If the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, has his way, you can expect to see tens of millions of your tax dollars sent oversees for a another global scheme in government central planning. This time the goal is to fund the education of every man, woman, and child in the world.
During the last week of April 2000, the World Bank hosted a World Forum on Education in Dakar, Senegal, on the west coast of Africa. More than 125 million children around the world do not attend school, said Mr. Wolfensohn, resulting in a continuing cycle of ignorance and poverty in a world of high-tech computer globalization. Added to this are the 885 million adults classified as illiterate.
The governments of the poverty-stricken Third world are to establish national goals for guaranteeing the successful public schooling of every one of their citizens by the year 2015. And if those governments cannot fund their educational central plan, the taxpayers of the North America and Europe are expected to cough up the money to pay for the project. How much will this cost? One advocate of the plan estimates the expense at 120 billion dollars over the next 15 years, or a mere 120 dollars per illiterate man, woman, and child. But knowing how national and global bureaucrats always underestimate what their grand designs will actually cost, if they have their way they will spend a lot more than this “modest” sum before the next decade and a half comes to an end.
With all the precision of a pseudo-science, the success of achieving global literacy for all will be measured by gross enrollment ratios, net intake rates of new entrants into first grade, percentages of Gross National Product spent per pupil, proportion of primary-school teachers certified by the respective national governments, pupil-teacher ratios, percentages of students who “survive” until the fifth grade, coefficients of efficiency for how many students entering primary public schools complete the “primary cycle,” the percentage of students through the fourth grade who pass nationally defined basic learning skills, and an array of similar quantitative benchmarks.
The actual educational content is to be determined by the national governments, reflecting their respective political and cultural values. The highest percentage of illiteracy is in sub-Sahara Africa, a part of the world that tragically has a large number of military dictatorships and one-party political systems controlled by tribal factions that use the mechanisms of political power to benefit various ethnic and racial groups at the expense of others. These are the types of governments that will be using the billions of tax dollars garnished from their own citizens as well as the money redistributed from the taxpayers of the Western democracies to teach, as the agenda’s documents say, the “responsibilities” of the people to the state.
As paradoxical as it may seem, the best educational “assistance” that Third-World governments and Western democracies could provide to these millions of people is to abolish compulsory school-attendance laws and end state involvement in education. Even if it were possible to provide the best formal education and the most up-to-date training in internet use, it would not help the vast, vast majority of the people in the underdeveloped parts of the world.
What they need are the opportunities to obtain gainful employment in economic environments poor in capital and primitive in their methods of production and earning a living. If Third-World governments would reduce tax burdens, eliminate controls and regulations that prevent people from taking advantage of agricultural and manufacturing skills which they often already possess, establish and respect private property rights and market-based contracts, and abolish restrictions on foreign investment, they would provide the soundest foundation for the long-run improvement and educational chances for their own people.
In spite of the rhetoric and mindset of people like Mr. Wolfensohn at organizations such as the World Bank, people around the globe do not need to be “given” education by bureaucratic planners. Individuals, in their own circumstances, can make far better decisions about what type of knowledge and training can best serve their own and their family’s needs and about how best to allocate their modest incomes to acquire education for themselves and their children. Economic and educational freedom, not global economic and educational central planning, should be the watchwords for those who are seriously concerned about the poverty and illiteracy of the world’s poor.