Role of education in ending extreme poverty -Taking a global lead

Speech by Villa Kulild, Director General of NoradThe speech was made at the Carita seminar on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda  in Oslo 11.11.2014.

Check Against Delivery

Thank you for the invitation to address the role of education in ending extreme poverty. Let me first congratulate Caritas on their 50th anniversary,  Caritas is an important development partner for Norway, and civil society organizations like Caritas play a crucial role in combatting poverty and securing a better life for many of the poorest people in the world.

I would like to focus on how provision of quality education for all can contribute to the overall set of international goals of sustainable development.

As most of you are very aware, the Norwegian government has earlier this year announced its reinforced focus and investment in education in development.  This commitment to education in development is also reflected in the proposed state budget. The Norwegian White Paper 25 on Education for Development announces “A renewed global effort to achieve good quality, relevant education for all (…)” to  address educations’s role in  fighting poverty, creating jobs, foster business development, improve health and nutrition, and promote gender equality, peace and democracy”.

Let us start by looking at the situation that motivates the renewed focus on education: Nine out of ten children in the world now go to school. This is an unprecedented percentage and a major achievement resulting from joint efforts since 2000. But the progress has stalled and the remaining out-of-school children are harder to reach. Many of them live in conflict-affected areas as brutally demonstrated by yesterday’s attack on a school in Nigeria where 47 children were killed.

Marginalized families are in the lowest income bracket, they have lower rates of life expectancy, a higher incidence of health problems, including high maternal mortality rates, and they are more poorly nourished than the rest of the population. But despite all their struggles, parents in the poorest societies in the world wish to invest in their children’s education. That is their first priority when they are asked what it most important to them. We therefore owe them a school that responds to their expectations – and to the opportunities that comes after completed education.

Education that targets marginalized and poor populations will bring change to many of the systemic factors that have contributed to the delay in poor communities’ development. Education can prevent the transmission of poverty between generations. Education also has documented effect on health, nutrition, economic development and on environmental protection (UNESCO 2104: Sustainable development begins with education).  Norway is among the four largest donors to the Global Partnership for Education and has contributed more than 1,4 billion NOK to the partnership since  2002. Their goal is to reach marginalized groups, and 28 out of 59 countries receiving support through the partnership are fragile states. 20 per cent of the total aid budget to education goes to civil society organisations, many of whom focus on inclusive education.

Let me give you some examples of the link between education and health and nutrition.

Food insecurity and poor nutrition is due to poverty and unequal distribution of resources, but it is also due to insufficient knowledge of production methods and on nutritional facts. Children who have poor health or who are hungry will not come to school – or their performance will be impaired by poor health and nutrition. Many children in developing countries face severe nutritional and cognitive deficits from the beginning of life. Estimates suggest that up to one-eighth of all children in developing countries are born malnourished and that 47 percent of children in low-income countries—continue to be malnourished before the age of five. Early malnutrition weakens children’s physical and cognitive potential and even their non-cognitive traits such as motivation and persistence.

Through basic education, marginalized people learn more about health and are better able to protect themselves and their children against diseases. The level of health among children and young people improves if their parents have had an education. This in turn increases their likelihood of receiving, and benefiting from, an education. It is important to remember that improvements in one area, benefits several others, and we need to constantly look for the most effective synergies.

For girls, the effect of education is particularly strong. If all women in poor countries completed primary education, child mortality would drop by a sixth, saving almost one million lives each year. If they all had a secondary education, it would be cut in half, saving three million lives. Education can prevent maternal mortality by helping women recognize danger signs, seek care and make sure trained health workers are present at births. If all women completed primary education, maternal mortality would be cut by two-thirds, saving 189,000 lives each year. “Girls’ education literally saves millions of lives” (UNESCO). Combined investments in food security, nutrition and education are necessary to reduce malnutrition and will also increase children’s ability to learn.

Educating girls is also a key factor in bringing about lower birth rates. In sub-Saharan Africa, women with no education have 6,7 births on average. The figure falls to 5,8 births for women with primary education and more than halves, to 3,9 children for women with secondary education.

