Bombs, Books, and Bucks

The $82 billion “emergency supplemental” bill to finance American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan leaves the United States spending more money on military power than is needed on a yearly basis to permit every child in the world to receive, within one decade, both primary and secondary education. Clearly, the question is not whether universal education is affordable, but whether America and the world can afford to neglect the political, economic, social, and health benefits of educating the roughly 380 million children around the globe who currently do not attend school.

Education, no less than military might, is a security imperative, for it helps the world – both individuals and societies – to escape the consequences of widespread poverty, rapid population growth, environmental problems, and social injustices. Education strengthens social and cultural capital, which contributes to strong and stable polities. It improves human health, increases life expectancy, and lowers fertility rates.

Aside from these obvious benefits, education is also a widely accepted humanitarian obligation and an internationally mandated human right.

But this right is unrealized for the 28% of the world’s school-age children who are not enrolled in school. Most are illiterate and live in absolute poverty. The majority of these children are female. Of those who enter primary school in developing countries, more than one in four drops out before attaining literacy. Moreover, enrollment does not necessarily mean attendance, attendance does not necessarily mean education, and education does not necessarily mean good education.