Education is seen by virtually every social observer as essential to the success of developing countries in the global marketplace. Education helps the individuals within developing nations become better able to obtain jobs that will help them become upwardly mobile and helps the nations themselves obtain the human capital needed to be competitive in the postindustrial age. The education needed for developing countries comprises much more than basic literacy skills and general education, however. Also needed are vocational programs, job-related skills training, higher education, and professional education, as well as the skills that will make them successful citizens of their community, nation, and world. Education programs also need to be developed with the needs of all major stakeholders in mind so that developing nations can acquire the talent they need in a timely manner.
Keywords Class; Economic Development; Education; Gross Domestic Product (GDP); Gross National Product (GNP); Human Capital; Social Mobility; Social Stratification; Society; Socioeconomic Status (SES); Systems Theory
Education in Developing Countries
Citizens of the United States and other developed countries often take education for granted. Not only have most adults attended school for years, but a basic level of education is often mandated for most citizens. It is typically through education that individuals acquire the knowledge and skills that enable them to obtain jobs that will give them social status and income, or to break out of their class and move up in the social stratification of society. In the postindustrial, Information Age of the 21st century with its emphasis on science, mathematics, technology and the fast exchange of information, education is increasingly important. In addition, in today's global marketplace, competition is no longer local or even national. Increasingly, businesses need to be able to compete globally in order to survive and thrive. To be competitive in this environment, many businesses find themselves in need of employees with the knowledge and skills that support this goal.
In many ways, the control of technology differentiates a highly developed country from one that is underdeveloped. However, another characteristic of underdeveloped or developing nations is their lower emphasis on education. It is through education that nations can typically obtain the human capital necessary to work with technology and process information that not only provides the infrastructure necessary to bring them up to the standards of more developed nations, but also that enables them to compete with these nations as well. As this infrastructure for global competitiveness becomes more complicated, it requires an increasing amount of knowledge in order sustain and improve it. Expertise in these tech areas frequently requires specialized education. Those countries with individuals who have the education and knowledge necessary to work with technology grow, develop, and are successful. Those that do not tend to continue to struggle and have little chance of succeeding globally.
Unfortunately, this situation is all too common. While education levels continue to rise around the world, in 2011 774 million adults over the age of fifteen could not read or write; women accounted for 493 million of this number. Most of these people reside in underdeveloped countries where most education is informal, occurring primarily in the family setting, religious institutions, or from community elders. Although this approach may provide one with the life skills necessary to be successful in such a society, if the society as a whole hopes to develop and become competitive in the global marketplace, more formal education is needed. Without such a level of education, however, such societies will find it difficult to adjust to rapidly changing world conditions or to be competitive in the global economy.
Expanding Global Education
However, there is some evidence that the worldwide education gap is narrowing in developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as countries produce more college graduates. Education remains the key to growth and success in developing countries. Even though global wealth continues to increase, poverty is still a reality in many places. For the most part, educational emphases to help people move out of poverty have focused on literacy and basic education. However, research has shown that developing countries need other educational initiatives as well, including agricultural extension, vocational education, community development, and citizenship training. Although functional literacy is essential for helping developing countries to succeed, it is only preparation for the other types of education needed for success. Particularly in urban areas, technical (e.g., electronics, metal work) and commercial (e.g., bookkeeping, administrative skills) vocational education is needed. Although some vocational programs exist in many developing nations, they are often inflexible, lengthy, and costly. To maximize its effectiveness in helping developing nations, vocational education programs need to be flexible, give individuals the job skills they need for the marketplace and provide businesses with the human capital that they need for success. In addition, these programs need to be targeted to meet the needs of those groups that will benefit the most from them, including individual workers, employers, and other stakeholders.
There is an old proverb that advises: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." In this spirit, it is almost universally assumed that education is essential to reducing poverty in developing countries. Although education is important to help children living in poverty to have a better future, education is also important for adults living in poverty to have a better present. Further, reducing poverty is more than a matter of offering those living in poverty more and better opportunities. They need to be taught how to take advantage of those opportunities and be given the social and work skills necessary to be successful in carrying them out. However, the reality of adult education for those living in poverty is more complicated than one might assume at first. Teaching those in poverty is more than a simple matter of giving them job skills. Education at this level must also address concerns of self esteem, social relationships, and psychological obstacles. Historically, however, adult education programs to help those in poverty have had poor results in helping them better their living conditions.
Economic development is often seen as the way to eradicate poverty. However, rather than trying to treat the problem by bringing development in the sense of improving the welfare of the poor, most theorists were merely seeking to treat the symptom by advocating economic growth through an increase in the gross national product or gross domestic product under the assumption that national wealth would eventually trickle down to positively all people within the society. It was soon found that the abjectly poor needed to be kept in the equation and their development needs directly addressed.
Poverty is a pervasive, socioeconomic condition that has affected and continues to affect societies around the world. One of the ways that many societies try to attenuate this problem in the 21st century is to encourage adults who are living below the poverty line to participate in programs designed for poverty reduction. However, whereas mainstream adults often voluntarily participate in educational programs and courses for life-long learning, adults who live in poverty often have psychological or learning problems that prohibit such easy participation in learning programs. For example, there is some support in the literature for the theory that deprivation, the stigma attached to being poor and rejection negatively impact one's identity and sense of self to the point where individuals in poverty accept their position and class as acceptable.
In developing societies, there are two general ways in which poverty is understood: The inability to meet basic needs and the inability to participate in the everyday life of the society. For example, research data from Botswana show that most adults living in poverty are uneducated, live in rural areas, are in their middle to late adulthood, and are female heads-of-house with dependents. When combined with gender-biased inheritance issues, such factors make it difficult for even those adults wishing to escape from poverty to do so. Research has found that the most important factors mediating between poverty and the formation of an adult's identity are physical deprivation and the psychological...
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