“Not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” How education underpins how we live and what we believe.
Feb 22, 2016 | Features | by Kate Jackson
Pretty much everyone agrees that education matters. But in a world with a limited pot of money and lots of things to spend it on, I’d like to put the case for why education is the most valuable resource we have.
THE ECONOMY - Firstly, it gives a good return on investment. University research has boosted the Australian economy by around $10 billion each year over the past three decades according to a recent report by Deloitte Access Economics.
Those productivity gains have come from research breakthroughs which have led to more efficient ways of doing things.
They are in addition to the $25 billion universities contribute annually to the Australian economy (directly and indirectly) and $19 billion raised from international education this year - a growing and lucrative export industry.
How to fund universities and VET colleges sustainably will be one of the big election issues in 2016, but with the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency saying each extra $1 invested in tertiary education will grow the economy by $26 by 2025, it’s clearly a priority.
DEMOCRACY - Effective democracies are dynamic, evolving forms of government that demand independent thinking from their populations.
The opportunity for social and political change rests in the hands of the people and an informed population is in a better position to improve its democracy.
In democratic societies, educational content and practice support the habits of government because the social norms, culture, and ideals of any society pass from one generation to the next.
Many of history’s major figures have acknowledged the role of education in creating a stronger and safer world.
Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan described it as a “human right with immense power to transform. On its foundations rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”
In contrast, many of history’s greatest villains have maligned education.
Every totalitarian dictatorship of the last century sought to oppress political dissent through anti-intellectualism - Franco, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot were among the most strident anti-intellectuals, persecuting and exiling teachers, philosophers, writers and artists.
CHOICE - To be happy we need freedom of choice, and a good education gives greater scope to the choices that shape lives.
No-one highlights this more eloquently than Noel Pearson in his Cape York Agenda when he says: “It should be truly sad to all of us, that in a country as prosperous, as free, and as opportunity-filled as Australia, that any group of its citizens should have such little real choice as Indigenous Australians.
“Nevertheless, it is the reality. We need to recreate that basic fabric of society that lets Indigenous Australians enjoy that freedom. We will need to be as educated as you, live as long as you, have the same access to real jobs as you.”
A report by the Mitchell Institute shows the gap in educational achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged children in Australia widening - with the kids of well-educated, well-off urban parents staying at school longer and enjoying greater choice of job and study options afterwards.
Raising the expectations and increasing the choices of disadvantaged children are central to the Australian ideal of the ‘fair go’ - and fair is a buzzword of the Turnbull Government.
HEALTH - The link between education and health presents a compelling case for investing in education as a health strategy.
According to a 2015 Melbourne University study, Australian children who stay in school longer tend to have a better diet and take more regular exercise than their peers.
And according to numerous studies, education level and longevity show a strong correlation.
One study, Estimated deaths attributable to social factors in the United States study in 2011, showed some 245,000 American adults died in 2000 as a result of low levels of education - compared with 192,898 from heart attacks.
“Broadly, life expectancy is increasing, but those with more education are reaping most of the benefits,” said Virginia Chang of the New York University’s School of Medicine in an interview with The Australian newspaper in July.
“The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to substantively reduce mortality.”
EARNINGS - An Australian university graduate is likely to earn $1 million more over their lifetime than someone who does not finish year 12.
According to a recent report from The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, those holding bachelor degrees are likely to earn about $2.9 million over their lifetime.
That compares with $2.07 million for someone with a year 12 qualification and $1.74 million for a person whose highest level of education is year 11.
EMANCIPATION - Former PM Julia Gillard has joined Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton in an international push to educate girls across the globe.
Figures show an educated girl in the developing world is more likely to marry later, will have fewer and healthier children, and has a better chance of staying healthy and remaining alive.
For each year she stays in school, her income rises by 10-20%.
“With opportunities to earn a living, she will pull herself out of poverty, and bring her family and community with her,” states the agenda of the Because I am a Girl campaign.
While Australian girls enjoy a comparatively privileged lifestyle, the paths laid by their feminist forebears are not yet concreted in.
According to The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, there is a big discrepancy between how much men can expect to earn during their careers compared with women who have the same level of qualification.
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT - WB Yeats described education as: “Not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
Whether formal or informal, education gives people the chance to improve their awareness, develop their identity, grow talents and develop their potential and increase their employability and usefulness.
Personal development enhances quality of life and contributes to the realisation of dreams and aspirations.
So, these are my reasons for why education matters and they probably differ from yours.
But that’s the beauty of education - it stimulates the ability and confidence to form opinions, construct arguments and shape debates.
Education binds the roots of our society and it’s something we should value, protect and develop as vital to our future.
Abraham Lincoln said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
At the Learning Press, we take education seriously because we know that’s what the planet requires.