U.S. benefits from investment in global education

The OlympianMay 22, 2014 

Children all over Thurston County are eagerly looking forward to the end of the school year in a couple of weeks and the start of summer vacation. It’s a happy time for kids fortunate to live in a developed country where a free public education is often taken for granted.

But there are 57 million children worldwide who would love to be going to school this summer, or at any time. They don’t have a school or for other reasons are still denied the basic right to an education.

The recent kidnapping of young women from a Nigeria school illustrates what members of Olympia RESULTS, a local grassroots lobby group, are calling a crisis in global education.

Selamawit Adugna Bekele, an education activist from Ethiopia, is touring RESULTS chapters to encourage the U.S. to help fund the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). She says educating children is the solution to Africa’s main problems: corruption, gender inequality and HIV.

She describes education in developing countries as a social vaccine.

The World Bank and UNESCO support that idea. They say when people of voting age have at least a primary education, they are 1.5 times more likely to support democracy. Women with an education are less likely to contract HIV and pass it their children. They delay marriage and sex, and are more likely to require their partners to use condoms.

Bekele said those with the greatest barriers to education are girls, kids with disabilities and those living in conflict areas. But there are other barriers, such as schools with no bathrooms, lack of transportation and poverty-stricken families who can’t afford uniforms or books, or pay the user fees commonly required to keep schools open.

Even the world’s wealthiest counties benefit when children in countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia get a quality education. Education leads to economic growth, which leads to increased trade. RESULTS advocates say 50 percent of U.S. exports go to developing nations.

Bekele and RESULTS chapters around the U.S. are asking President Barack Obama to pledge $250 million over two years to the GPE. The U.S. is a voting member of the GPE and we haven’t made a contribution to the global education effort since 2011.

This is an issue on which the Obama Administration should find bipartisan support. It was Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert who sponsored the Education for All Act of 2011 that called on the U.S. to support multilateral education invitiatives, such as GPE.

And Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has said, “Foreign aid is important. If it’s done right, it spreads America’s influence around the world in a positive way. These are our allies who in the future can help us, not just in political struggles, but who can be our partners in economic trade. A world where people are prosperous and free to grow their economies and pursue their own dreams and ambitions is a better world for all of us.”

To get there, the U.S. should strongly support the GPE’s proven track record of progress on educating children, especially girls. We can start with a $250 million pledge this summer to replenish the Global Partnership for Education fund.

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