The Cross-Over Effect: Education Can Be a Fault Line or the Bedrock for Development

This page in:

Haiti's Ministry of Education is leveled by the Jan 2010 earthquakeWhat is the relationship between education and geological processes? At first glance, some might think: Not much. One concerns the opening and enlightenment of the mind; the other is as old, rock-solid and unpredictable as the Earth itself.

But the collapse of so many buildings and homes that killed more than 200,000 people in the Haiti earthquake was in large part due to an utter "lack of qualified architects, urban planners, builders and zoning experts," points out a recent article in the New York Times.

In the tragedy of these moments it becomes painfully clear what a lack of adequate education and training has meant. Even worse, such revelation shines a light on very hard questions for posterity. What will the future of a country look like that has lost so many of its doctors, teachers and future leaders?

As we develop the World Bank's Education Strategy for 2020, we remind ourselves that a well-educated and empowered citizenry is the foundation of all development. From the ability to withstand an earthquake to the capacity for social mobility, the effects of education percolate through the fabric of communities and reveal themselves over time. In their absence, fault lines crack the foundation of any society.

A recent article in the Economist on crime and unemployment in industrialized Britain traces social malaise in its struggling lower classes back to the determining factor of educational opportunity: "At the root of it all is an education system that has long failed to educate the great mass of children usefully. It is showing its limitations more than ever now that manufacturing jobs for the unskilled are vanishing."

There are countless ways in which education can determine the difference between life and death -- from a means to mitigate the risk of disease to a pathway out of violence. A recent New Yorker article about the current U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, quotes him on his time growing up on the south side of Chicago and the interplay between the dangers of his neighborhood and completion of schooling. "[My friends] who got killed were the guys who didn't finish high school. It was literally the dividing line between you live or you die. Nobody who went to college died young," says Duncan.

As we press the agenda for education, let us remember that the best arguments in favor of educational development often come from the many other sectors of society that feel the long-term effects of how much is invested in human capital, and for whom.


Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000