Making the Case for Investment in Education

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Investment in education is an investment in the future. Education opportunities yield enormous returns for both students and societies. Placing a greater emphasis on access to education, starting from early childhood programs, all the way up through college can have significant positive impacts on poverty, health, and employment markers (Cooper 1). Investing in education may also be one of the keys to ending warfare and global conflict, as research has shown that increased rates of education can play a role in achieving more peaceful societies overall (Brandt 1). Despite the obvious and vast benefits of investing in all levels of education, we are currently facing a global education crisis (Brandt 1). There are 120 million children worldwide who cannot or do not attend school, and an additional 130 million people globally who cannot read or write above a fourth-grade level (Brandt 1). Many of these people live in poverty or are otherwise marginalized by circumstance. Some live in war-torn regions or are isolated geographically from learning resources such as schools or teachers (Brandt 1).  Something must change. This paper will give evidence for why investment in education is so critical, and will also offer specific strategies for reprioritizing education at both the early childhood and college levels.

One of the United Nations’ Millennium Goals is achieving basic primary education for all (“Education and Developing…” 3). As the population grows, the need for widespread access to education increases. By 2030, achieving basic education for all will mean that an estimated 600 million children will need to be enrolled in school globally (Brandt 1). History has proven that investing in knowledge yields long-term returns for society. For instance, in the post-WWII United States, prioritizing education led to the creation of the GI Bill, which allowed veterans to attend school (Gregorian 2). It also ushered in the development of organizations like the National Science Foundation, scholarships like the Fulbright Fellowship, greater availability of Pell Grants and other forms of financial assistance for students, and an increase in the number of community colleges, which make higher education more widely accessible (Gregorian 1). 

Today, however, the United States is ranked only 16th in access to education (Gregorian 2). President Barack Obama has affirmed the necessity of higher education, declaring it a national goal when he stated, “By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” (Cooper 1). Compared to the rest of the world, however, the United States is in a relatively good position. The United States invests approximately $6,800 per child on primary school education, while Iran spends $156 per child and Rwanda spends only $30 per child (“Education and Developing…” 2). Countries experiencing greater poverty overall invest less in education, the reverberating effects of which will be discussed in greater detail. 

Having a more educated population is good for the economy. In other words, “Investing in kids is good for business” (Gillum 1). President Obama has called education a national economic priority (Gillum 1). Every dollar invested in education is thought to return up to eight dollars to greater society (Lorenz 2). In the developing world, investment in early childhood and lower secondary education is of utmost importance in influencing equality and equity, while in middle and higher-income countries, investment in higher education has the starkest economic impact (“The Investment Case…” 6). Investment in education benefits the economy because it enables a greater proportion of the population to gain skills that benefit the industry, allowing more people to become employed (Center for Global Development 1). Being educated can help workers pull themselves out of poverty and/or earn proportionally higher wages, which enables them to contribute more to the economy (“The Investment Case…” 6). No country with a national literacy rate lower than 40% has ever achieved fast, constant economic growth (“Education and Developing…” 1). Therefore, all these factors together create a mutually beneficial relationship that increases societal opportunities for economic growth while also increasing employability for workers (Cooper 1).  A bachelor’s degree enables a student to earn up to one million dollars more in their lifetime than a student with only a high school diploma (Lorenz 1). In much of the developing world, research has shown that each additional year of schooling enables people to earn 10% higher wages over their lifetime (“Education and Developing…” 1). More educated societies, overall, have lower crime rates, more equal economies, and increased civic engagement (Gillum 1). Education can also help people become more responsible adults and stay out of prison and other legal trouble (Cooper 1). Education, therefore, also benefits the economy through money saved on policing, mass incarceration, and public safety (Gillum 1). It is cheaper to invest in schools than in prisons.

Another critical reason to invest in education is to aid in human development (“Education and Developing…”). Human development includes factors like better healthcare provision, as well as a clearer sense of personal rights. Education can provide knowledge about disease prevention; for instance, the importance of access to clean water, hand washing, and immunizations (“Education and Developing…” 1). Research has shown that a pregnant woman with more than six years of education is more likely to seek prenatal and postpartum care, and is also more likely to seek assistance from a midwife or doctor in childbirth (“Education and Developing…” 3). These factors, in turn, reduce child and maternal mortality (“The Investment Case…” 18). Because the majority of farmers in the developing world are women, increased education among women has also improved farming methods and initiated a global decline in malnutrition rates (which are down 40% since 1970) (“Education and Developing…” 1). Education has also been shown to reduce global rates of HIV/AIDS transmission, due to behavioral changes and access to clinics, testing, and prophylaxis (“The Investment Case…” 12).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares education as a basic human right (“The Investment Case…” 2). Education enables people to advocate for themselves and encourages them to hold their communities and governments accountable. Education is also shown to be an empowering force, in general, increasing tolerance for other races and religions, generating a sense of civic duty and responsibility, and increasing concern for the environment and climate change (“The Investment Case…” 18). Education has clear intergenerational effects (“The Investment Case…” 13). Children with educated mothers are more likely to seek education themselves (“Education and Developing…” 1). The reduction of poverty and declining risks of conflict and war create a more hopeful future for later generations (“The Investment Case…” 13). 

