Education is the key
Hannah, a J8 delegate, looks at the issues likely to dominate the agenda at this year's G8 in St Petersburg
Friday March 10, 2006
This year, the G8 will meet in St Petersburg, Russia, to discuss three big topics; global energy security, education and infectious diseases. During the summit, which will take place from July 15-17, delegates also plan to discuss the Commonwealth of Independent States, counterterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, the settlement of regional conflicts, the development of the global economy, finance, trade and the protection of the environment. This year, just as much as last year, they are focusing on topics that affect every single person in the world. This year, just as much as last year, the young people of the world want to get involved.
Something that affects all young people directly is education. Not only is it a basic human right, but education is a path to a better future. However, even in the developed countries that make up the G8, some children are still not receiving an adequate education, or even any education at all. Worldwide, around 115 million children are missing primary education and 1 billion people cannot read or write.
They are just numbers, but when you consider that the world's population is estimated to be around 6.5 billion people, then that means that around 15% of people are not literate. Education is the simplest and most effective way of ending poverty. If people can make their own tools to obtain food, build their houses or get a better job then they can slowly begin to make a better live for themselves. Governments of developed countries spend millions on short-term aid to send to third world countries, however if that money was spent on long-term aid, for example, education, then these countries can begin to lift themselves out of poverty.
However, some people put forward a negative side of education: is education really all about social control? Do schools contribute to social conflict? Do education systems favour those who are more intelligent and neglect people who need extra help? It is no secret that bullying and segregation often occurs in schools. I attend an all-girls selective school and there is conflict between students at my school and students of other schools in the area I live in. But a group of a few students from each school has been set up to improve communication between the schools. Bullying is a big problem is some schools, but at my school we have a peer-led help group. And if students have a problem with something is school they can always tell the school council.
Education in more developed countries needs to be improved, there are systems that do work and these just need to be promoted. However, I think the most important aspect of education at the present time is making sure every single child in the world has access to a free education.
Just like last year, the topics the G8 will be discussing are interlinked. Education is the best weapon in the fight against infectious diseases. Each year, easily treatable diseases cause around 20% of all deaths worldwide. Around half of these are HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. Although there is no cure for HIV/Aids there is a simple way to stop it spreading: education. In Zambia, for example, 11% of men and 19% of women do not know that HIV/Aids can be avoided. Nearly 25% of adults think that mosquitoes transmit HIV and one in five think they can be infected by witchcraft. In today's world, this is unnecessary.
While a massive advertising campaign has started in many parts of Africa, contraception is unavailable to many people living in rural areas. Even if it is available, many do not know how to use it properly and over half of Zambian women believe that a woman cannot insist on using condoms. Education in these parts of the world is vital. During 2005 an estimated 2.4 million adults and children died as a result of Aids in sub-Saharan Africa. This amount of people dying every year surely has an effect on the economy of many of the countries in Africa; it means a massive decrease in the national workforce. Consider that last year 45% of people trained as teachers in Zimbabwe had died by the end of the year because of HIV/Aids. If we do not educate about infectious diseases, then infectious diseases could prevent us from educating.
Last year, the G8 focused on climate change as one of their topics for discussion. This year, however, they have decided to focus on a particular aspect of this, global energy security. This is big concern in today's world; scientists are estimating that oil reserves will become scarce in 45 years, natural gas in 60 and coal in around 170. Even nuclear power, something that some experts have labelled as the best alternative for fossil fuels, does not have a secure future, with an estimated 50 years of accessible uranium reserves left.
Energy is something which does concern a lot of young people. My friends and I feel that the UK is not doing enough to reduce our carbon emissions and use renewable energy. We are worried that by the time we're adults, the prices of petrol, oil and gas will have risen to such an extent that it is no longer economical to run our cars or heat our homes.
Around 88% of the world's energy is provided by fossil fuels. But fossil fuels are running out and not much seems to be being down about this. Fuel is causing conflict between countries. Conflict, which could, if the situations continue to worsen, lead to full-scale war. Global energy production is not secure. I believe the G8 is going to have to seriously discuss the way in which we produce our energy and make some big changes soon - before we run out of fossil fuels completely and are left with no ways to produce energy.
The general feeling between young people I've spoken to is that the G8 makes good promises, but we haven't seen much action. Last year everyone was anticipating big ideas and big changes, so far, we haven't seen that much evidence of it. Maybe, at last year's J8, we were too optimistic, too hopeful that big changes could be made straight away. Yet, somehow I don't think we were.
This year the G8 is taking more notice of the J8. I believe that can only be a good thing. After all, we are the future world leaders.