STORY BY GEOFF DAVIES
PHOTO BY KATHLEEN CALLAHAN
Save the planet: put your daughters in school.
Sir John Daniel never made his case for universal education quite like this. Nothing – not even building and filling schools in the developing world – is ever quite as simple as that.
Daniel was at the podium on Mar. 11 for the second instalment of the “Trust in Education” lecture series, put on by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs and hosted by St. Mary’s University. His presentation, on the successes and failures of the global campaign for education, was received warmly on a night that was anything but.
Knighthood aside, Daniel also has more honourary degrees than he has fingers and toes, and was the first person to preach at Westminster Abbey with a laptop. During his 35+ years in the field of higher education, he has led the charge for universal education, landing top jobs at a dozen or more universities and organizations worldwide, including UNESCO and several Canadian universities.
Today he is the head of the Commonwealth of Learning, an intergovernmental organization which works with governments within the British Commonwealth to develop “non-traditional education solutions” to provide citizens with “cost-effective, significant education and training results.”
During about an hour and half of lecture and Q&A, Daniel outlined the successes and shortcomings of the global education campaign, as well as a few stats to tell us why we should be rooting for his team.
As of 2006, there were 75 million children around the world who should have been in primary school, but weren’t. That’s more than twice Canada’s population.
About 55 per cent of these kids –more than 41 million – were girls. According to Daniel, providing girls with basic primary education may have more far-reaching benefits than one would think.
“Indeed, the education of girls may well be the most powerful tool against climate change,” he said.
His logic? Since the end of the Industrial Revolution, the global population and our environmental impact have each grown by about a factor of seven. This means our overall impact on the earth is almost 50 times greater than it was in the mid-1800s.
Slowing the growth of the world’s population would curb this negative impact.
This is where education comes into play.
Educated girls tend to have fewer children of their own. Daniel pointed to the example of the Indian state of Kerala. There, the strong emphasis on the education of women has proven even more effective at lowering the birth rate than China’s “coercive one-child policy.”
But that’s not the only way that ‘Education for All’ could make the world a greener place, says Daniel. He rattled off a couple cases where an educated population helped bolster struggling economies.
Daniel turned again to China and India as an example. Back when the Chinese economy was much weaker than it is now, the government laid a foundation of widespread education and healthcare. When China adopted a system of market economics, this foundation allowed it to grow much faster than its neighbour and rival, India.
But not so fast now, warned Daniel. Universal education won’t make all the world’s woes magically disappear.
‘Education for All,’ said Daniel, should be seen as “a basis for economic development, rather than its cause.” Even if organizations like the Commonwealth of Learning or UNESCO could get every kid in Sub-Saharan Africa into a classroom, there still wouldn’t be an immediate economic payout.
Instead, Daniel says ‘Education for All’ is worthwhile because it’s good in its own right.
And so, the 20-odd people didn’t get to see Daniel confront the big, fat elephant in their midst. With the economy and the environment on so many minds these days, it would have been nice to leave that night with education prescribed as our panacea. Nice, but naïve. Instead, Daniel concluded with something a little more grounded, if not anti-climatic.
“I’ve never met anyone who regretted being educated.”