As the world marks International Day for Eradication of Poverty, it is crucial to spread the message that equal access to quality education plays a key role in eradicating poverty.
Since 1990, although rates have been cut in half, 21% of the world’s population still lives in extreme poverty. It is vital to step up efforts to give these people a better chance of a decent and fulfilling life. Education has a central role to play in such efforts.
The EFA Global Monitoring Report’s Education Transforms booklet shows that education not only helps individuals escape poverty by developing the skills they need to improve their livelihoods, but also generates productivity gains that fuel economic growth. While growth does not automatically reduce poverty, without it sustained poverty reduction is not possible.
Our recent analysis, released at the United Nation General Assembly last month, shows that for growth to reduce poverty, it needs to overcome inequality by improving the lives of the poorest and marginalized the most. Education is vital to achieve this goal because it can help ensure that the benefits of growth are fairly shared.
Expanding access to education alone is not enough, however. Equitable learning for all is key to shared national prosperity for all. Globally, over 40 years, income per capita would be 23% higher in a country with more equal education. If education inequality in sub-Saharan Africa had been halved, to the level of Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, its economic growth over 2005–2010 would have been 47% higher.
By building a skilled workforce, education can promote a country from one economic bracket to the next. If all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills, we could eradicate 12% of world poverty. As such, it is an essential investment.
Skills are the key way in which education reduces poverty. Education makes it more likely for men and women not just to be employed, but to hold jobs that are more secure and provide good working conditions and decent pay. In so doing, education can not only help lift households out of poverty, but also guard against them falling – or falling back – into poverty.
In Jordan, 25% of women with only primary education who live in rural areas work for no pay, for example, compared with 7% of those with a secondary education. In El Salvador, only 5% of working adults with less than primary education have an employment contract, compared with 47% of working adults with secondary education.
And, just as education plays its role in helping eradicate poverty, progress in fighting poverty is inextricably linked with progress in achieving education for all. The direct costs of sending children to school, as well as the indirect costs of losing a source of labour, can be formidable for poor parents. As a consequence, not only are poor children less likely to enrol in primary school, but those who do so are more likely to drop out. This disadvantage results in children from poor households being over three times more likely to be out of school than children from rich households. Low quality education reinforces this problem, as parents are less willing to bear those costs if they cannot see the benefits of education.
There is no better moment to realize education’s role in helping households escape poverty than today. To unlock the wider benefits of education so that it can play its full part in helping the world achieve poverty eradication, all children need the chance to complete not only primary school but also lower secondary school. And access to schooling is not enough on its own: as we will highlight in the next EFA GMR 2013/14 (being launched on January 14), education needs to be of good quality so that children actually learn. Given this fundamental role that a quality, equitable education can play in tackling the root causes of poverty, join us in calling for it to be a central part of any new development framework post-2015.