Global Access to Education is Critical
October 11, 2011 The Tennessean
Sixty-seven million children worldwide did not attend school this year. Most of them were girls, who will be impacted throughout their lives in the form of lower wages and poor health.
America will be impacted, as well. Education is one of the most effective ways to reduce global poverty. It also helps us advance America's goals abroad and build a safer, more cooperative world. We should not allow the U.S. budget crisis to deter our commitment to expanding global access to education.
Tennessee's "Education Crossroads" Report, published in 2008, eloquently demonstrated the value of educational investments across a range of socioeconomic metrics. More education led to higher earnings, greater economic security and a better quality of life.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, an extra year of school for girls in low-income countries can mean a 20 percent boost in wages later in life - 25 percent for an extra year of secondary school. In poor countries, more education reduces birthrates and lowers the chance of contracting HIV/AIDS.
There is great temptation to reduce foreign aid in order to trim the deficit. However, the U.S. spends less than 1 percent of its budget on aid - and we get a tremendous return on that investment. Cutting these funds would not significantly reduce the deficit, but it would have a lasting effect on the world we leave to our children.
When we invest in educational opportunities abroad, we help create healthier, stronger and more democratic societies. We also build trust.
Aid is a critical component of our mission in conflict-torn countries like Afghanistan, which I visited five times while in the Air Force, and where my wife and I work through our nonprofit foundation. We believe education is the key to Afghanistan's future, especially for its girls. As we say, "When one educates a boy, one educates a boy. When one educates a girl, one educates a family."
The U.S. cannot close the education gap alone. More than 36 million girls are out of school this year. Relatively few girls make it to secondary school, and even fewer are graduating. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has said a woman in South Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than finish high school. Yet, the agency is now forced to scale back support for secondary education.
If we are serious about closing the education gap, we must invest in new partnerships. Copenhagen will soon host the first replenishment summit for the Global Partnership for Education. The U.S. should take this opportunity to make its first financial commitment.
The Partnership has helped 46 low-income countries enroll 19 million children into school. It also has helped build more than 30,000 classrooms and train more than 337,000 teachers.
If the U.S. contributes $375 million to the partnership over three years, nearly 4 million more children would be sent to primary school. And there would be substantial returns through economic empowerment and international security.
With the funds our foundation is raising, my wife and I have built three schools and are renovating a school for 3,000 students in Kabul. We realize the need is great, but we believe that the opportunity to change the course of people's lives is greater. We hope the U.S. government will join us in expanding our commitment to education.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley and his wife, Jan Bradley, are co-founders of the Lamia Afghan Foundation. They live in Nashville.