Lessons from Davos: Why bridging global education gaps is crucial for the economy

Lessons from Davos: Why bridging global education gaps is crucial for the economy

While technological innovation holds vast potential for human progress, it can also exacerbate one of our greatest unresolved challenges: The widening gap in opportunity for the millions of children who lack access to a basic education. A guest post by Mushtaq K. Chhapra, chairman and founding director of The Citizens Foundation, one the largest nonprofit institutions in the field of education in Pakistan.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, the world’s leaders in politics, business, and art contemplated the transformation that technology is causing across diverse subject areas – and, ultimately,  the global economy. In my capacity representing the only non-profit organization from Pakistan to participate in this year’s forum, I want to share this message: While we need to embrace the technological advancements that will transform our future, we must not let the least privileged children in the world fall so far behind that they cannot catch up.

Today’s successful economies run on innovation, collaboration, and creativity, and increasingly require higher-order labor market skills. Those without fundamental skills in literacy and numeracy will be further isolated by the economic transitions now underway.

UNESCO estimates that 122 million youth globally are illiterate, 60% of whom are girls. In a related estimate, a McKinsey Global Institute Report predicts that the global labor market will face a surplus of more than 95 million low-skilled workers and a shortage of 95 million high- and medium-skilled workers by 2020.

In Pakistan alone, it is estimated that 25 million children are currently out of school, and two-thirds of those children are girls. As co-founder and chairman of one of Pakistan’s largest non-profits in the field of education, I am intimately familiar with the work needed to address this problem head on: Building schools in the heart of marginalized communities, providing quality education and need-based scholarships to students who cannot afford school fees, and employing an all-female faculty so parents don’t hesitate or face cultural barriers in sending their daughters to school. While these contributions positively impact Pakistan’s future, in today’s globalized society we are also contributing to a fairer and safer world.

The disadvantages of being born in poverty can cripple a child’s chances of living a productive life and exploring his or her true potential. Conversely, the impact an education has on an individual is enormously apparent. Self-improvement leads to a snowball effect where students become a more influential family member, a role model for siblings, and source of hope and inspiration.

Many educated children go on to attract greater respect from their community and essentially become agents of positive change. Anum Fatima, who grew up in an inner-city slum in Pakistan, was among those children facing some of the toughest odds on Earth. Presented with an opportunity to attend a nonprofit-funded primary school, she quickly excelled to the top of her class. After college graduation, Anum was selected in 2013 for a full scholarship to a summer program at Harvard University. Upon returning to Pakistan, she launched a project that provides micro-loans to families to help them improve their lives.

In this era of momentous change and possibility, it is critical that we do everything in our power to help those in need of an education so that we can experience more examples like Anum. Education is the surest path to sustainable solutions. Poverty, public health, intolerance – so many of our biggest social problems can be traced back to poor education.

As we make investments in technological innovation, so too must we invest in educational resources and infrastructure to bridge global gaps in education and address the coming shortage of medium- to highly-skilled workers.  The success of the global economy depends on our ability to empower the next generation of global citizens with an opportunity to learn.

The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is one of Pakistan’s leading providers of formal education and the largest network of formal private schools for underprivileged communities in the world. Mushtaq K. Chhapra is the chairman and founding director of TCF. He is also Honorary Consul General of the Royal Nepalese Embassy in Karachi. He serves as director of various companies and corporations including Coastal Trading, CBM Plastics, Transpak (Pvt) Ltd, Coastal Synthetics (Pvt) Ltd, Multipaper Products (Pvt) Ltd, and Coastal.

About Author

Guest Post

This article was published as part of the GRI Guest Post Series. GRI guest posts come from leading experts in business, government, and academia. The series strives to bring a diverse range of perspectives on the critical issues of our time. The views expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of GRI.