The Education Partners

Paradoxical Gains

Finally we are in the year set for the achievement of the UN Millennium Goals - 2015. Inevitably, there has been hand shaking and hand wringing.

Hand shaking because there has been notable achievement. Technically, according to UNESCO sources, all countries have achieved Universal Primary Education (UPE), and there have been significant strides towards gender parity in education, too. Handwringing, because this is not quite what is seems, and there is so much more to be done. Whilst UPE has been achieved in theory, as of this target year, 10% of the world’s children, or 58 million remain out of school, and girls worldwide remain marginalised, even in the more developed economies. Children out of school live almost exclusively in areas of extreme poverty and/or in conflict-afflicted environments – mainly in very poor, war torn countries or in the poor areas and dysfunctional families of developed economies.   

So what are the social impacts and opportunity losses of having not fully met the goals? Every child out of school not only represents a loss in human capital (a critical factor for emerging economies) but a toll on social resources. For example in the USA, out of school students are seventeen times more likely to require the support of caring services as their lives unfold. Those countries that hold girls back, or worse still deny them education all together, rob themselves of significant human capacity in the work force.  For example, numerous studies in experimental psychology and human capital suggest that women are better suited to the modern leadership environment than men [1].  Men resist introspection, feel more comfortable measuring outcomes than they do managing emotions and under-appreciate the powerful connection between how people feel and how they perform.

However, some countries scarred by conflict and amongst the world’s poorest stand out for having made enormous gains in achieving the global educational goals and for bucking the trend of schools attendance and gender parity. 

Afghanistan ranks 169/183 on the United Nations Human Development Index [2], yet, since 2001 school enrolment in Afghanistan has increased sharply. In 2001, only one million children (almost all boys) were enrolled in schools. This year 9.7 million children are enrolled in schools, of whom 40% are girls. The number of schools has increased from 3,400 in 2001 to over 16,590 today, and the number of teachers has increased from 20,700 (almost all male) to over 207,000 (34% female).  Females are also employed in banks, airlines and key business positions – a scenario unthinkable pre 2001.

Similarly, in Rwanda, which ranks 155/183 on the Index, significant gains have been made over the same period. Rwanda now boasts a net school enrollment rate of 95% with boys and girls attending equally and more than twenty institutes of higher education. In 1990, pre-genocide, there was one. The Rwandan constitution now requires 30% of decision-making positions in government to be occupied by women. Today, women account for 56% of the Rwandan parliament, making it the highest female representation in government in the world. In the US, only 17% of congressional seats are currently held by women.

A number of factors have impacted the rapid development of these two poor, landlocked countries with troublesome neighbors and cruel histories. A significant factor has been the commitment to strategic partnerships. In both Rwanda and Afghanistan, major strategic partnerships have and are playing a significant role; partnerships like The Clinton Development Initiative in Rwanda or, more recently, The Global Partnership for Education affiliation with Afghanistan. However, in both countries, it has been individuals and small purpose-driven institutions like the Peace Dividend Market that have driven change through Partnership. Peace Dividend Market (PDM) was the brainchild of Scott Gilmore, an American social entrepreneur who focuses on creating jobs in frontier economies. PDM has helped smaller Afghan businesses win contracts that enhance the effectiveness of international aid, creating more than 2,000 jobs since 2006 with an input of more than $364 million into the economy. Such purpose-driven social entrepreneurs have, and are having a significant impact on developmental and business leadership. Also, and interestingly, many choose to adopt a trans-global/trans-economy lifestyle, some living in the countries to which they have anchored their effort. These are entrepreneurs like Carter Crockett who recently returned from living and working in and for Rwanda to become the inaugural Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership in Wenham, Massachusetts, and Joe Ritchie, recruited by President Paul Kagambe for his ability to fast track Rwanda’s economy. Ritchie was founding C.E.O. of the Rwandan Development Board and now lives in Rwanda. Another American, Eric Reynolds founder of Marmot Outdoor Clothing, driven by the spirit of social entrepreneurship, also relocated to Rwanda to join Kagame’s Presidential advisory group.

Particular to the education gains in Rwanda are the efforts of another American, Elizabeth Dearborn Davis who founded the Akilah Institute for Women, which has graduated thousands of women with vocational skills over the last ten years. 

A similar personal partnership with government effort is that of Afghan citizen, Sakena Yacoobi.  Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 2001 and was responsible for the secret education of thousands of girls under the harsh Taliban regime.  Today AIL uses a non-confrontational, participatory approach to mobilize local leaders and communities in the empowerment of Afghan girls, training nearly 100,000 women every year.  AIL currently serves more than 350,000 Afghans, and the national government has applied Yacoobi’s philosophy and strategy to the development of educational institutions nationwide.

The White Paper The Improvement Effect: Brightening the futures of 550 million students recently released by The Education Partners outlines the global need for a commitment to ensure a quality education for all. As discuss in this article and in the paper, we know sustainable change and improvement can happen and it is time for change.

Peter Davies brings a wealth of experience, including school leadership in a variety of settings and qualification and experience as an Inspector of Schools, internationally. Peter has consulted to the Office for Standards in Education in the UK, various state governments in the USA and the Knowledge and Human Development Agency in Dubai, to the Ministry of Education in Rwanda and to the Prime Minister’s Office in Kenya. He is a Senior Leadership Coach with The National Institute for School Leadership in the United States, and has consulted to Standard and Poor's, MassInsight Education, FuturesHealth Corp and a wide number of other firms and not-for-profit agencies. He recently authored the white paper The Improvement Effect: Brightening the futures of 550 million students


[1] Reviewed in Psychology Today (Dec 2012)

[2] UNDP (2014)

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