Access to a quality education is the foundation of economic and social progress for all of us. Without basic learning skills, an understanding of history and culture, and fundamental competency in math, science, and critical thinking, people are likely to remain on the margins of society, in both developed and developing nations.
Today, the children’s advocacy group Humanium reports that more than 72 million children are not in school, while many more are undereducated, marginalized by poverty, geography, gender, health, malnutrition, cultural identity, and societal restrictions. They are deprived of the education that is vital to our collective social and economic development across the globe.
UNESCO data show that early access to education has a significant impact on overall economic and social development. If all children had access to education and developed the skills to learn, not only would they grow as individuals but society would also benefit. Per capita income, for example, would increase by 23 percent over 40 years. If all women had a primary education, child marriages and child mortality could fall by one-sixth and maternal deaths could decline by two-thirds.
And, according to the World Bank, access to university-level instruction is a key factor in boosting a country’s economic development. A college education results in better opportunities. Indeed, an educated society is the foundation upon which we will make progress on all other global-scale challenges.
The LEARN pillar is taking on the challenge of how to provide quality education to all people, anywhere in the world, who wish to learn.
As we address this challenge, we must imagine new models and modes of learning to reach those who do not have access to education at all, as well as those who are undereducated because of their economic or social status. While it is important to define “quality education” and devise ways to assess it, we must also consider the technologies, infrastructure, policies, and practices necessary to provide willing learners with fundamental tools such as critical reasoning, creative thinking, and the rudiments of the scientific method so that they can become continuous, lifelong learners.
As important, we must understand this challenge in the context of the economic, cultural, and political barriers to a quality education. Among those obstacles: societal and religious norms that keep girls out of classrooms, politically driven policies that encumber teachers in the classroom or fail to fund public schools equitably, and soaring tuition costs and student debt, which box many out of higher education. By considering these issues, we can identify new paths to reach people who are currently unreachable and develop new approaches that refocus the classroom on learning rather than process.