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Education in globalized world

01.01.70

Lifelong learning seems all but unavoidable. It is a logical consequence of the global spreading of Information Technologies (IT) , points out Yuri Filippov

Education is one of the priorities on the agenda of the July G8 summit in St. Petersburg.

Interest in education has grown considerably since the 1999 Cologne summit, when the leaders of industrialized states for the first time discussed education as a permanent global problem.

Education is becoming a quickly growing and promising sector of the economy in our pragmatic world. The Cologne Charter put the trend on paper, proclaiming "lifelong learning" as a new educational concept to replace the traditional three-level (primary-general-higher) education. It is difficult to comprehend, but hundreds of millions, and possibly billions, of people born in the early 21st century will never hear the symbolic last bell marking school graduation.

Lifelong learning seems all but unavoidable. It is a logical consequence of the global spreading of Information Technologies (IT) in the age when information and knowledge have become leading commodities in the new economy.

It may seem paradoxical, but despite unheard-of information saturation and its exponential growth, new information and knowledge have become short-supply commodities of global economic growth, vital for creating new jobs and whole economic sectors. They are becoming a fundamentally new economic parameter described as "human capital."

The world's leading corporations first used multi-stage educational programs for their personnel and management long ago, actually pioneering lifelong learning. But it would be a big mistake to think that only corporations need lifelong learning.

The disappearance of many old trades and professions and the appearance of new ones, as well as the growing and changing requirements of commodity and labor markets make the daily quest for knowledge a basic requirement for tens of millions of people throughout the world. Small and medium-sized businesses need their daily portion of new information more than transnationals do, because it may be easier for economic giants to use old methods due to their sheer size and monopoly situation on the market.

The above may be a contestable statement, as there are many examples in history when people who were neither well educated, nor knowledgeable or informed rose to the peak of commercial success. Some millionaires hated school in their green years and did not read much as adults. People in Russia are still talking about the miraculous rise of the chosen few to billion-dollar wealth in the 1990s, but such stories are good only for leisure reading now.

U.K. economic historian Angus Maddison revealed an interesting relationship between money and education: a 1% increase in allocations to education raises GDP by 0.35%, and the share of educated people in society has a direct effect on economic growth. A few years ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted its own survey and concluded that an increase in the average length of schooling by a year raises GDP in the surveyed countries by 3-6%.

Of course, education is not the "ultimate weapon" for dealing with all economic problems. In fact, it will itself be a problem for the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. The world's leaders will have to decide if a common education space can be created in the world, where 770 million are illiterate (excluding pre-school children). If so, what can be done to ensure free access to education for the people in Africa, Asia and Latin America who live on less than $1 a day?

President Vladimir Putin wrote in a recent article about the G8 summit agenda: "Many nations and regions still face an acute problem of accessibility of even the basic education. We view this as a true 'humanitarian disaster,' as a serious threat to the world community. Widespread illiteracy is a breeding ground for the advocates of inter-civilization strife, xenophobia and national and religious extremism, and in the final analysis for international terrorist activities."

Though the situation is serious in the extreme, this general concern spotlights only one aspect of the problem. The trouble is that quite well educated and cultured people, in regard to the formal requirements accepted in their countries, are frequently not seen as educated or cultured abroad. Not that they lack deep knowledge, but differences in educational standards sometimes place a foreign professor on a par with a local student.

This is only the tip of the educational iceberg. The G8 countries are facing serious work. To begin with, we need an inventory of education. Next we should compare national educational data and draft and adopt international standards of educational statistics. Only after that will we be able to start creating a truly common, global educational space for a globalized world.

The complexity of the problem should not frighten us, for in the past the multiplication table was not a widely used asset even in the most developed and cultured nations. The current "multiplication table" is much more complicated and comprises at least a general education, knowledge of foreign languages, computer literacy, information about international politics, and many other elements.

On the other hand, modern civilization has enormous resources, and it should use them to promote education.

Expert opinion

Halter Marek

02.12.06

Halter Marek
Le College de France
Olivier Giscard dEstaing

02.12.06

Olivier Giscard dEstaing
COPAM, France
Mika Ohbayashi

02.12.06

Mika Ohbayashi
Institute for Sustainable Energy Poliy
Bill Pace

02.12.06

Bill Pace
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
Peter I. Hajnal

01.12.06

Peter I. Hajnal
Toronto University, G8 Research Group