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Inequality across the globe, a focus on education

General view outside Katha Community School in the Govindpuri slum district during day 3 of an official visit to India on November 8, 2013 in Delhi, India. At the beginning of the year 2000, in India 20 per cent of children aged 6-14 were not in school.
General view outside Katha Community School in the Govindpuri slum district during day 3 of an official visit to India on November 8, 2013 in Delhi, India. At the beginning of the year 2000, in India 20 per cent of children aged 6-14 were not in school.
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

On Monday, American economist Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says in a Washington Post op-ed, "But there is something absurd, and deeply troubling, about tens of millions of impoverished children being out of school, often in conflict zones, because of lack of financing so modest it should make us blush." This week government officials from 40 nations meet to reinvigorate an effort to change this. The meeting to drum up support for world education initiatives, sponsored by the Global Partnership for Education, will take place on June 25 and 26 in Brussels.

Education is the kind of capital that is for the most part left out of bestselling author Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a book in which the author concentrates his effort on physical capital and wealth as it explores inequality. But education is a large part of what the late Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker popularized as human capital in the 1960s. Piketty, on the other hand, right up front in his book, states that the human capital hypotheses, that a growing importance of skills and education embodied in workers will lead to a lessening of inequality, is "largely illusory."

However one comes down on the argument of whether investing in peoples' education and skills can or cannot significantly effect income and wealth inequalities, it can only sadden us that any child anywhere on the globe lacks the resources to learn to read and write. One estimate is that more than 72 million children around the globe lack access to primary education and are not in school, and 759 million adults are illiterate.

According to United Nations, UNESCO sources, in sub-Saharan Africa, 11.07 million children leave school before completing their primary education. In South and West Asia, that number reaches 13.54 million. 53 % of the world's out-of-school children are girls. Two-thirds of the illiterate people in the world are women.

At the beginning of the millennium, 90 million females in India were non-literate and 20 per cent of children aged 6 to 14 were still not in school. Millions of women remained non-literate despite the spurt in female literacy in India in the 1990s.

At a Brookings Institution event in Washington, DC in February of this year, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said, "There is nothing that will make a longer term difference to the fate of our world than what we are doing today to educate our children.

According to Sachs, it is not an expensive proposition to attack the problem. The Global Partnership for Education is asking for contributions from governments of $3.5 billion over four years, about $1 per year from each citizen of a developed nation. The United States contribution would be $125 million a year. Sachs says that would be about two hours of Pentagon spending.

It may be ironic that the Sachs Op-ed appeared simultaneously in the Washington Post with an article by economic journalist Robert J. Samuelson on CEO pay. Samuelson sites a study on executive pay that reports the highest paid executive officer in 2013 earned $141.9 million. Another CEO is reported to have earned $78.4 million. The combined salaries for just one year of just these two CEO's is almost equal to what GPE will be asking the United States to contribute to the global education initiative over two years.

That puts the effort needed to attack the education of the world's most vulnerable children into perspective.