Education, Key to the Future

Article excerpt

RIO two years ago, Cairo yesterday, Copenhagen and Beijing next year--this extremely important series of United Nations conferences(*) reflects a growing awareness that the challenges facing our world are universal. These meetings are stages on the long road to the management of our global interdependence.

They can be seen as part of a trend that is leading to a significant shift in thinking about development. Economism, one of the most persistent of this century's reductionisms, is in retreat. Development is increasingly recognized as a process encompassing all aspects of human existence and as a right due to all human beings in their diversity.

A NEW APPROACH

The regulation of population growth is undoubtedly one of the most urgent challenges facing us. But it is only one factor in a complex equation that can spell the difference between greater prosperity for all in a more equitable world, or increased poverty, environmental degradation and social and political tensions of all kinds. Population policies must therefore form part of an integrated sustainable human development strategy that includes protection of the environment, the promotion of economic well-being and the furthering of social progress, notably through enhancement of the status of women.

To be effective, such a strategy must be radical, in the sense of going to the root of our problems. I believe that this means, first and foremost, investing in education--that is to say in knowledge and knowledge creation, in individual awareness and responsiveness. All the available evidence suggests that there are enormous dividends to be reaped from investing in education. Experience in many countries has shown that it is the key not only to economic growth but also to political development and social progress.

Nationally and internationally, we continue to invest in a shortsighted way. Our investments are still geared to past threats or to dealing with the symptoms of problems. We are largely unprepared or unwilling to address current challenges of a non-military nature that constitute actual or potential threats to human security. Every day we confirm our perverse preference to pay the heavy human and financial costs of peace-keeping and relief operations rather than make relatively modest investments in the social sphere. We ignore, at our peril, the need to tackle our problems at source.

Everywhere, in all social and cultural contexts, increased education for girls and women means lower fertility rates, as well as reduced mortality and morbidity levels. This shows that women's reproductive choices depend on a process of empowerment, which can only come from improved educational provision, training for economic self-reliance and the enhancement of women's legal and social status. …