Nothing has inspired me more than the sacrifices I have seen African parents make to send their children to school. In Swaziland in the 1990s, I calculated that a typical rural family spent over 60 percent of its disposable income to pay for school fees, books and uniforms. The reason families are willing to devote so much to educate their children was summed up by the pioneering American educator Horace Mann in 1848, when he wrote, “Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”
As our world has become more interconnected and technology-dependent, the role of education as the primary pathway to social and economic mobility has grown stronger. We now live in the most prosperous era in the history of mankind, but one where a quality education is the price of admission into the 21st century knowledge economy.
As more countries have prospered, the gap between the haves and the have nots — which, in most low- and lower-middle income countries, is the gap between the well-educated and the undereducated — has become a potentially destabilizing factor. Lack of education decreases life opportunities and increases political marginalization, perpetuating and exacerbating social and economic inequality. In an increasingly uncertain and volatile world, educational inequality not only is a main component of the poverty trap, but is also a tripwire for social strife and conflict.