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The power of education
Michael Qin (massachusetts)

Poverty is one of the most unfortunate and shameful aspects of human history and has been with us for thousands of years. I believe that the eradication of extreme poverty is technically feasible within 30 years, but would require a vast change in the commitment of those living in the developed world. With that said, I believe that the key to overcoming poverty lies in education; both for ourselves and for the impoverished.

Although the causes that created poverty may vary, the factors that contribute to its perpetuation are fairly universal. Poverty in the 21st century is continued by a multitude of factors but the most important ones in my opinion are overpopulation, disease, shortage of work, and a lack of infrastructure.

The solutions to each of these factors all come down to education in one form or another. We oftentimes take our mandatory education for granted and cannot grasp how those without the luxury of education are unaware of concepts like viruses and disease. Yet we should not forget that it took scientists and thinkers hundreds of years for to accumulate this knowledge. Without this information, it is not hard to see why those living in poverty will sometimes inadvertently perpetuate their own problems. Just as in Siteki, the lack of education on topics such as disease can lead to more problems, in this case the erroneous belief that AIDS is a punishment for the actions of ancestors. A rudimentary understanding of family planning, diseases and health is all that is needed in the short term to alleviate the first two factors of poverty.

In the long run, education is crucial both for the creation of skilled work and the laborers to work them. A lack of skilled workers leads to a lack of skilled jobs. As the jobs disappear, a vicious cycle is created until there is little or no work left. The only way to break this cycle is to, again, educate. With the creation of a skilled workforce, the creation and maintenance of infrastructure will be possible. In terms of long term education, the stage is set by the advent of information technology and the internet. Students are no longer limited by the location or availability of teachers. Anyone with the determination to learn can tap into the vast educational resources that have sprung up in the last 10 years. Websites like khanacademy.org and MIT.edu (and countless other schools) have opened the doors to anybody with internet to a free, world-class education. It is now possible for anyone, so long as they have the knowledge, to compete in the global economy. Geographic location, which was once a great barrier in the equalization of wealth, no longer applies in the information age.

However, the focus in education is not reserved only for those in poverty. We, as part of the developed world, also share responsibility for our fellow human beings. The great undertaking to eradicate poverty would require more than the efforts of a few dedicated individuals and organizations. Despite all of the hard work of humanitarians, many are apathetic to the issue of poverty. It remains well below the radar of most Americans and those living in developed countries. In order to reach the goal of thirty years, a dramatic change in mindset at the national level must take place. The cause needs to be so prevalent that even an average citizen will not only accept it but actively contribute to the end goal.

Just a decade ago, people laughed at the idea of hybrid vehicles, reusable bags, and anything that was part of the “green” movement. Yet, the ideals of environmentalism became more and more main stream, largely because we were made more aware of the problems of poor environmental governance. We now use green products and are more environmentally conscious than ever. The green movement proves that a drastic change in mindset and education is possible. In fact, that change in mindset may have already been set in motion.

Large scale efforts at reducing poverty have usually been based on dubious practices that aimed to get rid of the impoverished like refuse. More recently however, governments have begun to take a more proactive stance on poverty. The effects of large governmental efforts to fight poverty can already be seen in places like Mexico and Brazil. In Mexico, the government has created an ingenious program called Oportunidades which addresses all of the factors of poverty while at the same time aiding families financially. The program has seen great success at not only keeping children in school but also keeping the family healthy and financially stable. All of these programs were made possible only because the government and the people examined the problem of poverty more and saw the power of education in combating poverty.

However, the responsibility to confront poverty does not rest solely on national governments. The green movement was also largely carried by the acceptance of businesses, since there were benefits in terms of goodwill and cost reductions. Likewise, I believe that the wheels are also in motion for businesses to play a bigger role in humanitarianism and specifically, the fight against poverty. The rise of the internet has also allowed previously untenable aid models to come to life. Nonprofits like Kiva.org use the web to connect people from around the world to send micro loans to budding entrepreneurs in third world countries. Even small businesses have taken it upon themselves to do what they can to help those in need. Just today I began my internship at a small business. The owner told me that despite the rough economy and all of the financial obligations he has, he was still spending time on “Crutches for Africa”, which he co-runs. I have seen how easily one can take part in doing something valuable for those in need. At the individual level, all that matters is the realization that if we are living comfortably, we are obligation to donate our time to help those who would benefit more than in keeping it for ourselves.

It's about them



Nuala Mgala

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