Does Education Equal Wealth?

Photo courtesy of ANSA-EAP
Photo courtesy of ANSA-EAP

By Haidy Ear-Dupuy

At an E-Camp: Social Accountability for Better Education Services held in the Philippines on 3-5 December, 2014, students from various countries in the Asia and Pacific region asked, “Is education still a way out of poverty?”

At an E-Camp: Social Accountability for Better Education Services held in the Philippines on 3-5 December, 2014, students from various countries in the Asia and Pacific region asked, “Is education still a way out of poverty?”

Participants from both government and civil society came together in the regional event-organized by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific Foundation (ANSA-EAP), to learn more about how students, parents, teachers, and the ministries of education can work together to improve accountability in the education sector.

Unlike the usual presenters and audience style conference, this E-Camp was an “unconference,” where participants were both learners and sharers of knowledge.  Self-facilitated group discussions allowed learning and teaching to percolate among the participants.  Though there was observed discomfort among older attendees,  this participant-led approach generated insightful discussions and recommendations.

One unique session in the break-out was a discussion on education that revolved around three areas of concerns that youth seek to resolve: What is education? Does education equal employment? and who is responsible in ensuring that the education system is working?

What is education?
Pondering how people learn and what is considered to be education led the group to conclude that education includes both formal and informal sessions. Vocational training is seen as an important vehicle for those who do not have access to formal education.  In the Philippines, government training centers such as Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or the Alternative Learning System provide student training outside the usual academic tracks.  The Asian Development Bank (ADB) works with Asia and Pacific’s developing member countries to develop technical and vocational training programs with Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Philippines, and Viet Nam.  

According to noted scientist and educator Dharam Pal Dhall, education should not just be about training young people for the economy but be part of the process of human development. An holistic approach to learning should not just focus only on intellectual development or for preparing to work and earn money later. It should also be about acquiring life skills that can prepare young people to be future informed citizens of a country, and thus the world.  
A well-rounded and balanced education should span five areas:  Learning to learn, skills for work, sound moral identity and citizenship, skills for intimate relationships—including family life, and following a healthy lifestyle. 

I am educated, why am I still poor?
As youth grapple with the question of education and wealth, they concluded that a good education does not always equal a good job.  There is an increasing mismatch between education and market demand.  Another complication arises from young people’s preferences and expectations.  Many educated youth prefer to work in air-conditioned offices to laboring away at technical jobs—a case of “white-collar” jobs over “blue-collar” jobs. If this expectation of an office job is unmet, it can fuel frustration and a sense of marginalization.       
As countries approach middle income status and their manufacturing sectors turn more toward technology for production, today’s skilled workers need to be “gray-collar” or “knowledge workers” who are versed in technology and possess technical skills.

Whose responsibility?
While governments are responsible for ensuring that every child has access to education, it is the people’s job to ensure that the education strategies set forward are implemented with adequate financial support. To this end, ADB works with governments, private sector, civil society, and youth to strengthen knowledge and ensure that skills are aligned with employment in the region.

However it is the responsibility of the individual to learn beyond the classroom, to seek knowledge from a variety of sources, and to learn from peer groups. Self-awareness and self-empowerment can be powerful tools for youth. They must be able to identify the knowledge that they need to help them succeed both at work and in the community. 

As one youth stated, “Education is still the way out of poverty.”  But others concluded they need to do more themselves to help the education system to be more accountable. And for youth, the learning does not stop after they leave school.