Besides economic growth and human development factors like personal empowerment and better health, education also plays a clear role in rebuilding societies. “Improving education is a strategy for… fighting poverty and promoting more just forms of governance” (“The Investment Case…” 10). In a 2012 study conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, those with a primary school education were shown to express proportionally more support for democracy (“Education and Developing…” 1). Education increases tolerance and creates less hateful societies. Educating women and girls is also of utmost importance, especially in places where the subjugation of women, through systems like forced marriage and female genital mutilation, is commonplace (“The Investment Case…” 18). Many of the returns from an educated society, therefore, are linked to women’s education, including a reduction in child mortality, better prenatal care, and higher functioning families, as well as increased personal empowerment and more knowledge about women-dominated industries like farming (“The Investment Case…” 18).

This paper has presented various arguments for investing in education. However, to combat the global education crisis, education must be reprioritized in concrete ways. One strategy for improving access to education is for countries to take responsibility for the education of their own citizens. Resources must also be redistributed from the wealthiest quarter of the population to the less fortunate (Brandt 1). Many economically depressed countries are already prioritizing education in new ways. Some of the world’s poorest countries have the most rapidly increasing rates of schooling, including Burkina Faso and Nicaragua (“Education and Developing…” 3). Other countries in the developing world, like Jamaica and Peru, are on the brink of achieving universal primary education (“Education and Developing…” 4). This was achieved by increasing government spending on education, and through campaigns promoting increased public investment in education. Other countries are allocating more money for teacher training. In 2004, Angola allotted $40 million to train teachers, with the goal of increasing primary school enrollment to 90% (“Education and Developing…” 3). 

Investing in knowledge will also require the developed world to allocate resources for education in the developing world (“Education and Developing…” 4). Global initiatives to assist the developing world in increasing education efforts must include bilateral assistance (“Education and Developing…” 4). In 2004, France, a country whose economy is one-tenth the size of the United States’, invested 600 million more dollars in global education than the US (“Education and Developing…” 3). Clearly, assistance to poorer nations must be reprioritized. One good example of the power of re-investment in education occurred in Korea in the 1950s (“Education and Developing…” 3). With help from the United States, Korea was able to triple its annual expenditure on education, despite being a nation in poverty (the average annual income at the time was only $890 per family). As a result, Korea’s industries became more productive, which had the effect of regenerating the country’s economy. Today, Korea’s primary school enrollment rate is 100%, and the average annual family income is $17,000 (“Education and Developing…”). Humanitarian funding for education and bilateral cooperation will not only affect personal empowerment on societies, but it will also help boost the global economy.

In short, education changes everything. It has reverberating effects on the global economy, healthcare and disease prevention, personal empowerment, and the promotion of democracy. Education empowers people and makes them better global citizens. Education levels the playing field by helping to combat inequality and poverty. Education also has enormous potential for women and girls worldwide. However, in order to reap the benefits of an educated society, we must, as individual nations and together, reprioritize the education of youth. This will require concerted efforts by individual governments, as well as a greater commitment to resource allocation and funding for education. It will also require investment in teachers and other resources, such as schools and learning materials. We need courageous leaders, organizations, and governments committed to reversing the global education crisis because clearly, the benefits of education far outweigh the costs. Investing in education makes a healthier, happier, more functional society—both in the present and for generations to come.

Works Cited

Brandt, Yoka. “Education: the most powerful investment in our future.” UNICEF, 22 January2015, https://blogs.unicef.org/blog/education-the-most-powerful-investment-in-our-future/

Cooper, Michelle Asha. “Investing in Education and Equity: Our Nation’s Best Future.”

Association of American Colleges and Universities Journal, vol. 13, no. 3, 2010, https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/investing-education-and-equity-our-nations-best-future-0

“Education and the Developing World.” Center for Global Development, 2002, https://www.cgdev.org/publication/education-and-developing-world

Gillum, Andrew D. “Why Investing in Kids Is Good for Business.” Huffington Post, 24 March 2015, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-investing-in-kids-is-good-for-business_b_6931560

Gregorian, Vartan. “Investing in Education is Key to America’s Future Success.” US News, 2July 2012, https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2012/07/02/investing-in-education-is-key-to-americas-future-success

Lorenz, Tracy. “Benefits of College Experience Are Vast.” Huffington Post, 3 June 2014, https://www.huffpost.com

“The Investment Case for Education and Equity.” UNICEF, January 2015, https://www.unicef.org/publications/index_78727.html