No looking to the future series would be complete without a look at the real future, namely the generations to come, our children and their children. The perils that are facing them across the world are magnified by virtue of the fact that even before they have to clean up our mess they must first navigate the education system, and this is for those that have that as an option let alone the millions without adequate food and water.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation has just published a report saying that the 1996 targets of halving the number of the starving by 2015 will not be met. At present 6 million children die every year from malnutrition or starvation, many deaths are actually caused by diseases like diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia, but victims would survive if they were not already weakened by a lack of food. At the present rate of development only South America and the Caribbean are on course to meet Millennium Development Goal targets. The FAO reports estimate that 852 million people were undernourished during 2000-2002. In fact the proportion of those in sub-saharan Africa has risen from 170.4 million around 1990 to 203.5 million, which makes something of a mockery of the gesturing of the G8 leaders at the summit in Edinburgh last summer.

In Uganda in 1997 primary education was made free and the primary school population rose from just under 3 million to over 7 million almost overnight. However secondary school is not free and costs around 60,000 Shillings (around £20) per term. This is around 6 weeks wages for the average Ugandan, which is more than enough for earning parents let alone parents who are ill with HIV/AIDS or TB and that doesn’t begin to cover the orphans. The fees cannot be waived because if they are the schools do not have the money to pay the teachers who generally are paid months in arrears.

Children not educated in secondary school are likely to become domestic servants. Female “housegirls” are like as not to be used for sex. Ugandan schools therefore witness a sight alien to those of us in the west, where students are trying to break into school rather than out. Hardly surprising when it is considered that school fees not only comprise the access to education and a future but also include a meal at lunchtime, in a country where 23% of the population are malnourished.

To see some of these children talk about how important school and education is for them one cannot help but feel that for every one who is unable to go a spark of hope is snuffed out. It’s not as if children in Uganda don’t have enough to worry about 100,000 children in Uganda alone die of malaria every year. In Africa as a whole a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds. Malaria has killed more people throughout history than all the other causes of human death put together. There may not be a quick fix for such a disease because simple antibiotics and the like will only be effective for a certain period of time before the disease mutates and develops resistance.

It is easy to think that it is just in the developing world where this burgeoning education system requires investment to allow it to benefit the whole population in time and over the generations. This would be a false assumption and either a naive or an arrogant one were one to properly examine our education system in the West. Here the social and financial apartheid of the state and private school systems creates division almost as soon as it is possible to do so. Some local authorities have good nursery education but free nurseries do not start in Britain until age 3. Well-off parents of course have the option of sending children to often facility-rich private nurseries which are often the only institutions pre-secondary school to offer a modern language. At primary school level the postcode lottery comes to the fore again. Offsted reports are scrutinised for every primary school in an area and the good ones affect house prices of the catchment area drastically, once again favouring the more affluent.

Of course results in primary school are seen as the best indication of progress and potential for future direction. Britain’s schools do not respond well to non-conformity of any kind, most of the state schools do not have the resources to, and the private schools can choose children that don’t exhibit it in order to keep the results high and overhead costs low. Of course the better the school the greater the likelihood of a broader range of subjects and sporting facilities etc. The broader the range of subjects on offer the increase in chances that a pupil be given the opportunity to find ones that s/he excels in. Aptitude generally leads easily to success in schools whilst students offered a narrow selection are far more likely to respond with ambivalence.

I have raised the question many times before of who benefits if all children get the best quality of education? It is not just the child nor even the parents but the whole of society, the more children whose aptitude can be assessed the greater the possibilities that they can find a direction that is of interest and benfit to them in later life and this will invariably lead to them feeling more part of society and society gaining the more for such. The inequitous state of education in this country and others like it is a national and international disgrace. That in the 21st century we are unable to adequately guarantee a good and consistent level of education to every child in the land should be something that shames every government that leaves office with the situation unresolved.

In the West currently there is ever more disenfranchisement from society as the education system fails more and more people within it. If one is not of academic normality and this can mean too compentent as not gifted in this area, the education system has little option. To add insult to injury we have been taught over many generations to prize academic excellence above all other and thus for those who fulfill it the possibilities are far greater than for those who do not. One could be the best mechanic in the country but would receive less plaudits from most than a mediocre Dr. On account of the postcode lottery even the academically gifted have no guarantee of receiving the education that will bring out their talents if their parents are not wealthy. The well-off have rather more options, the academic children can be sent to good private or “public” schools to receive a far better level of education than most state schools can offer, whilst the less academically-able child of rich parents can be sent to the sort of institution thaat will look after its own in order that alumnii can rely on a degree of old school tie support to see them right in later years. Private schools are not bounded by the same curriculum restrictions as state schools and therefore have a far greater degree of autonomy to be able to offer that broader range of subjects that can mean so much. Thus even the less well-able can prosper if they are born of the well-off and hedge their bets so as not to come across as ‘unacademic’.

So, as we have seen in both Africa and Britain the differences are not so great, if you are schooled academically you are perceived as being of greater value than if you are not. This must change across the world, there can be no real progress without it. The weighting of the bookish above the dextrous is holding back the progress of human society. Every child without exception must be provided with the best education possible to provide and the broadest range of experiences, only this way can we tackle ignorance and apathy and create people with both social awareness and social responsibility.

In the light of this, to see hundreds of billions chucked on warfare is tantamount to seeing governments dismantle schools that haven’t been built yet. it is our responsibility to reverse that trend.

Song Of The Day ~ Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls

Original Comments:

The Fat Boy made this comment,
NYC has an excellent public education system, except for the violence.
-Redbaron responds – Cuba has an excellent healthcare system except for Guantanamo!-

comment added :: 29th November 2005, 09:42 GMT+01 ::