A policy question from Taneshia House, who this week asks,
“What do you say when people - economic justice activists - say formal education doesn't solve poverty? What if they say that job training and job creation is more important? Is that true?”
They both matter. It’s not possible to create jobs that reduce poverty without an educated population, but education doesn’t solve poverty by itself. To unpack this, it’s worth thinking a bit about the role that each of these things – jobs and education – play in reducing poverty.
Looking at education first, it’s important to note that it’s about more than preparing people for the world of work. In a review of research on the area, academics Emily Hannum and Claudia Buchmann noted that,
“Countries with better-educated citizens indeed have healthier populations, as educated individuals make more informed health choices, live longer, and have healthier children. The populations of countries with more educated citizens are likely to grow more slowly, as educated people tend to marry later and have fewer children.”
Beyond this, people who can read and write can participate more fully in social and political life, and have a greater opportunity to influence the world around them. Development economist Amartya Sen talks about education in terms of freedom, arguing that education gives individuals increased opportunity to pursue their dreams.
But, as many people argue, having a high school certificate or university degree doesn’t end poverty. You can be educated and hungry, smart and unemployed.
That’s where job creation comes in. As agricultural productivity increases, far fewer people are needed in primary production, meaning that huge amounts of labour are freed up for work in other industries like manufacturing and services. Or, as is often the case, freed up to be underemployed or unemployed.
Formal education creates people with skills to work, but doesn’t create jobs for these people (other than a few who are employed in the education sector). Good formal education, backed up with the right (and culturally appropriate) incentive structures can be an engine for enterprise and the flourishing of small businesses that create employment. Job training and informal education can foster skills for jobs that already exist, bridging the gap between formal academic skills and the needs of the workplace.
Spending time in places like Cambodia, Ghana and Rwanda, I’ve seen first hand the huge challenges facing high school and university graduates. Having worked hard in formal education, they’re often bewildered to find so few jobs available, and despite the ambitions of many, they often lack the skills to start their own enterprises. These countries desperately need the skills these young people have, but they don’t have the resources to put them to good use at the moment.
That’s where the role of things like outside investment, short-term migration overseas and aid can be so important. They can provide the employment opportunities, markets and resources needed to help educated citizens move out of poverty and become productive taxpayers, contributing to their own economy and creating opportunities for others.
At the Global Poverty Project, we’re committed to providing you the tools to take more and better action that will really see an end to extreme poverty, starting with the ability to ask questions like this. If you’d like to ask a question for future blogs, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, ask us on our Facebook discussion page or tweet at us using the hashtag #askGPP.