Can Education Resolve Poverty?
Having volunteered as a teacher in an orphanage in Shilatne village, I was very encouraged by listening to some of the impact stories of orphans who had made a successful career out of the knowledge they had gained, and hoped that I could help accomplish the aspirations of those orphans that I taught as well. Additionally, my own family has been a great example of climbing financial barriers and social class structure through education. Each generation in my family starting from my grandmother to my mother and my elder sister, has utilized education to provide higher income than what the family started/begun with. Through these experiences, I believed that schooling was necessary to climb out of poverty, or to increase income. However, this generalization was not always true. When I took Solving Big Problems (http://solvingbigproblems.com/), a class taught by Professor Bhardwaj at Babson, I came across a range of solutions that were implemented without understanding the problem correctly, and hence did not reduce the problem, or worsened it. I put the educational industry under a microscope and started noticing examples from my personal life and research. When I taught in the non-profit orphanage school in Shilatne, I learnt from my conversations with the students that they often got confused with different volunteer teachers teaching different subjects, and having no consistency in their learning. However, my friends and I always felt content when we left the orphanage feeling positive about the little impact that we created. This difference in perspective had only happened because the orphanage school, although focused on educating the children, was catering more to the needs of the volunteers than the children themselves. I then organized volunteer schedules to ensure that we were actually benefiting students consistently with the subjects they needed help with. Thinking about this experience really helped me put Professor Bhardwaj’s lesson into perspective. I then read about the compulsory free primary education policy that some Indian states had implemented. While the initiative was intended well, it caused a negative impact on several children, who could not afford higher education and hence were left poorly educated for competitive jobs. The compulsory education had also left them untrained to take over their family occupation (be it farming, street-vending, or apprentice-based occupations of carpenters, shoe-repairmen and many others). Such educational initiatives might have furthered these children into poverty, rather then helping them out of it. Furthermore, I learnt through my conversation with my cousin who shifted from a non-profit government school to a private school, that the quality of teachers in government schools was poor, due to lack of proper payment or incentive available for these teachers.
Then how does education actually help poverty?
Education helps poverty when these children can go beyond just primary education and learn basic language and technical skills required for getting them a better job, or opportunities to scale their family occupations, or start an entrepreneurial venture. But can this actually happen to students who are born below the poverty line and might not even have a family occupation? Maybe not in the same generation, but it does create an impact in the long run as each generation strives for better standards of living than the previous one. But without education, these children might not have the literacy and understanding to do small-jobs, communicate with others and seek better resources or even take microloans. To avoid the well-intended negative impacts that were spoken about earlier, these organizations need to understand the problem better, the factors that affect the problem and the major stakeholders, before implementing these solutions. In the consulting industry, consultants are encouraged to spend as much time at the clients’ office having conversations with them and understanding the real problem at hand. The solution recommended is successful when it is a product of having understood the problem, the client, customers and stakeholders really well. Non-profits and governmental ventures do not approach solution creation in the same manner. They do not talk to the children, their parents or the teachers, who are the people most impacted by these educational ventures. I strongly believe that by treating these beneficiaries (in this case, the children and their parents) as the main client, companies can structure solutions that actually benefit the people whom they are intended for. Of course there are monetary constraints to such solutions, but such analysis could at least help prevent negative impact onto the beneficiaries.