Education and Economic Development

Stephen DeAngelis

October 13, 2017

Education and economic development are two topics in which I’ve been interested for years. Commonsense tells you the better the education a child receives the better chance he or she has of becoming a contributing member of society. The quality of education matters. Measuring the quality of an education, however, has proven difficult. Nearly a decade ago, Eric A. Hanushek (@EricHanushek), a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, Dean T. Jamison, a professor in the School of Medicine at the University of California (San Francisco), and Eliot A. Jamison, an investment professional at Babcock & Brown, and Ludger Woessmann, a professor at the University of Munich, wrote, “Most commentators rely more on the commonsense understanding that countries must have good schools to succeed economically rather than presenting conclusive empirical evidence that connects what students learn in school to what subsequently happens in a nation’s economy. Even economists, the people who think the most systematically about the way in which ‘human capital’ affects a nation’s economic future, have skirted the heart of the question by looking only at ‘school attainment,’ namely the average number of years students remain in school.”[1] They go to explain why that is a poor measure of education quality:

“Using average years of schooling as an indicator of a country’s human capital has at least two major drawbacks. First and foremost, the approach assumes that students in diverse school systems around the world receive the same educational benefits from a year of schooling. A year of schooling in Papua New Guinea and a year of schooling in Japan are treated as equally productive. Second, this measure does not account for learning that takes place outside the classroom — within families, among peers, or via the Internet, for example.”

Underscoring the argument that years of education doesn’t equate to quality education, Josh Zumbrun (@JoshZumbrun) reports, “Around the world, hundreds of millions of students are spending years in school while learning virtually nothing, and many countries are neglecting to even measure their progress.”[2] As Hanushek et. al. noted, some of the most important learning a child receives comes outside a formal school setting. Several years ago I wrote an article about the Global Literacy Collaborative, a group sponsored by Tufts University, Georgia State University, and The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values.[3] The Collaborative put lap top computers into the hands of children who, without any formal instruction, learned to use them and educate themselves about all sorts of subjects. Deon Filmer (@deon_filmer) and Halsey Rogers, economists at the World Bank, observe, “Hundreds of millions of children reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills. Even if they attend school, many leave without the skills for calculating the correct change from a transaction, reading a doctor’s instructions, or interpreting a campaign promise — let alone building a fulfilling career or educating their children.”[4]

Improving Lives One Child at a Time

The prospect of helping “hundreds of millions of children” is daunting; but, like any journey, it begins one step at a time. One organization that understands this approach is 100humanitarians. Its mission is “to mentor families globally through education and entrepreneurship in an effort to eliminate physical, mental, spiritual and emotional poverty, while preserving culture and tradition.” 100humanitarians is a small organization with modest goals and whose primary focus is Maasai people of Kenya. As you may have heard or read, politics in Kenya are a mess. That’s why Heidi Totten, Executive Director for 100humanitarians in the USA, decided to bypass the government and work directly with the Maasai people. Her counterpart in Kenya is Moses Masoi. They were featured in a video by musician Alex Boyé entitled “Promised Land.”

The organization’s current focus is building a cultural center on the Maasai Mara. The objectives of the cultural center include:

  • Providing education and protection to the Maasai people, one of the most indigenous tribes in the world.
  • Creating a bridge for different communities with different cultures to include pure love, worthy trust, and voluntary cooperation.
  • Establishing a resource center where communities can learn and inspire one another through educational programs founded on the principles of the Seven Pillars Foundation.
  • Creating a “Stories Café”, where the Maasai can research and document their families histories online for future generations.
  • Establishing a children’s haven, where children from the local Maasai community and children from 100 Humanitarians expeditions can have a once in a lifetime experience learning from each other.

In order to support these families and many more moving forward, 100Humanitarians received two large pieces of land on which to build cultural centers. The plan for these cultural centers includes:

  • A water well up to 150 meters deep with heavy-duty pump — with ability to connect to pipeline to each of the nearby villages.
  • Hot water, electricity/solar and satellite internet for free.
  • Library and Internet stations — plan for 10 computer stations.
  • Computer stations equipped with Microsoft Office suite and training materials to obtain certifications.
  • Computer tutoring session for different level of computer knowledge using local tutors and mentors from the U.S.
  • A timeframe for children to play educational computer games.
  • Help with online business, for people who want to sell online.
  • A variety of job skills seminars depending on community need, including business techniques, building long lasting manyattas (huts) with clay or concrete, pump maintenance for water wells, basic electric wiring, plumbing, etc.
  • A program to create small business initiatives for women from jewelry making to order, online selling, for tourists design, and sewing things like shuka fabric pillow and scarfs.
  • Movie nights for different age groups of children, including cultural documentaries, animal videos and motivational videos from mentors around the world.
  • A MAASAI MUSEUM to promote cultural heritage with historical Maasai items, with a cultural guide and a movie translated into different languages. It will also include family lineage and history of various families for easy reference if the future generations want to learn about their ancestors.
  • Health and education seminars with guest doctors and nurses from visiting groups.
  • Guest houses to be used for local accommodations, expeditions from around the world, and study abroad programs.

This holistic approach to educating children, along with their families and communities, ensures practical skills will be taught and applied in a way directly affecting the welfare of the Maasai people. The cost of the first cultural center is $69K and money is still needed. To contribute to the construction of the cultural center, click on this link. A smaller, but equally important focus is educating Maasai children. 100 Humanitarians is currently contributing to school fees for 18 children in both Primary and Secondary School. The typical school fees for a Primary School child range from $50-150 per year depending on the school. For Secondary School it averages $500-600 per year. The organization’s goal this year is to raise $5000 for school fees, and money is still needed to help these children complete the school year. You can make either a one-time or monthly donation by clicking on this link. 100Humanitarians began with a question: What can 100 ordinary people do to make a difference the lives of others? If you’ve ever asked what you could do, now you know.

Summary

Zumbrun writes, “While parents all around the world have long recognized there can be a big difference between having your kid in school, and having your kid learn anything, many countries have remained far behind the curve at recognizing and measuring the extent to which students are acquiring any knowledge.” Small organizations, like 100Humanitarians, take personal interest in each child they support to ensure they are learning what they need to know in order to contribute to the society in which they live. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has stated, “Schooling without learning is a terrible waste of precious resources and of human potential. We need to prioritize learning, not just schooling.”

Footnotes
[1] Eric A. Hanushek, Dean T. Jamison, Eliot A. Jamison, and Ludger Woessmann, “Education and Economic Growth,” Education Next, Spring 2008.
[2] Josh Zumbrun, “Many Students Around the World Can’t Read or Add, World Bank Says,” The Wall Street Journal, 26 September 2017.
[3] Stephen DeAngelis, “The Global Literacy Collaborative Demonstrates the Power of Technology-assisted Education,” Enterra Insights, 20 February 2014.
[4] Zumbrun, op. cit.