The Massive Educational Deficit in Developing Countries: Part 1

03/09/2017 07:12 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2017
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“In every developing country that I've lived and worked in, I have seen well-intentioned projects to build schools go unused. There are derelict school buildings being used as accommodation without teachers and books.” - Katrin Macmillan, CEO, Projects for All

In an effort to expand conversations around education, I’ve begun to reach out and engage global storylines. I had a remarkably enlightening discussion with Katrin Macmillan, founder and CEO of Projects for All, a non-profit human rights organization providing services to developing countries. The organization’s mission, founded in 2013, is to empower communities facing human rights challenges by providing life-changing support and partnership.

One of the areas of support is education and Macmillan is a strong proponent of shifting the traditional paradigm that has far too often failed. Macmillan points to a “massive educational deficit” in poorer nations that critically curtails positive growth. Simply put, there is not enough money in the world attributed to developing world education to reach every child with a school and a teacher.

Macmillan asks us to examine our true intentions as developers of change. If we genuinely believe every child has the right to an education, then a new affordable and scalable solution to the education deficit is very much needed. The old method of throwing money at a poverty solution only to depart without full-fledged planning has been a repeated failure. It’s time for funding that incorporates ownership at the grassroots level. Projects for All designs educational development programs to be owned and operated by the community. Ultimately, it allows the people to be the “instruments of their own progression.”

Below is Part 1 of my eye-opening conversation with Katrin Macmillan. Part 2 contains the full-length video along with the remaining transcript.

Part 1 of Interview

Rod Berger: Katrin, it's really nice to be joined by you. It's fascinating when we look at folks who are concerned about global issues and the welfare of Planet Earth.

Talk about Projects for All and how this got started.

Katrin Macmillan: Projects for All came about when I was living in Nigeria and I was working for various different aid agencies as a consultant ─ large aid agencies.

While I was working on big overarching projects, I was upset and frustrated by the problems I saw in my immediate community. I came to respond to them and it was a great privilege to be somewhere where I could immediately respond.

In that way, what were not called “projects” at that time came about and initiatives to look at the housing crises or the recycling problem, the ethnic violence in Jos and lack of access to supplies refugees need. It became clear that I had started something that if we were to give it some structure could do more.

During the processes of establishing these projects, I suppose, a style of working and community-led organizing had come about.

When I became really fixated with the education deficit, it was clear that we needed an organization in order to support the intention to do something about it. So we registered a charity in the UK and in the U.S. and, shortly thereafter, launched Project Hello World which remains our biggest project.

RB: Talk about that education deficit. What is it that the rest of the world or the modern world is not aware of when it comes to the lack of educational resources and “infrastructure” is maybe a better way to put that ─ that we should be aware of because it does impact global economies?

KM: You're so right. The economic tragedy the world over is, in large part, because we have a massive education deficit. In every country in the world, there is an educational problem in the poorest areas. But in the very poorest countries, we have massive educational deficits.

Where I was living when I first started this work in Nigeria, there are 8.7 million children out of school; just in Nigeria.

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Worldwide, there's a 69 million-teacher deficit. We need 69 million teachers urgently if we're going to hit educational targets ─ and that's just the educational target; it's not even reaching every child.

I think the thing that frustrates me about the education issue is that we've been pursuing the same paradigm for decades. We show up in poor communities. We build them a school. For a period of time, there are funds for teachers and books. But, inevitably, as aid budgets run out, that runs out as well.

In every developing country that I've lived and worked in, I have seen well-intentioned projects to build schools go unused. There are derelict school buildings being used as accommodation without teachers and without books.

Very often, the schools that are functional are not providing adequate education. Very often, the teachers themselves are uneducated.

Beyond that and, perhaps, most critically, there is not enough money out there in the world attributed to developing world education to reach every child with a school and a teacher. There isn’t enough money. If we put them all together, we still couldn't reach every child with a school.

It's so obvious that a new affordable and scalable solution to the education deficit is urgently needed if we genuinely believe that every child has the right to an education; and I think we can all agree on that point.

And so, we have to find a way of reaching them and we have to find a way of reaching them with world-class education ─ anything less than that isn’t enough.

RB: If money is not the answer, is it a matter of culture? Is it a matter of understanding that if you help support a young person in education, that individual and human being will grow up to value education? The valuing would be at an entirely different level with a different frame than we have currently, so that, maybe, they would want to become educators?

I'm coming to you from the U.S. and it sounds very "U.S." to throw money at a problem. But I know we are not alone in the approach or in the criticism.

How do you see it?

