Why We Must All Hope Malala’s Birthday Wish Comes True
July 16, 2013
Do you remember what you wanted for your 16th birthday? I asked for a new Walkman and dreamed for a car. Not very inspirational. For her 16th birthday on Friday, Malala Yousafzai, the education and child rights activist from Pakistan who was brutally shot in the head by Taliban last October, asked for the world to help see her dream that all children be enrolled in school by 2015 become a reality.
The movement begun in her name in the aftermath of that tragic shooting, culminated Friday on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly, where she delivered her first public address since the shooting and was supported by some 500 peers in staging a “UN Youth Takeover.” She was steadfast: “We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us.” She was pragmatic: “One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” And, perhaps most importantly, she was humble: “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, boy, and girl who have raised their voice for their rights.”
Mainstream and social media coverage was explosive; #MalalaDay was trending on Twitter, with almost 20,000 tweets using the hash tag per hour at 9:00am Friday during her testimony to the UN General Assembly. And with good reason, this young woman’s courage and conviction and her ability to rally not only her own generation, but millions young and old around the world, is extraordinarily compelling and inspirational.
But at the end of the day, what will drive action is the reality of what’s at stake. Despite global progress towards universal Education for All goals, according to UNESCO, 61 million children remain out of primary school and 71 million adolescents out of secondary school. One in five young people aged 15-24 has not completed primary school or lacks skills for work. Out of school adolescents in South and West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa account for 75 percent of the total globally. While progress is also being made to close the gender gap in education, young women still represent two thirds of the world’s illiterate youth. Lastly, while enrollment and attendance is a critical start, children and youth everywhere are falling short in terms of learning outcomes and being prepared to take on adult roles—especially going to work. In fact, 250 million of primary age children cannot read or write, whether they are in school or not. Furthermore, we know that millions of youth do not have the knowledge or skills to match labor market needs or secure them decent work and a productive economic future. Recognizing that “200 million young people despair because they lack equal opportunities to acquire the skills they need to get decent jobs and livelihoods,” the post 2015 High Level Panel has called for young people’s access to “education beyond primary schooling, not just formal learning but life skills and vocational training to prepare them for jobs.”
Many are likely to react to these realities on humanitarian grounds and with personal compassion. But seeing Malala’s birthday wish for education equality come true is truly in our collective interests. The links between education and economic and social progress are clear. Studies show that one additional year of schooling can increase lifetime earnings by 10 percent, and among women as much as 20 percent. If 1 percent more young women complete secondary schooling, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) can grow by .3 percent. UNESCO reports that globally, each additional year of schooling raises average annual GDP growth by 0.37 percent. The growth experience in East Asia Miracle shows the potential economic payoff from building human capital and harnessing the potential in youth. Girls’ and maternal education has beneficial links to societal health; for example, the World Bank found that an extra year of female schooling reduces fertility by 10 percent, UNESCO reports that a child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past age five and more likely to be vaccinated, and UNAIDS reports that women with post primary education are five times more likely to be knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS.
The economic and social case is as clear as the human one. Hopefully, like the millions of young people who have galvanized around one of their own to show the power in voice, others with power will do so as well to shift policy and resources towards equitable and quality education for all. In a 2013 policy paper, UNESCO reported an annual financing gap of $26 billion to reach the Millennium Development Goals in education by 2015 and projected a $38 billion gap should the goal be expanded to include lower secondary schooling as the High Level Panel recommends in its proposed post 2015 framework. At the same time, their analysis shows that if public and private donors agree to be held accountable to commitments, work together to create innovating sources and financing mechanisms, and galvanize domestic resources which are then prioritized for education, these gaps could be bridged.
Malala Yousafzai has inspired a movement for inclusive education and youth empowerment. Her bravery and achievements are already world-changing. Just think what progress we would see for global prosperity and wellbeing if we all joined in to #StandwithMalala.
Dr. Nicole Goldin is director of the Youth, Prosperity and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF). Follow her on Twitter @nicolegoldin.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2013 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.