A common expression states that “Hindsight is 20/20.” The idea, clearly, behind the phrase is that it is easier in the aftermath to see, understand the full extent of, or make prescriptions regarding something troubling than it is when said trouble unfolds before our eyes. If that seems reasonable, then, against the backdrop of COVID-19, there is no cause for the international community, government stakeholders in education and development practitioners to delay in piercing poverty’s protective bubble by way of education. Still for whatever reason, there seems to be, by default, an approach that cynically seeks to do everything… before doing the right thing.
Although 2020 has proven exceptional in ways that inspire both our human imagination and dread, for better and for worse, this moment can be decisively better. By that token, it can be a ground-breaking opportunity to read the tea leaves and in so doing reaffirm the values and wisdom that will sustain our planet: Quality education is anathema to poverty. Moreover, access to education is a human right and quite possibly the most effective means at our disposal to eradicate poverty, a formidable barrier to development.
This is not news. But, it merits a recall to memory, particularly as the world faces down the prospect of more than 100 million children being shoved into poverty as a result of COVID-19. Furthermore, it should be held firmly in our conscious that children’s poverty is not the same as an adult’s. A child, still growing, will suffer the associated ill effects of food insecurity, malnutrition, lack of access to education and healthcare, and inadequate housing differently with a greater probability of long-term consequences for their intellectual, physical, and emotional health, leaving their full potential unrealized. In that case, the loss is felt by not just the individual child, but the family, the community, and by extension the country. Notwithstanding the multidimensional aspects of poverty that countless millions of children grapple with on a daily basis, progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had been piecemeal, a feat not owed to the pandemic.
Yet, as a distressful economic outlook in 2020 comes into focus – global growth is projected to contract by almost five percentage points, indicating an unconscionable hardship to be endured by low-income households (negative per capita income is forecasted in over 90 percent of emerging markets and developing countries) – the consequences are clear. Decades worth of development gains and generations of children are at stake, if bold action is not taken to centralize and prioritize access to quality education in the struggle for a sustainable future. So, while the global market economy gradually lurches out of lockdown, nationwide school closures, and the grip of a once-in-a-century pandemic, the policy-making community and development actors would do well to renew their commitment to poverty reduction and annihilation vis-à-vis the right to education.
In this era of COVID-19, there is hardly a more opportune time to think critically about how development challenges are addressed or, by contrast, a sound reason to go back to so-called best practices, if the ultimate aim is to reach the other side of the cavern in a stronger position. Education, aside from being perhaps the most consequential of human rights, is a responsible and right-minded investment, which any stakeholder should make, especially for the most vulnerable out-of-school children (OOSC).
To be sure, OOSC are not pining for a re-energized spirit of charity to make poverty a thing of the past. Rather, the data make it clear that bringing OOSC into primary education, investing in quality, and liberalizing access by alleviating barriers are only logical. To that end, in real dollars terms, it costs a country a great deal more to allow its children to go uneducated than to educate them – in some contexts, such costs actually outpace the value of annual economic growth. What’s more, the gains in GDP are not solely exclusive to the national treasury. Instead, quality education for OOSC has positive growth implications across sectors, specifically in health, agriculture and the environment. That being said, an out of school child who lives on the margins, having seen her/his access to education thrown in doubt by COVID-19, would probably ask of those working in development with the power to make decisions to: be smart; respect their rights; and give them a chance through education. For, if that occurs, and priority, policy and practice are oriented around realizing this inherent right, poverty will face a reckoning in the aftermath and the benefits of hindsight will belong to the future of the planet and our shared prosperity. The choice is ours.
This blog on poverty reduction and quality education amid COVID-19 originally appeared on NORRAG's website and can be accessed at the following link: https://www.norrag.org/hindsight-is-20-20-education-for-the-eradication-...