BEIRUT

Editorial

A hard lesson

Palestinian children attend classes at a United Nations school in the Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Recent reports from UNESCO and other organizations on global education make for depressing reading when it comes to the Arab world, with the region falling behind desired goals of reducing illiteracy in the coming years.

The reasons behind this shortfall can be partially attributed to economic constraints, which are forcing children out of school and into the workforce at an earlier age and limiting funds for education.

But what it can mostly be attributed to is the region’s failure to prioritize the education of its citizens and to recognize the value in doing so.

The results of poor education and illiteracy are obvious and multiple. Illiteracy is rife among prison populations, while maternal education is widely documented to result in better health in infancy.

While the Gulf countries can be seen to be improving their illiteracy figures somewhat, compared to the rest of the world they still lag behind. The war and poverty that continue to plague the region are inextricably linked to illiteracy, yet the region’s governments appear blind to their connections.

The region’s governments have spent billions in recent decades on financing conflict, not least of all in Lebanon. In the aftermath of the country’s Civil War wasted money could not have been more clear.

Saddam Hussein’s campaigns, whether his invasion of Kuwait, his war with Iran or the result of his policies in the actions of the United States have cost Iraq more than a trillion dollars.

Conflicts in Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya are just further examples where unimaginable amounts of money have been spent on destruction, while the most important factor for development, education, falls by the wayside, neglected by leaders.

With the money and efforts spent on the procurement of arms – often under the pretense of liberating Palestine – real progress could have been made in the region’s education levels, reducing the propensity toward conflict in the process.

Instead, energy has been focused on the one thing that can be guaranteed to restrict development and maintain the region’s position on a global scale.

Of course, the rest of the world plays its part in maintaining this status quo, given its own vested interests in the region’s resources and its own arms trade. But they meet too little resistance from those who believe, against all evidence, that they can achieve positive change with weapons.

Leaders in this part of the world should be sobered by reports on the region’s literacy levels and take a serious look at the management of their finances and what kind of legacy they are leaving to the next generations. The current state of affairs is shameful for all involved.

History will neither forgive nor forget the part the Arab world’s leaders have played in the misdirection of resources from the means for life to the machines of death.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 19, 2012, on page 7.

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