Education empowers people and promotes democracy

The importance of good governance to overcome inequalities in education was the focus of the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report. As part of our 10th anniversary countdown to the launch of the 2012 report on October 16, we are looking back at some of the report’s findings.

Graça Machel recently said that one word can summarize why education makes a difference and “that word is ‘empowerment’.” The 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report, Overcoming inequality: Why governance matters argued for better governance of education policies. But the report also found that education promotes good governance by giving citizens the skills and confidence they need to become active members of their societies and hold their governments to account.

As the economist Amartya Sen pointed out in his book, Development as Freedom, education is crucial to give people capabilities such as literacy, confidence and attitudes that they need to participate in society. For example, providing education to poor and marginalized children and young people often means they are more likely to participate in meetings of local political bodies managing resources such as education, health and water. Research from sub-Saharan Africa, cited in the report, found that even primary schooling promotes citizen endorsement of democracy and rejection of non-democratic alternatives. In the 18 countries of the study, people of voting age with a primary education were 1.5 times more likely to support democracy than people with no education, rising to three times more likely for someone with secondary education.

These effects are neither universal nor straightforward. There are many examples of societies with a well-educated citizenry that might not be very democratic, as well as of democratic societies with low levels of education. But education can help people participate in democracy in a variety of ways, including providing them with literacy and other skills to enable them to take part in political discussions and access political information through the media.

As the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report  showed, a country which is managing to deliver quality skills training to its children and adolescents within its own borders will also find that those skills make a difference on an international level. If we are to solve global challenges such as climate change, we need people who understand enough science to recognize the problem and push their governments to act. The 2006 PISA assessment of scientific literacy of 15-year-olds, for example, found a strong link between how well students scored in the tests and their environmental awareness and their sense of responsibility for sustainable development. An educated and empowered population is therefore more likely to push its government to promote the necessary change on the international level.

Education for All is about empowerment, but the effects of good quality education reach far beyond the benefits it offers individuals. Education reduces poverty, boosts economic growth, leads to better health and survival rates and promotes gender equality, to mention a few examples highlighted by a recent Policy Paper from the Global Monitoring Report Team. As such, the Education for All movement is crucial to empower people with the skills they and their societies need to face challenges from the spread of HIV/AIDS to climate change, by promoting good governance and citizens with the necessary skills to hold their governments to account.



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