I have been educated in two countries: Switzerland and the UK. If I could change one thing about the education in these places it would have to be the amount of knowledge taught about the developing countries of today and their on-going, as well as decreasing, poverty. In my last years of high school I did the International Baccalaureate (the IB) and did an optional Geography course. This was the first time in my life that I was being educated about how to end poverty within a classroom environment. We learnt about many things, including the United Nations’ development goals, aid in the case of natural hazards, and what kinds of ways of living brings countries into vicious cycles of poverty.
I did my primary and high school years in an International School where the students were in great majority privileged and had lived in at least 2 different places of the world (often many more) before age 15. When moving to England this September to start University, I was incredibly surprised to find that I met over 5 people who had never even stepped outside of England. The population in developed countries is, as a whole, very much aware that poverty exists. But being aware of it and seeing it is very different. Having never stepped outside of the UK there are many things which you will never understand without simply seeing the bustling life of a slum on the teeming and overcrowded dunes of Lima Peru, or Delhi India as you pass by in your taxi. However, when moving to England I realised that there were levels of ignorance and that even having simply seen under developed countries, as many kids from International schools have, is not sufficient.
The globalisation of the world lets us assume that we are linked to everyone and gives the illusion that the great majority of the globe lives in the same way we do. The internet gives us the impression that we are one massive community and that all 8 billion of us are active members of this platform. But this is not so. The conditions by which people live in the streets of countries in extreme poverty (extreme poverty is earning below a dollar a day) would be considered barbaric by urban societies, and this was quite literally proven by the documentary “The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia” which showed modern life cannibal wars, where people roasted over fires. Put like this, there are parts of the world which sound horrific, and despite not being taught about development, there is no escaping the countless videos that make you aware of such environments which you are guaranteed to have been shown at school or home before age 13. However we are never properly educated on how to end this in other ways than handing out money. As Jeffrey Sachs pointed out in his book The End of Poverty, the professional studies of how to put countries out of poverty are at the same levels of advance as Science was in the medieval periods when they believed that leeches sucking on human blood cured the body of bad blood. Many people often think that simply throwing money at developing countries will take them out of poverty, when this is not the case. Much more thorough and country-specific management is needed, but we are never taught this at school.
My high school director agreed with this, and when talking to one of my friends about why development studies were not taught at an earlier stage in school, for even to be taught this at middle school would be a success, he explained that parents simply did not see the interest of learning about whether aid is good or bad, and what kind of aid works best. In our often consumerist society perhaps we do not realise that at the heart of development studies is the study of how to live: how to make communities work together, or how to make a population demographic healthy. I believe that studies on how to enrich people’s lives in developing countries are not only important to help other countries but are healthy to the population of our own young generations in already developed countries. The first thing you are taught, and which is proven case study after case study, is that money is not the solution to problems of well-being. Money only helps in developing projects of education, micro-finance, or health systems. Without smart minds and care, a country will only grow corrupt. Perhaps this is a lesson we all need in our lives too: to understand that a wealth of spirit will make much better use of money than a corrupt mind will.
I will be returning to University in England this September and I am glad to be taking two Geography modules, “Social Geography” and “Geographies of Nature and Development” aside my English degree. I suppose what both subjects have in common, English and Social Geography, is that both delve into the matter of how humans live their lives and the variety of lives that different cultures will harbour. Both are open-minded subjects which look at the aspects of being human which make us the same, despite time, money or society. For example, the novel Jane Eyre written 200 years ago proves that by its lasting relevance today humans will always fall in love with humans in the same way and that this has not changed with time, while studying about the different aspects which makes poverty eradicable such as health improvement, woman empowerment, education emplacement, etc, reminds us that to be successful in life is to have a balance of good influences and situations, not simply lots of money.
At the end of the day, does it not seem absurd that we learn the causes of World War I over and over, are taught to memorize what were the leading causes to Franz Ferdinand’s death, and yet we do not know what are the causes of poverty and the ways by which they are preventable today? Despite this missing aspect in education, I don’t think I have much to complain about. Much progress is being made in terms of development, enough to make me think extreme poverty can be eradicated. I am an optimist, but more and more I see evidence that people all around are caring. For example, where companies used to collect art with a part of their profits, some now use this money to fund development projects all over the world! The Rolex Award, by Rolex, is a great example of this where anyone can send in their idea for a project which will improve communities and environments and the Rolex Award picks a few to fund every year. It is also encouraging to see specific courses about development being taught at university level and it being present in some courses of high school.
I feel privileged to have been introduced to this subject in my last two years of high school and I know that my aspirations for life and the future would be very different without the knowledge I now have. I simply feel that there is so much to know about this subject that is so relevant in today’s world that teenagers could benefit from knowing at a much earlier age than high school. It seems slightly ironic that it is often thought that the best way forward in poor countries is education, and that I am claiming that the one thing that should be changed in our education if it could is teaching on overcoming poverty in such countries, but it makes sense. When visiting countries like Tanzania and Peru I have always thought that no matter how superior we often think we are, there is always something that these countries can bring us, while we can bring other types of knowledge in return. I found myself sitting on the floor of a rural school’s courtyard in Tanzania once, teaching children how to play guitar, and I will never forget the serene atmosphere of the plains and the blithe spirit of some of the communities of that area. We all have something to teach each other in our modern world, and I think that studies in development from the early age of middle school (12 years old) is the way to open the minds of future generations, we are not superior, but surprisingly very alike.