The G-20 and the Class of 2020

05/03/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

The eyes of a recession-weary world are on the G-20 this week as an anxious global community awaits plans for a clearer and quicker path out of the recession. While we all want the leaders gathered in London to deliver recovery in the months and years ahead, they should also act on the enduring lesson of this economic catastrophe: prevention.

If a head-in-the-sand mentality brought us to this precipice, then it's crucial that the G-20 act on preventing this kind of edge-of-the-cliff crisis from ever happening again. That means preparing the next generation -- the class of 2020 and beyond -- for success.

Change can and should begin at home.

With one quarter of the world's wealth, the United States ranks number one among G-20 nations. But we're lagging far behind when it comes to education and basic early childhood development, the keys to our continued economic leadership.

- Children under five years old in the United States will receive less education over their lifetime than five year olds in Australia and Argentina, as much education as five year olds in France and Italy, and barely more than five year olds in Brazil and South Korea.

- The United States had the eighth highest score out of 13 countries in the G-20 that participated in the PISA science test, a global indicator of academic achievement.

- There are eight countries in the G-20 with under-five mortality rates lower than ours and we have double the rates of Japan and Italy. Even more disturbing is our lack of progress. From 1990 to 2007, we reduced our under-five mortality rate by less than two percent, the sixteenth worst improvement in the G-20.

Making investments in the next generation will ensure our leadership role economically and as a beacon for a prosperous global future. There are many proven, innovative ways we can tackle the issue of education inequality.

For example, Save the Children runs four public-private partnership projects in struggling rural communities that have a strong track record of boosting reading scores and teaching kids to lead healthy lifestyles. Our after-school reading program for elementary school kids boosted the percentage of children reading at or above grade level by 42 percent in just nine months.

We should bring that model and other proven approaches to the table in Washington and to the G-20, ensuring our leadership as an education innovator, the model for economic success and the one place on Earth where each generation has an opportunity to be greater than the ones that preceded it.