Promoting quality education for all.

We need Global Fund for Education

September 15, 2010

Source: Deseret News

By Vanessa Johnson

This past spring, I had the rare opportunity to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, with Dr. Scott Leckman, another Utah native, for the Africa and Middle East Regional Microcredit Summit. The meeting was part of an ongoing movement to bring small loans to poor entrepreneurs throughout the world so they can start a business that can lift their families out of poverty. While in Kenya, we visited Jamii Bora, a microfinance organization working in Kenya. They have helped thousands of families lift themselves out of poverty.

Jami Bora is centered in the Kibera section of Nairobi. Kibera is the largest slum in Africa. I saw children running around with no shoes over mounds of garbage and tin shacks for homes. The deeper into the slum we went, the stronger the smell of human and animal waste became. I remember two little boys in particular. Their clothes were tattered, and they were covered in dust. Garbage was piled all around them. Shoeless, they walked beside what looked like a stream. They had sticks and were poking at the plastic bottles gathered in this small bed of water. Watching them, I hoped that there was a safe water sources somewhere in the slum. However, after much searching, I did not see any water sources other than this putrid little stream.

Despite these conditions, my hopes began to rise when I saw a large school within the slum. I thought to myself, that regardless of income, these children at least had access to a school. And with this education comes the hope that they can one day leave Kibera and create a better life for themselves and their families.

Believe it or not, the children of Kenya are relatively lucky compared to those living in many poor nations in Africa, where school fees pose an extreme barrier for children living in poverty. Kenya eliminated such fees in 2003, and in the weeks following the announcement, 1.3 million additional children showed up to school. The conditions may not be ideal with overcrowded classrooms, lack of supplies and few teachers, but the optimism is spreading to other countries where school fees are being lifted and access to education has become more attainable.

Still, an estimated 72 million children do not have access to school. And even in nations where fees have been lifted, the quality of education is extremely low. To break the cycle of poverty and help these nations reach the first rung of the ladder of economic opportunity, they need resources to build new classrooms, train more teachers, and buy more books.

That's why the world needs a Global Fund for Education that can distribute the resources necessary to give every child a quality education. President Barack Obama proposed such a fund during his campaign two years ago, but we've heard little about it since then. That's disappointing, because a similar mechanism — the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM) — has enjoyed tremendous success since its inception, saving 5.7 million lives from three of the world's deadliest diseases. Modeled after the GFATM, a Global Fund for Education could enjoy similar success and help achieve the Millennium Development Goal of providing universal access to education for all children by 2015.

Some might say that creating a Global Fund for Education would be costly, and we need to spend our money elsewhere. The reality, however, is that the U.S. spends little more than 1 percent of its budget on all foreign aid. Money spent on education is an investment that will pay off big by building more stable societies and preventing nations from becoming the kind of failed states where we are compelled to intervene militarily.

Although millions of children remain out of school, I feel hopeful that one day soon they will all have access to an education, helping to make this world a safer and better place.

Vanessa Johnson is a recent University of Utah graduate in International Studies and group leader of the local RESULTS chapter.

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