Five years ago, I had an answer to a common question.
The question, “How does one improve the standard of living amongst the poor?”
My answer (and the answer most people give), “Education.”
But today, I’m a lot more skeptical of education. It might not be education in general, but at least the educational system here in PNG.
Here’s what happens when you get an education here in PNG.
- Parents make a huge financial sacrifice to get their kids enrolled in school (Western style school system where they learn to reading, writing, and arithmetic).
- Students sometimes work hard in school and sometimes don’t.
- The student may or may not graduate. If the student graduates, she will be able to be one of 10+ people competing for an open job.
- If the student does not get a town job, she returns to the village to tend to a garden.
I see two flaws in this approach:
- Parents assist children based on a obligation to give their kids the best opportunity. The Western world has convinced people education is the key. As a result, parents pay school fees even when the kid doesn’t care a lick and spends every weekend drinking.
- You are guaranteed to lose money (in the form of school fees/tuition). In the end, the child may or may not get an education.
There’s a lady I know (she who shall not be named) who has a kid she wants to get into a vocational school. The kid was very irresponsible in school so I’m surprised he was even accepted. The annual school fee is K3,000 (about $1,000 USD). The lady lives off of money she makes by baking and selling things in the market. Based on her income, it is going to take 1,500 hours worth of work just to pay the fees for her son. Also, she is a single mother and has three other kids. To put it in perspective, for a person who makes $20 an hour, that would be like paying $30,000 for one child to go to school for one year. That’s $30,000 out of the $41,600 that person makes.
That is insane to me. No way!!! I wouldn’t do it. That is way too high of a view of education for me.
The Alternative is Small Business
What if that very same lady took that K3,000 and had her son (or herself) start a small business?
In the process, the son would get an education. Sure, it is not a formal education, but learning how to run a business is important.
The money invested in a business can offer an education and has the potential to earn a profit instead of be lost (in school fees).
One of the big reasons I started the small business lending program was that I believe business (experience) is a better way to get an education.
Final note: In this article, I’m specifically talking about school above the sixth grade. It is helpful for every world citizen to have an opportunity to learn the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, beyond that, it might be better to focus on life skills instead of academic skills, especially in a place like PNG..
Have I lost touch with reality? Is education always the answer to everything?