The importance of education in any economy can rarely be overstated. Its impact on productivity is well known, but its influence on attitudes and lifestyles can be just as significant.

Given its fundamental importance it may at first be difficult to understand why many parents in developing nations do not send their children to school. The sobering answer to this puzzle seems to be that many parents want, or need, their children to work so that the family can earn enough money to provide the food, clothes and shelter that they need to survive.

Overcoming this problem will require a focus on improving the quality of education that children receive so that parents can see practical benefits from school. It would also help if parents are made to feel part of the educational system, perhaps by teaching them skills which are relevant to their own jobs or lifestyle.

While increasing demand for schooling is important, the developing nations also need to make a commitment to free primary education so that all children, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to learn the skills which could change their lives.

Providing free education for all will not be easy, but it is possible if Western donors fulfil their promises. Developing nations also need to consider refocusing their attention on young children rather than on University education which has less impact on inequality and is only available to a small elite.

Gender equality

While education is important for everyone in society, regardless of their circumstances, it has a unique role to play in empowering those who are discriminated against.

In many developing nations there is a culture which oppresses women, often treating them as second class citizens. Bringing about a change in social attitudes will be extremely difficult, but it is most likely to be successful if it begins in the classroom. An educated, empowered female population will be much more capable of overcoming the barriers which they have historically faced.

We must make our voices heard, we must demand action from those who claim to represent us.
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