McAfee: Education is a public good

Stacy R. McAfee

In celebration of the role of education for peace and development, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed Jan. 24 as the first International Day of Education. It asserts that “education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility.”

With the understanding that an educated populace is a country’s most important resource and that developing human potential is arguably the most significant responsibility of every society, UNESCO is calling on “governments and all partners to make universal quality education a leading priority.”

The World Bank says that education is the “single most important key to development and to poverty alleviation.” Their 2008 Development Report reaffirms that education is central to development both from the individual and broader societal perspectives. For the individual, education improves health and nutrition, increases productivity, employability and earnings and reduces inequality on income, among other things.

Over a lifetime, individuals who have attained tertiary education earn about US$1 million more than a person without a college degree. The difference between the median earnings of tertiary graduates compared to high school graduates has increased significantly over the past 30 years.

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Education is a public good and society benefits when broad access to quality education is attained. People who graduate from tertiary education are more involved in voluntary organizations and give more to charity – all of which is good for the economy and society. In the United States, the incarceration rate of adults with some college education is about one quarter of that for those with only a high school degree.

In an article published by the Cornell Policy Review, Alex Arthur and Kimberley Vallejo give an insightful summary of the societal impacts of investments made on education and how national and international policymakers have increasingly relied on education as an engine for social and economic progress and development.

“Studies which have followed the economic performance of OECD countries over a span of almost three decades have found that investments in education that increase the average years of study of the population by just one year have seen an overall increase in GDP of about 6 percent (UNESCO-UIS/OECD 2003, 22). Increased funding for education is seen to correlate with economic development in part because citizens are more prepared to participate in the formal economy if they have received more schooling.”

“Developing higher literacy rates and more complex math and science skills are seen to directly improve society’s labor preparedness. The impact of increases in education spending (either to improve quality of schooling, access to schooling, or both) are thought to be exponential according to human capital theory.”

“Education also boosts democratisation and functions as an engine for general social cohesion and a means to fight poverty. Better educated citizens are more likely to participate in the democratic process and have a tendency to support democratic regimes over other political systems (Ganimian and Solano Rocha, 2011).”

Realizing the impact of education and an educated citizenry to the development of their societies, some countries have developed a profile of the individuals their education system seeks to “produce.”

CARICOM stated that the ideal Caribbean educated citizen should possess the following characteristics: be imbued with a respect for human life; be emotionally secure with a high level of self-confidence and self-esteem; view ethnic, religious and other diversity as a source of potential strength and richness; be aware of the importance of living in harmony with the environment; have a strong appreciation of family and kinship values, community cohesion and moral issues; have an informed respect for cultural heritage, demonstrate multiple literacies, independent and critical thinking and demonstrate a positive work ethic.

This is similar to the profile of the educated Caymanian developed by the Ministry of Education. It defines an educated Caymanian as one who will “Be enthusiastic and motivated about learning and will continue to extend his/her knowledge and skills after leaving school. This person will be literate, numerate and adept at using information and communication technology. She will be a good communicator, creative and appreciative of the arts and have a positive outlook and a high self-esteem. He will be well-rounded, good at finding solutions to problems, flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances and demands and have a strong work ethic and willingness to become an honest, reliable and responsible member of the workforce. The educated Caymanian will be respectful of God, him/herself, others, people from different backgrounds, the environment and property.

“In addition, the educated Caymanian will: be proud of and knowledgeable about the Caymanian culture, while respectful of other cultures and beliefs; be a good team player, civic-minded and willing to serve and have an awareness of global issues affecting aspects of life in the 21st century.”

These are all laudable goals that will only be accomplished by increasing public and private investments in education and recognizing that education is the fundamental building block for achieving the broad strategic outcomes of our nation.

Dr. Stacy R. McAfee is president and CEO of the University College of the Cayman Islands.

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