Category Archives: Education

The gauge I’ve used to measure this indicator is the Education Index from the UN as posted on Wikipedia (with numbers from 2007). This index is put together from a combination of adult literacy, school enrollment and other data. Looking at the change over the 2006 figures, most of the countries either remained stable or increased their levels of education.

The Necessity of Better Education

EducationWhy doesn’t every child know who the latest Nobel science prize winners are as well as they know their favorite pop singers and sports stars? These scientists should be known — they make discoveries that will affect the future of mankind far more but yet we ignore them except for that once-a-year notice in the media round about October (and most of the news stories are dominated by the political implications of the Literature and Peace prize winners anyway).

We need an educated populace now more than ever. The scientific challenges Nobel_Prizefacing us in the next centuries dwarf anything that has come before. We need, as a world, to get educating so that the next generations can address these challenges.

Many Americans (with the exception of many very hard-working and increasingly frustrated teachers) just don’t seem to understand this. We are far too comfortable. (A recent radio commercial campaign even makes fun of our indolence and tells us that we really aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, and that we should just let someone else invent the next artificial heart, or pancreas, or whatever, the rest of us should just watch our favorite TV shows. Ugh.) Unfortunately, most people seem to think that there are plenty of MacGyvers out there and we just don’t need to worry.

Kids at School in UgandaFortunately for the planet, a lot of other countries, including some of the poorest, don’t have quite the same attitude towards education. I am always astonished when I hear of kids walking to school for miles, sometimes under the threat of physical attack from gunfire, assault including rape, landmines, and just simply the weather and distance. But they seem to understand how valuable an education is when American students often do not.

This attitude towards education needs to change. I’ve mentioned many times before that the robots are coming, and many of the basic manual labor jobs will be going away (and are already).

What’s left? The jobs and careers that require a human brain. The arts are one avenue, sciences are on the other path.

We’re seeing this desperate need for educated workers already in the tech industry. Companies which want to keep their place on the bleeding edge will do practically anything to get the best and brightest from across the planet, and that can mean stretching the visa requirements, poaching from competitors, and other barely legal practices.

Some universities are attempting to scale up to meet this challenge. As the internet has connected people all over the world (at an ever-increasing pace) Udacitymany universities have jumped in with quality online courses taught to massive numbers of students (“MOOCs” or Massive Open Online Courses), even offered for free. (Udacity, Coursera, and EdX were a few of first, and now the Brits are getting involved.)

Educating the next generation is no longer just important because students now and in the future will be able to find fulfilling jobs and live comfortably, and businesses will be successful because they can easily find many talented employees. We need to get educating because the next generations face planetary challenges we have never seen before: climate change, an increasing population, the rapid depletion of natural resources, new diseases, pollution, not to mention the possibility of wayward asteroids.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

P.S. The Nobel Prize winners in the sciences for 2012 are:

Physics – Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland “for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”

Chemistry – Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka “for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors”

Physiology or Medicine – Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent”

Economic Sciences – Alvin E. Roth and Lloyd S. Shapley “for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design”

A Roof Over the Principal’s Head

Sometimes, we in the more developed world kind of miss the obvious. I was speaking to a friend in Uganda, Ronald Mugabi (actually we were communicating through the wonders of Facebook chat!) who runs a charity there called Aim for the Restoration of Hope (AROH) supporting two schools for orphans, a clinic, and a women’s empowerment program. I am part of a sister charity in the U.S. (AROH-USA) formed to support Ronald and the two Ugandan communities we serve.

Although we all believe in self-reliance and are working towards that eventual goal with AROH,   I was asking Ronald what we could do to support the children; what kind of school supplies did they need — pencils, books, paper, rulers, erasers? Did they need money for their fees and uniforms?

Ronald had to step me back a little, pointing out that the kids were still meeting in the temporary school shelter at the St. Paul’s location, and that the new school office, though it had walls, lacked both a floor and, well, a roof:

Oh, I thought, a roof, well, that does makes sense. Otherwise, the Head Teacher (who is like a Principal here in the U.S.) wouldn’t be able to get much done.

Here is a recent picture of what the rain can be like in Uganda, from a wonderful photographer, Will Boase (Mzungu Diaries), who kindly has allowed me to use his photo to demonstrate the need for a roof especially during the rainy season, which is now:

I’ve been involved with AROH for a few years now, and we have made great strides, one slow step at a time. It’s great to be able to contribute to the education and future of children in a different country. And sometimes, the first thing you need to do is get a roof over the head teacher’s head!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. I’m contributing $10 today towards the office roof and floor/kitchen fund through the Facebook Causes app for AROH-USA. (It’s under the “General Donation Cause” if you want to contribute.)

Here is the “kitchen”!

What Price Education?

