24th January marks the International Day of Education, a day that honours the centrality of education to sustainable development and human well-being.
The theme this year is ‘Learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace’, highlighting the importance of education across the spectrum of sustainable development. Quality education and learning for all is not merely a goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in itself, it is a means through which progress towards all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals can be made.
For us at Tzedek, we recognise the power of education, in various forms, to help achieve our goal of alleviating extreme poverty.
Read below about 5 ways in which education is a central part of our work:
1. Vocational Training (Learning for Prosperity)
We work with several local partners in India to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty through providing them with vocational training. This form of education develops skills to enhance job and livelihood opportunities, contributing to an increased and more sustainable income. These programmes work predominantly with women and other marginalised groups such as youth or people with disabilities. These groups are often overlooked in skills development and in society and our projects provide not only increased economic independence but also a boost in self-confidence and respect for our beneficiaries.
2. Improving the quality of educational institutions
Our programme in Ghana, Empowerment for Life (E4L) is a multi-objective programme working with existing community-based organisations (CBOs) to build skills, capacity and resilience and enable them to drive social, economic and political development in their communities. Education is a vital part of the programme in multiple ways.
The first of these involves working directly with education related CBOs – for example, school management committees and parent teacher associations – to increase their participation in school and education issues and improve their capacity to bring about positive change in educational institutions.
For example, in one community where the programme has previously been implemented, the PTA addressed the problem of teacher absenteeism by advocating for the building of an accommodation block for teachers. This reduces the teachers’ commute, meaning that they not only are more likely to attend school, they also deliver higher quality learning for the pupils.
Empowering parents to be involved in the effective running of educational institutions increases engagement of parents’ in their children’s education and its outcomes. A strong link and alignment between the educational experiences they receive at school and at home increases the benefits of education and parental involvement in schools helps to increase quality and accountability of education.
3. Strengthening democracy and the rule of law
Another means through which education is a central part of the E4L programme is via its central purpose, which is to build capacity. Organisational, technical and advocacy capacity of community-based organisations is improved through education on these areas through training sessions.
The CBOs we work with all form what is known as civil society. Civil society is the arena of society which is non-governmental but represents and acts on the will of its citizens. In this context, it includes formal and informal community-based organisations, professional membership associations and national and international NGOs. A CIVICUS assessment of Ghana recognised the strong value and impact of civil society on the lives of Ghanaians but also noted weak structures and a disabling environment. There is widespread involvement in community activities, but low levels of political engagement and action, particularly in rural areas.
In particular, youth are marginalised in political spheres due to their lower position in the social hierarchy, and women are often excluded from participation due to other inequalities such as poorer education levels and discriminatory beliefs.
The E4L programme attempts to combat this through its capacity building, designed to strengthen the organisations it works with and civil society as a whole. As these organisations become better equipped to claim their rights and hold duty-bearers to account, participation and democracy is strengthened.
Stronger civil society also plays a critical role in promoting education, especially in rural areas due to the ability of organisations to develop innovative and flexible solutions to the barriers to education in these areas. Increasing coordination and collaboration of organisations will increase their ability to push for equitable and better quality educational opportunities.
4. Educating women
There is a proverb often heard in development circles, sometimes attributed to Ghanaian scholar Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey (1875-1927) which states: If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation).
Education is a human right. This means we have a moral responsibility to ensure that every man, woman, girl and boy is able to access and make the most out of their education. However, this proverb highlights a now well-established connection between the education and empowerment of women and positive development outcomes. Educated women are more able and likely to educate their children, especially the girls, and in patriarchal societies where men are less likely to be at home with their children, this input from the mother is vital. Families where the mother is educated have lower levels of infant mortality and are generally likely to be higher.
There are also economic benefits to educating women. According to the Clinton Global Initiative, a working woman will typically invest 90% of her income back into her family – compared to the 35% that men do – meaning that a core outcome of educating girls and enabling them to work is a step towards breaking the cycle of poverty.
Having said that, focusing too much on statistics such as these risks the continued propagation of damaging gender roles; a likely contributor to women investing more in their family than men is that women are much more likely to be the primary carer.
At Tzedek we recognise that it is important not merely to use working with women as a means to economic development, but also that empowering women to participate in creating local change, through the E4L programme, and to pursue their own livelihood and source of income encourages changes to the stereotypical The majority of our vocational training programmes focus on working with disadvantaged rural women to help them develop a more sustainable income, and the result is that many more are able to send their children to school.
Our new programme in Ghana, Empowerment for Life (E4L) also works towards ensuring that the community-based organisations they work with promote gender equality and inclusion in the governance and participation of their organisations but also in the issues they tackle in the community.
5. Developing global citizens
One of our central values here at Tzedek is ‘Naaseh v’nishma’ – we will do and we will understand. We recognise the importance that awareness, knowledge and learning have in leading us to deeper commitments, which drive us to behave in certain ways. When we act, we also learn, and this cycle of learning and doing is never-ending.
It is for this reason that we work hard to engage the UK Jewish community closely in the work we do. Our school workshops and Twinning programme between UK Jewish and Ghanaian primary schools are designed to help children start learning about sustainable development and social responsibility. We run the Ben Azzai programme in partnership with the Office of the Chief Rabbi which sends university students to Ghana or India each year on an educational journey to gain a better understanding of our work and of outward-looking social responsibility from a Jewish perspective.
These young people then bring their learning back to the community and become ambassadors for global social responsibility. In raising awareness, volunteering and other pursuits that reflect this commitment, the young people we work with are global citizens.