Creating a level learning field

Shlok Vaidya is a One Young World Ambassador from the United States.

Education as an economic driver

Today access to education is increasingly threatened by economic disadvantage.

Research by the World Bank measured the Education Gini Coefficient - a number between 0 and 1 where 0 corresponds with perfect education equality. Countries closer to 1 had the lowest per capita incomes. Such skewed distribution of education implies a huge social loss accruing from underutilisation of human capital. Poverty thus becomes a direct barrier to education and lack of education in turn perpetuates poverty.

Our generation needs to find ways to break this cycle of poverty and illiteracy to enable people at the bottom of the pyramid to transform into tomorrow’s engine of global prosperity.

Gender bias

Gender bias is an important factor closely associated with education inequality.

In a study across 193 countries, UNESCO reports nearly one-third of countries do not achieve gender parity at primary school level and two-thirds fail to achieve it at secondary school level.

In developing nations, the bias begins at access to education. While the de jure position in most developing countries guarantees equal opportunity for both genders, the de facto position is starkly different. 88 of women are literate for every 100 literate men, with the number dropping to 62 in countries like Bangladesh.

A hidden curriculum reinforces the gender divide as teachers unknowingly encourage traits like independence in boys and conformity in girls that undermine evaluation of classroom performance. Educational policies need to design curriculums and train teachers to counteract gender bias.

Bridging the skills-gap

We also need to supplement existing curriculums with employment-focused training that is individually tailored to student competency and needs.

A recent report found 39 percent of under 25s were either unemployed or underemployed – the prime reason being a skills gap. While 72 percent of educational institutions believed recent graduates were ready for work, only 42 percent of employers agreed.

As a Mentor with StreetWise Partners, Oliver Scholars and other career coaching programs in New York, I guide students on creating LinkedIn profiles, networking, interviews, communicating effectively and delivering powerful presentations.  Such proficiencies are sadly underemphasized in current curriculum but are vital to secure a job.

We need to encourage partnerships between the private sector, governments, civil society and philanthropists to develop employment-focused training so that every step - from providing monetary assistance and technical expertise to auditing its impact on the target population - can be streamlined.

Beyond the classroom

Creating a level learning field for the next generation extends beyond the physical classroom. In recent years, the Internet and mobile devices have become powerful tools to disseminate information in traditionally backward regions.

In 2006 under TEACH FOR INDIA, I taught children in Mumbai without the financial means to go to school. I was amazed to find that their basic understanding of modern technology, learnt through observation and peer to peer linkage was only a few years behind their 'well-provided for' counterparts.

Inspired by the understanding that those with limited access to formal education can quickly recover lost ground if technology is accessible, I partnered with fellow One Young World Ambassador Monika Visy who set up an initiative called Base Budget. Base Budget provides financial knowledge, money management and budgeting skills to hundreds of people across Gambia, South Africa, Mali, Malawi, Burkina Faso and Togo. We use online collaboration tools and VoIP to extend our footprint and upscale the courseware.

With powerful online distance learning tools like Coursera, edX  and Blackboard, information technology is a key enabler of education. And, if education is a vehicle to human progress, generational development and the cornerstone to universal economic development, technology along with a concerted effort to encourage equal access to and participation in education will help achieve the Democratisation of Education.