The answer to the above question usually comes up as somewhere between “too much” and “way too much.” It’s kind of strange that, today, when we are both in possession of more knowledge than ever in the history of the planet and it is becoming more and more accessible each hour of the day, that, at the same time, the cost seems to keep going up along with our unwillingness to pay, both seem to be trending upward every day.

And yet, maybe education costs nothing at all except for time? Trends in recent technology have given us the Khan Academy, which has burgeoned into an international sensation. And now YouTube is on-board with EDU – YouTube, making college-level lectures accessible from the top academicians in the world and also free. In addition, MIT has announced that it will be trialling a purely “automated” course online, accessible from anywhere in the world, and will actually give credit for this. In an age of ever-increasing student population, demand for the best education, and limited physical classroom place, this opens up even more possibilities.

But how do you value all this? More importantly, how do those people involved in educating the future leaders, scientists, poets, engineers, etc… of the world, get paid for what they do, when lots of what they do can now be found for free?

Maybe the kids can all just educate themselves? (As these street kids in India, somehow managed to do.)

I don’t think so. I believe the true purpose of good teaching is now clearer than ever before. We can’t just stuff kids heads full of facts anymore, push them through tests and grade levels, and then toss them out into the “real” world where they have a piece of paper that will assure them, at the very least, a job at a factory, fast-food outlet, retail company, or in an office somewhere.

Why not? Because those jobs are disappearing. Fast. Really fast. The robots are coming. (They’re flying, zooming, clicking and clacking into our lives, and even folding shirts.) Those basic jobs are going away forever.

There is really only one choice for us, not just as Americans, but as humans, to survive and thrive. And that’s to teach our kids to innovate, create, engineer, design, explore, shape, tool, express, write, sing, dance, act, even play, their way into the future. The future holds a multitude of jobs for scientists, engineers, craftspeople, writers, designers, architects, chefs, gardeners, and teachers, but not a whole lot of positions will be open for line jobs on the factory floor folding shirts.

How we teach our children to survive and thrive in the world to come will be largely dependent on our teachers. That skill is certainly worth paying however much it is worth. Because it’s priceless.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Education Index

Last night I updated my global “Education” numbers with more recent data (2011!) from the UN’s Development Programme site, and was at first extremely disappointed to see a decline across the board. (I actually had to walk away from the computer for a bit!) However, after closer examination, I realized that the data model I had been using previously (from Wikipedia’s entry on the U.N. Education Index) had been updated to reflect a more ambitious target including secondary education.

I’m still a bit ambivalent about these numbers — I just really didn’t want to see them go down, sometimes by as much as 20% — but am slowly accepting that the higher goal of universal secondary school education is admirable. So, I’m hopeful that, going forward, we will see increases. (Except for New Zealand which is at 100%!) I also want to delve further into these numbers to find out exactly what they mean and how they are being measured. (And if any of my education friends out there have any thoughts or opinions on measuring education attainment globally, I would love to hear them!)

Children at Divine Hope school near Jinja, Uganda

Sometimes, it’s just good to take a step back to get some perspective. In 2008, my friend Alan Locke invited me to go to Uganda to be a part of opening a clinic there that he had helped fund. He had also helped found and supports two schools which provide education to HIV/AIDS orphans, and which currently enroll around 1,000 children, after starting a few years ago in a hut with about 40 kids. (The charity is AROH and you can find out more at the website we’ve created. I will be talking about them more — my Uganda trip was a lifetime of learning experiences!) Anyway, we handed out pencils to the kids (they’re more practical there than pens) and it will always amaze me that, when we went back the next day, a lot of the kids were still holding those pencils — they were like gold because they offered the promise of education and a better life.

So, as much as I worry about the future of the world sometimes, I also remember those kids and their absolute determination to get an education, and that is an encouraging thought.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC


This is one of my favorite indicators in terms of having a high impact on the quality of life for people all over the world. And it’s just getting better and better which makes it almost fun to look at and update.

One major factor in this, again, is the impact of the Millennium Development Goals and their emphasis on girls’ education. The importance of this can hardly be emphasized enough. Study after study has shown that educating a community’s girls pays off in dividends of lower infant and maternal mortality, better overall health, and lower rates of preventable diseases, not to mention happier girls.

It’s not just the girls of course — children all over the planet have access to education at a rate never seen before. (I’ll address this in my next post.) The phenomenal growth of the internet is speeding this process up even further through free online education programs such as the ground-breaking Khan Academy.

The gauge I’ve used to measure this indicator is the Education Index from the UN as posted on Wikipedia (with numbers from 2007). This index is put together from a combination of adult literacy, school enrollment and other data. Looking at the change over the 2006 figures, most of the countries either remained stable or increased their levels of education. (Out of the 179 countries listed, only 17 were lower.)

However, I’m a firm believer in ongoing education. We should never stop learning and exploring our world! In fact, in today’s economy, it isn’t possible to keep afloat without continually educating yourself. So someday, I would love to see this indicator be measured by the number of people per country gaining a college degree!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC