In its most recent issue, Time magazine reported that 4 million child deaths would be prevented around the world by boosting mothers’ education. This news is hardly surprising. Start an internet search with “effects of education on” and Google finishes your sentence with any number of social ills: crime, poverty, the economy, health, income. Nevertheless, Time’s statistic is timely.
The Millennium Development Goals
Last week, 140 heads of state and government gathered at the United Nations in New York to review the Millennium Development Goals. It has been ten years since world leaders adopted the MDGs to eradicate poverty and “ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people.” With only five years to go before the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs is reached, it is more critical than ever that donor countries reaffirm their commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
With measurable, time-bound targets for each, the eight Millennium Development Goals are as follows:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development
Universal Primary Education: MDG Number 2
The Millennium Development Goal that is closest to the hearts of those involved with the Khanyisela Scholarship Program is Number 2: achieving universal primary education. In fact, it is this goal that can catalyze all other goals, as education alone increases income levels, empowers women, and improves access to health care.
Education in South Africa
In South Africa, leaders are quick to point out the success of attaining this Millennium Development Goal. Indeed, South Africa is on track to exceed universal primary education for all children before the 2015 deadline, and 98 percent of 18-year-olds have completed grade 7 or above. These statistics, however, while shedding light on improved educational accessibility and availability, cloud South Africa’s continued educational challenges. South Africa remains fourth from the bottom in a ranking of global education systems. Forty percent of high school students don’t make it to grade 11. According to UNICEF, Around 27 percent of public schools do not have running water, 78 percent are without libraries, and 78 percent do not have computers. South Africa’s challenge, then, is not necessarily educational quantity or accessibility, then, but rather quality.
At a time with renewed commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, South Africa must not become complacent. Nor can we as members of the global community take satisfaction in the extraordinary progress that South Africa has made in achieving universal primary education. Rather, let us continue to act, to recognize the importance of high quality education. Every other Millennium Development Goal depends on this one. And every vulnerable child depends on a basic education to escape poverty, to improve her health, and to change her life.