Education and the Millennium Development Goals

Eight reasons why education is important to achieve the MDGs

1. More people would grow and develop

2. More people would learn and know

3. More people would be equal and just

4. More children would survive and live

5. More mothers would be healthier

6. More people would be able to combat illness

7. More people would think of the future

8. More people would work together

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger Education can help lift people out of poverty An education opens doors to jobs and credit. One year of schooling can increase a person's earnings by 10%; each additional year of schooling can lift average annual GDP by 0.37%. Greater equity in education can help fuel a virtuous cycle of increased growth and accelerated poverty reduction, with benefits for the poor and for society as a whole. Education equips people with the knowledge and skills they need to increase income and expand employment opportunities. When education is broadly shared and reaches the poor, women and marginalized groups, it holds out the prospect that economic growth will be broadly shared. On the other hand, poverty pushes children out of school and into work because parents cannot afford to educate their children.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education Every child has the right to go to school, but millions are still being left behind. Universal primary education involves entering school at an appropriate age, progressing through the system and completing a full cycle. Today, there are over 30 million more children in school than in the beginning of the decade. There have been some remarkable success stories. Primary school enrolments have increased dramatically in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in South and West Asia. In Ethiopia there are three million more children in school than in 2000, thanks to an ambitious rural school construction programme and the abolition of primary school fees - a widespread obstacle to universal primary education. However, there are 72 million children still out of school. Nearly half of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. On current trends, 56 million children could still be out of school by 2015. Of those students enrolled in school, millions drop out or leave school without having gained the most basic literacy and numeracy skills. Additionally, pupil/teacher ratios in many countries are in excess of 40:1 and a severe teacher shortage exists. Many governments are neglecting the “education poor” – those on the fringes of society, ranging from indigenous populations to street children, from the disabled to linguistic and cultural minorities. New approaches must be tailor-made for such groups – simply increasing opportunities for standard schooling is not enough. Unless we reach the children who are being left behind, the goal of education for all children will not be reached.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women Equal schooling for both boys and girls is the foundation for development. No other policy intervention is likely to have a more positive multiplier effect on progress across all the MDGs than the education of women and girls. Evidence shows a strong correlation between educating women and girls and an increase in women’s earnings, improved child and family health and nutrition, an increase in school enrolment, protection against HIV infection, higher maternal and child life expectancy, reduced fertility rates and delayed marriage. Several million more girls are now in school compared with 2000 and girls’ access to education has markedly improved in some countries, such as Bangladesh, Benin and Nepal. India is approaching gender parity in terms of enrolment. Nevertheless, there are still more boys than girls attending school in many countries. Some 54 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children are girls. Twenty-eight countries have less than 90 girls in school per 100 boys. In many countries, girls are faced with barriers to education ranging from negative attitudes to the burden of household work and distance to school. Special efforts – from recruiting female teachers to supporting poor families to making schools more girl-friendly – are needed to redress the balance. Of the 759 million adults who cannot read or write, around two-thirds are women. This proportion has remained unchanged since 2000.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality Education saves young lives Educating a girl greatly reduces the chance that her child will die before the age of five. In many countries, having a mother with secondary or higher education more than halves the risk of child mortality compared to having a mother with no education. Having a mother with primary education reduces child death rates by almost half in the Philippines and around one third in Bolivia Evidence shows a strong correlation between educating women and girls and higher maternal and child life expectancy as well as improvements in child and family health and nutrition. Girls and women who are educated are far more likely to immunize their children. Their children are less likely to be malnourished. In Niger, the child of a woman with secondary education is over four times less likely to be malnourished than the child of a woman with no education. Having a mother who had completed primary education reduces the risk of stunting by 22 per cent in Bangladesh and 26 per cent in Indonesia

Goal 5: Improve maternal health Fewer mothers would die if they had education Maternal education is one of the strongest antidotes to childbearing-related risks. Educating girls and women empowers them to make better health-related decisions. Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death and disability among women of childbearing age, claiming over 500,000 lives a year. Girls who are educated are more likely to seek antenatal care. The world’s most dangerous place to give birth is Niger, where women face a 1 in 7 chance of fatality. The odds in rich countries average 1 in 8000.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability Education is an agent for sustainable development Education helps individuals to make decisions that meet the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) addresses key issues such as poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods, climate change, gender equality, corporate social responsibility and protection of indigenous cultures. ESD can help us to live sustainably. It aims to change the way we think, behave, look at the world, interact with nature and address social, economic and environmental problems. Governments are realizing this: according to a recent survey, 79 countries now have a national ESD coordination body. Education for Sustainable Development

Goal 8: Develop global partnerships for development A global partnership is needed to fill the financial gap for education Aid for basic education in the world’s poorest countries came to only US$2.7 billion in 2007, a far cry from the $US16 billion needed annually to reach education-related development goals. Developing countries can also do more – by making education a priority. If low-income countries spent 0.7% of their GDP on education, it could make about US$7 billion available per year for basic education.

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Source: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisdation,  

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