offspring to school with the aspiration of ensuring a better future for their children. They believe education has the potential to provide their children with the knowledge and skills required to break the spiral of poverty: now and later.

The challenges for education sectors in many ‘developing countries’ are both diverse and urgent; child labour, long distances to school, unqualified teachers, lack of school furniture and old-fashioned teaching methods, to name a few. Research in countries such as Bolivia, Sri Lanka or Indonesia, we observed how many teachers are forced to have extra jobs. The teacher annex taxi driver taking a break from driving passengers around to teach a couple of hours in her/his classroom is not an exception to the rule. Often teachers lack the finances, time and energy for additional training – let alone the regular preparation of their classes. In many developing countries – and especially in areas hit by structural violence and conflict – children and young adults do not even get the chance to be in school. More and more, private solutions are sought for a public responsibility – and market-driven education systems turns schools into enterprises focusing on the highest rates of return.

From solidarity to self-interest
Until recently the Netherlands – together with a range of ‘like-minded countries’ – both enforced the value of education and supported this cause. This seems to have come to an end. Is solidarity and humanity being shoved aside due to economic self-interest, and ‘our’ security, in times of crisis? Education seems to have been affected disproportionally by the new rounds of budget cuts in development cooperation – both in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Bolivia is one of the many countries that sees itself confronted with a sharp decrease in bilateral educational support that often not cannot be compensated, according to the Global Campaign for Education-Netherlands. Development aid is now targeted to specific sectors of ‘national expertise’ and ‘national priorities’. In the case of the Netherlands this means a focus on Dutch economic self-interests and issues of national and international security. This implies a quite radical break away from longer-term commitments made to support Education For All not so long ago.

The foreign policy of donors like the Netherlands follow the ‘integrated approach’, in which Defence, Diplomacy and Development (the 3 D’s) are joined. Under the slogan ‘security and development go hand in hand’, parts of development aid are now rechanneled in to defence budgets instead of education. This does not only mean that social sectors – including education – receive less money. In many cases the work of international and local aid organisations is being complicated and endangered by the (often unclear) interweaving of military and humanitarian interventions. A school build during a ‘civil-military mission’, or a ‘neutral’ aid convoy with humanitarian aid workers, can thereby mistakenly become caught up as a strategic target.

Learning from mistakes
While parts of the ‘richer West’ are in a situation of financial crisis, widespread budget cuts do not only affect the social sectors within development cooperation, but also national educational systems are hit hard, for instance in the Netherlands. Yet, didn’t we already experience in the economic recession of the 1980s that strong budget cuts in education and other social sectors had an undesired effect? Let us not repeat historical mistakes. Education needs to be become a priority on the national and international agenda’s once again. It should not be hijacked by fear and recession, by military budgets and economic downfall. What we should really care about is to avoid a growing crisis in the education sectors around the globe. Investing in relevant and good quality education systems makes a better chance to ensure a more just and peaceful future than a fearful response to ‘crisis and insecurity’. In the name of the 250 million children not receiving an education yet: Please do care!