You're well traveled and it's, obviously, not only a U.S. issue of throwing money. Yet, we're not making inroads. I can only imagine these derelict school buildings that were once invested in most likely had some PR and promotional stories behind them that made them look good for twenty minutes ─ but, then, attentions moved on to something else.

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KM: I think money is part of the problem. I think it does cost money to educate people. It's some capital but it's an investment that you make in building a robust infrastructure.

For the future of a functioning economy, I am advocating for us to rethink how we channel those philanthropic funds and to be less risk averse

I believe that in places where there are no schools or too few schools or no teachers - and no teachers will go - we need a new paradigm; and my belief is that it's possible for children to become multi didactic if they have access to the world’s body of knowledge and educational materials that they can use themselves.

From an educational point, I think that's where I would stand.

From a development point, I think that we have a tendency in the development community - in my community - to show up with a solution, a pre-fabricated solution for a community, give it to them, get some pictures, put it on Facebook, and leave.

I think it's often worse than useless. We haven't partnered with the community. It's not respectful. It's not collaborative. And, too often, it fails.

If we want to engender a culture of problem solving in developing communities, then, we need to work with those communities in genuinely equal and respectful partnerships.

On that very issue, how can we encourage problem solving?

Culturally, in the developing world, the expectation of someone in my position is to just show up and give something; and we don't have to do anything for it other than ask nicely, be very grateful, and maybe a little bit of dancing.

It's insulting to the communities that we purport to service. I think it's twofold. I think we need to trust that children can take their education to extraordinary places because they are desperate to learn, and I think we need to work in partnership with communities and empower them to solve their own problems rather than coming with a quick fix.

RB: Is it the scale of the problem that is the challenge?

Let's say, we take a developing country. We're trying to instill education; we realize that we're doing a really good job and we're not just taking the proverbial selfie of what we're doing; we've thrown some money; and we've gone back to our homeland. But we've actually done something there that has institutional fortitude and standing over time.

But the challenge - is it not that, then, we have to make sure that the environments that they graduate from - and I use that term loosely - are prepared for the advancement in their abilities? That they will grow up and exercise the knowledge that they've gained?

If the businesses in those communities are not on par, is that not part of a bigger issue as well?

KM: I totally agree. There's a tendency in a lot of developing communities that I've worked in to teach children a post-colonial curriculum by rote and, very often, by force with an enormous amount of physical punishments and repetition.

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These are the "lucky" kids. These are the ones who are in school. Yet, they are often leaving with absolutely nothing of value for vocational activities. They'll have a piece of paper that's not even worth having printed.

Yes, the economics of the environment into which they graduate can't support their desire to improve their lives and their families’ lives.

My argument would be that that's why we need to support and engender a new generation of problem solvers who are thinking laterally, who can identify the needs of their community and feel empowered and feel they have some of the tools to start to respond to them.

Young people who can start businesses, who can speak another language ─ the language of business, in most places that I've worked in the developing world is still English ─ who can connect with the world, who can become not just autodidactic but can start to create their own businesses, as well as, their own educational models.

It's about creating something that's not about graduation. It's about opportunity.

And I think that the scale of the problem is vast. The countries in which there is the lowest rate of education are also the countries in which it's very hard to launch impact investing and some of the new models for lifting communities out of poverty.

At baseline, in order to go in with functional businesses, you need a certain level of education, so that you can hire those people; without that, we're in a catch-22.

Yes, I think very often, young people come out of schools and have nowhere to go and they still don't have the skills they would need even if there were odd jobs to apply for.

And I think that's really terrifying.

About Katrin Macmillan

Katrin Macmillan is Founder and CEO of Projects for All, a non-profit human rights organization based in the United Kingdom and United States. Katrin has worked in development, human rights advocacy and humanitarian aid in Africa, NYC and London. She is an award-winning producer, coordinated advocacy events, and has worked as a development consultant. Katrin co-launched Bwari Soap Co, and initiated the emergency relief for Jos.

She also worked with the Developmental Association for Renewable Energies to build Africa's first energy-autonomous housing using recycled bottles. Katrin has addressed international academic forums on human rights and humanitarian aid, and has written for the Huffington Post, The Times and Time Out New York.

Katrin lives in London with her husband Tom and their children Cressida and Hugh.

Follow Katrin Macmillan on Twitter

Further Reading:

Additional Reading:

International education changes that can lift children out of poverty

How thought leaders are shaping education in developing communities

The vocal leaders of global education

About Rod Berger, PsyD.

Dr. Rod Berger is President and CEO of MindRocket Media Group. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter

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