Three Reasons the Americans Should Support Global Education

Yesterday, at the Clinton Global Initiative’s Annual Meeting, President Obama spoke about the importance of U.S. investment in international development. He illustrated the way in which challenges around the world have increasingly become American challenges, for example the spread of violence, disease and pollution across borders. However, unlike his speech at last year’s meeting, the president did not announce any new details on how he plans to carry through his previous global education commitment. In 2008, Presidential Candidate Obama pledged his commitment to multiple development initiatives, including a $2 billion Global Fund for Education.

In a world of financial crises, health-care reform and soaring national debt, the president certainly has his hands full. But it would be a mistake to let investment in international development, and education in particular, slide to the bottom of the priority list.

There is a powerful case to be made to the American people elucidating the idea that investing in international educational development is in their best long-term interest. Americans should support and encourage improving education in the developing world because over time it will make them safer, healthier and wealthier.

Safer: From primary to secondary schooling, education across all levels has been shown to have a positive effect on peace and democratic attitudes. A large-scale econometric analysis of civil wars since 1960 concluded that a “country which has 10 percentage points more of its youths in schools—say 55 percent instead of 45 percent—cuts its risk of conflict from 14 percent to around 10 percent.”[1] Another multi-country study analyzed the determining factors for democratic attitudes in deeply divided societies, finding that level of education is by far the primary predictor.[2] In a world where weak states are often a haven for violent extremists, getting more children and especially youth into school can dramatically help reduce the risk of instability and lay the groundwork for more stable, democratic political systems to emerge. This, in turn, promotes peace and stability worldwide.

Healthier: Education, especially for women and girls, has powerful effects on the health of families and communities. The Global Campaign for Education estimates that if all children had a primary education, as many as 700,000 cases of HIV could be prevented each year. Often called a “social vaccine” for HIV, education increases people’s ability to negotiate risks and protect themselves. Whether it is HIV or another communicable disease, education plays an important role in reducing health risks. Eliminating or reducing the spread of HIV and other diseases will benefit Americans’ health, as well as the health of the world’s citizens.

Wealthier: Education helps catalyze economic growth. A plethora of research has shown that educating women is the best intervention for improving a communities’ economic well-being. A 100-country study by the World Bank found that every one percent increase in the level of women's education generates 0.3 percent in additional economic growth. In a globalized economy, this growth can have a long reach and can benefit Americans as well. In a decidedly forward-thinking move, Goldman Sachs devoted $100 million to educating 10,000 developing-country women in business skills. The company made this investment not only because it cares about reducing global poverty but because it is good business. Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman’s chairman and CEO, argues that the project will benefit the company by creating economic growth in emerging and new markets, “because that’s how our bread gets buttered as a business.”

Improving education in the poorest parts of the world is not only in Americans’ best long-term interests, but is also significantly cheaper than fighting wars, treating illness and re-engineering the economy. Americans and our representatives in Congress should help President Obama fulfill his commitments to invest in international development by supporting increased resources to education that are used effectively to promote a safer, healthier and more economically prosperous world.

[1] Conflict and Education Research Group. Deskstudy on Education and Fragility. INEE: 2008.

[2] Hanf, Theodor and Petra Bauerle. Factors Determining Democratic Attitudes in Deeply Divided Societies. GTZ: 2009.