What is the single most important thing that can be done to improve the world?

Shashi Tharoor was often asked this q in his UN days. Over a period he found the answer as two word manta- “educate girls”.

It really is that simple. No action has been proven to do more for the human race than the education of female children. Scholarly studies and research projects have established what common sense might already have told us: if you educate a boy, you educate a person; but if you educate a girl, you educate a family and benefit an entire community.

He points to several examples to show the importance of girl education:

The evidence is striking. Increased schooling of mothers has a measureable impact on their children’s health, education, and adult productivity. Children of educated mothers consistently out-perform children with educated fathers and illiterate mothers. Given that, in general, children spend most of their time with their mothers, this is hardly surprising.

A girl who has had more than six years of education is better equipped to seek and use medical advice, to immunize her children, and to be aware of the importance of sanitary practices, from boiling water to washing hands. A World Health Organization study established that “in Africa, children of mothers who have received five years of education are 40% more likely to live beyond the age of 5.”

Moreover, a Yale University study showed that the heights and weights for newborn children of women with a basic education were consistently higher than those of babies born to uneducated women. A UNESCO project demonstrated that “each additional year of a mother’s schooling reduces the probability of the infant mortality rate by 5% to 10%”

The health advantages of education extend beyond childbirth and infant health. AIDS spreads twice as fast, a Zambian study shows, among uneducated girls than among those who have been to school. Educated girls marry later, and are less susceptible to abuse by older men. And educated women tend to have fewer children and space them more wisely, facilitating a higher level of care; women with seven years’ education, according to one study, had 2-3 fewer children than women with no schooling.

The World Bank, with its typical mathematical precision, has estimated that for every four years of education, fertility is reduced by about one birth per mother. The reason why the Indian state of Kerala’s fertility rate is 1.7 per couple, whereas Bihar’s is more than four, is that Kerala’s women are educated and half of Bihar’s are not. The greater the number of girls who go to secondary school, the Bank adds, the higher the country’s per capita income growth.

However world is not signing up:

Sadly, the world is not yet rushing to “sign up” to the challenge of educating girls, who consistently lag behind boys in access to schooling throughout the developing world. An estimated 65 million girls around the world never see the inside of a classroom. Yet not educating them costs the world more than putting them through school.

Certainly, there is no better answer. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it simply: “No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition, promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and increase the chances of education for the next generation. Let us invest in women and girls.”

Well he has the opportunity now as a HRD State minister of India..Though he may not have the required time needed but can surely leave his visions with the bureaucracy over the issue..

The article also points to importance of sticking to one’s core competence  . These are things which Dr Tharoor clearly has an advantage as he brings his UN policy experience to India. His earlier pieces (see this and this) on defending India’s growth story with shaky eco statistics were all over the place.

This piece was written on 13-Dec-12. Hence did not witness what we have seen in Delhi and around the country over women security issues. So from an Indian context we need to add women security and respect to education as well..

One Response to “What is the single most important thing that can be done to improve the world?”

  1. Prashanth Says:

    Women are vital.. the basic familial fabric is strengthened by the education of women. Thats also the reason we find a huge contrast in development where women empowerment is more to where its less. Check my blog… a series on macro economics

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