To Build a Country, Build a Schoolhouse

Old Blog Import

This is from a NY Times Op-ed piece by Amartya Sen. I recently read Sen’s book, Development as Freedom, and I highly recommend it! He argues, here and in his book, that issues of development can’t be considered purely in terms of their effects on simple one-dimensional measures such as income.” The ability to use one’s income is constrained by lack of basic freedoms.” Sen’s term freedom” is really a re-working of what are frequently called human rights”: democracy, education, basic health care, etc. He shows how people in the first world who are deprived of these rights/freedoms often have lower life expectancy than third world people who have these rights. So, for instance, black males in the US have shorter life expectancies than males in China or India, even though their income is higher (and comparisions between women are similar as well). In this Op-Ed piece, he makes a similar argument for the importance of education.

I am aware that when I argue that basic education for all can transform the miserable world in which we live, I sound a little like a Victorian gentlewoman delivering her favorite recipe for progress. As it happens, however, extensive empirical studies have demonstrated the critical role of basic education in economic and social development in Europe and North America as well as in Asia, Africa and Latin America.


The contribution of basic education to development is not, however, confined to economic progress. Education has intrinsic importance; the capability to read and write can deeply influence one’s quality of life. Also, an educated population can make better use of democratic opportunities than an illiterate one. Further, an ability to read documents and legal provisions can help subjugated women and other oppressed groups make use of their rights and demand more fairness. And female literacy can enhance women’s voices in family affairs and reduce gender inequality in other fields, a benefit to men as well as women, since women’s empowerment through literacy tends to reduce child mortality and very significantly decrease fertility rates.”

(NY Times)