It has been said that education is a great antidote to poverty, as the productive capacity and outlook fostered by education help to transform personal and social prospects. Likewise, on the whole, the educated, by and large tend to eat more healthily and live generally healthier lifestyles. Similarly, the education of girls tends to promote a significant reduction in birth rates (though, sometimes that goes too far, to below replacement levels leading to problems with having enough people of working age to support the elderly).
India's eighth five-year plan sums up aptly, even eloquently -- with particular reference to the dilemmas of a subsistence peasantry that has grown to the point of saturating land and other resources . . . and with echoes enough on urban blight and poverty too:
Rural poverty is inextricably linked with low rural productivity and unemployment, including underemployment. Hence it is imperative to improve productivity and increase employment in rural areas. Moreover, more employment needs to be generated at higher levels of productivity in order to generate higher output. Employment at miserably low levels of productivity and incomes is already a problem of far greater magnitude than unemployment as such. It is estimated that in 1987-88 the rate of unemployment was only 3 per cent and inclusive of the underemployed, it was around 5 per cent. As per the currently used methodology in the Planning Commission, poverty for the same year was estimated to be 30 per cent. This demonstrates that even though a large proportion of the rural population was "working" it was difficult for them to eke out a living even at subsistence levels from it . . .These glorified commonsense truisms and harsh realities already tell us that there are are significant links among education issues, poverty reduction, health and social welfare. Also, that education and linked social welfare and health matters impinge on and are affected by population/demographic characteristics.
All of which tie in with economic forces, trends and factors, and on the impact of a society on its environment.
That is, we again see how strongly, how inextricably the three key environmental domains -- bio-physical, socio-cultural and economic and policy -- interact.
Where also, in much of the region, we face a challenge of the country and the town, such that development now needs to be increasingly decentralised from major urban centres so that people will not feel compelled to leave the countryside to seek their fortune in the town. Proverbially, if unchecked, that tendency reduces the countryside to idleness, and creates urban hardship and decline.
Which, in our region, hands over an open invitation to the illicit drug barons.
Thence, we see criminalisation of significant slices of the population, associated rise in violence and vice, epidemics of drug addiction, corruption of civil officials, of the security services, of the business community, and even of government.
Thence, potential destabilisation of a whole society.
And so, surely, it is cheaper to invest in education, civics, civil society, sustainable development and legitimate economic opportunities now, rather than in fighting a debilitating civil war with the drug barons and their urban street gangs and rural protection squads later. (It is to be noted that, globally and regionally, more than one guerilla uprising . . . Marxist, Maoist or Islamist makes but little difference . . . has ended up as in effect drug lord muscle with an ideological side-line.)
But then, my cynical alter-ego kicks in. First, the costs to improve education, welfare, civics etc are up-front and often go to groups that are at the margins of power; by contrast, when -- later on -- you are confronted with a crime, gangs, vice and violence crisis, you have to find money enough to keep it in check. Machiavelli's ghost whispers again, that political disorders (here, including the economic and the strategic) are as hectic fever: at the first easy to cure but hard to diagnose or recognise, but if at length for want of early diagnosis and prompt treatment the course of the disease becomes obvious to all, it is then far too late to cure.
And, yes, my father taught this to me; I shudder to think of the price he paid to try to warn ahead of time those who seem to have been deaf to reason. The Psalmist, as always, is ever so apt, here speaking in the voice of The Great Jehovah:
Ps 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. [ESV]
Let us never underestimate the value of sound, godly understanding built up through diligent learning and discipline, and associated wisdom and prudence.
In short, we are back to the old Negro College fund promotion: if you think education is expensive, wait till you see the ultimate price of ignorance (and neglect).
As one key step in that investment, digitaliation of education opportunities allows for the education factor to be steadily decentralised, especially given the power of wireless technologies and linked network economics.
Summed up, the relevant economics is that once a network is set up, getting a new participant costs but little, and it is obvious that a cellular network of towers costs much less than one based on either poles and wires or underground conduits and wires. Though, it makes sense to run fibre optics backbones, to carry long-haul heavy traffic and to cover urban areas. Wireless local area networks are now almost trivial to set up also. And, given the digital subscriber line revolution and the spread of cable TV, once such networks exist, broadband web access can be piggy-backed.
Thus, there is a potential to spread networks across the region and wider world. The trick is to harness them for sound education transformation, rather than allowing almost pointless social media, distractive entertainment and porn, as well as rumours and ideological rhetoric to prevail.
If this is joined to a focussed programme of rural upliftment and targetted population, health, welfare, civics and sustainability policies, that can make a positive difference.
Some of that is quite basic -- to the point that we may take it for granted.
For instance, let us look a bit closer at our tourism industry.
Only a few generations ago, the territories of the region had a reputation as disease-riddled tropical death traps, not at all the sort of tropical paradise that we love to portray in our tourism advertising.
Yes, our tourism product is not a "natural" result of the undisturbed Caribbean environment.
The difference from disease riddled death trap to tropical paradise was made through generations of basic primary education and linked public health interventions and control of vectors such as mosquitoes, flies and rats.
After some decades of that effort, tada . . . courtesy the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism:
So again, education is a key.
Howbeit, it does not stand by itself in isolation.
Which, is the message of sustainability. END