As mentioned before, the lowest income countries and fragile states, are often hardest hit by the effects of natural disasters, and where food insecurity is the highest. Many of these countries are also the ones in which the population growth is the highest. This again has implications for the ability of the school system to provide quality education for all. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the number of school-aged children that are NOT in school, has more or less stabilized since 2000 even though the percentage of children in school has increased substantially. What we’re seeing here is that the gains in access to education are just barely keeping up with the population growth. Norway’s support for access to birth control, in addition to preventing deaths from dangerous, illegal abortions and teenage pregnancies, should be seen in this context.

Education can combat the underlying structures of poverty

Increased access to education can contribute to reducing poverty. Acquired basic skills such as reading, writing and numeracy, have a documented positive effect on marginalized populations’ incomes. It increases the rate of return on the economy.

A newly published paper by UNESCO shows that education is critical to escape chronic poverty and to prevent the transmission of poverty between generations. The rate of return is higher in low-income countries than in high income countries. Primary education has a higher rate of return than secondary education. Education also enables those in paid formal employment to earn higher wages: One year of education is associated with a 10% increase in wages.

Education also changes structures in food security. A study from 1980 that still is influential, analyzed the effects of primary education on agricultural production in 13 countries. It found that the average annual gain in production associated with four years of schooling was 8.7% (Lockheed, Jamison and Lau, 1980). Education becomes a catalytic force contributing to the turn of the tide of eliminating extreme poverty – in a sustainable way.

It is therefore important to invest in education that provides children and youth with relevant theoretical and practical skills.

Let me end by quickly highlighting some of the issues this government has indicated will be high on their education for development agenda:

  1. “Mind the gap”: Design activities/programmes to reach the most marginalized and girls
  • Despite tremendous success getting children into school since 2000, almost 60 million children are still out of school and the decline in out-of-school children has stagnated. The children still not in school are the most marginalized and “suffer” from multiple marginalization factors (poverty, rural, ethinic/religious/language miniorties, being a girl et cetera) As we move forward to the next generation development goals, targeting interventions to reach excluded populations is necessary.

      2.     What children learn matters – focusing on quality, learning and teachers

  • In addition to almost 60 million out-of-school children, it has been calculated that 250 million children don’t learn the basics.
  • It is obvious that the societal gains we expect from investing in education will require that going to school leads to learning.
  • Both countries and the global education community are right now mobilizing to invest more in education quality and content.
  • Critically poor communities are often victimized by the effect of the global environmental crisis. Relevant education is critical for these communities to be resilient to tackle the change but also to learn how to preserve the nature and its resources. Relevant education would be around alternative energy supply, recycling, agriculture, construction and transportation.

        3.    Domestic investment matters to address inequities in society – including synergies between sectors.

  • While education is a catalyst for other development goals, it is also important that sectors work together. Investing in children’s health and nutrition, for example, is important in itself, but also because it will lead to a positive cycle of children being better equipped to learn in school. When children come healthy and fed to school there is a higher chance they will learn – for life. A holistic investment in the early childhood is therefore crucial.
  • At the replenishment conference of the Global Partnership for Education in June earlier this year, partner countries committed to an increase in their domestic funds to education (an amount equaling USD 26 billion over the four-year period). In-country dialogue is now going on to find the best way possible for these funds to address inequities in education and to improve education quality.

       4.    The immense lack of job opportunities for youth is a major challenge globally.

  • The proportion of the working-age population in paid employment is only 13.7 per cent (ILO) in Sub-Saharan Africa. Projections indicate that 600 million jobs need to be created by 2020.
  • Education for entrepreneurship and business management is important to encourage and enable young people to develop their own businesses. Relevant technical and vocational training is important to support for this purpose. An education that promotes agricultural knowledge, innovation and efficiency, can contribute to increased productivity in this sector.
  • With a more focused geographical target, Norwegian development aid and other investments can better build on the strengths of the various interventions to find synergies that brings development to a higher level.

We look forward to cooperating with a broad range of partners in making this government’s high ambitions for education a success, and to make sure we interlink with the other areas of the sustainable development agenda.