“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
- Nelson Mandela, Anti-Apartheid Activist and Former President of South Africa.
Education is a key driver of development. The gains made by individuals and societies in which there is widespread access to education are huge and undisputed; improvements in wealth, equality and health can all be attributed to an increase in education levels. Two Millennium Development Goals refer to education, with the aims being to achieve universal primary education and gender parity in both primary and secondary education by 2015. Knowledge, they say, is power, and those working in this field believe that by delivering education to people who would not otherwise receive it, they can help to bring about significant change in a wide variety of other sectors.
Education benefits both individuals and societies as a whole. At the individual level, those who have completed a basic course of education can expect to see their earning power increase significantly, and their personal health to improve, an effect which is particularly strong amongst young girls. Education can profoundly affect reproductive health and nutrition, thereby much improving infant mortality rates and forming an effective barrier to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
At the societal level, education drives economic competitiveness and generates wealth by improving productivity and the skill levels in the labour force. It can also lead to greater respect for the environment and human rights, and a more equal, stable society. Organisations working in this field tend to fall into two broad categories.
Schools and educational groups that work directly with young people or at-risk people often focus on basic primary education and vocational skills. Their objective is to offer people the skills and knowledge to provide for their families and make informed decisions about their future. Providing education for people who would not normally have the chance to attend school is of particular benefit; educating young girls is known to have a significant impact on their future health and, in turn, the success of their children.
Other organisations focus on different elements of education, and tend to have a niche area which they are able to apply to a wide range of situations. They may, for example, specialise in building the capacity of educational establishments by training teachers and providing support for school development activities, or pilot the use of technology in education. Alternatively, some organisations will engage in campaigns and advocacy in order to raise money and ensure government support. All of these elements are necessary if we are to meet the challenge of ensuring that all children are given the opportunity to undertake at least primary education.
What our volunteers do
In this varied field, our volunteers can find themselves in a number of roles. In organisations that work directly with children or disadvantaged people, experience in education can help to improve the quality of the teaching. For public education organisations, good communication skills are very valuable, while a school might need business skills to ensure it is managed efficiently.