Stop Saying Education is the Solution to Poverty

I have spent my career in the field of education, spanning the United States and several parts of the world. So often, I have heard leaders, “experts” and institutions make the claim that “education is the key to ending poverty.” This is only part of the answer and it will not work alone.

Photo of old rusty car in grassy field

There are many factors in societies, governments, economies and cultures that contribute to systemic poverty across the world. For the piece of the solution to poverty that IS education, there is a massive missing piece within present-day schooling: you can educate anyone, but if you do not teach them HOW to apply the information they have learned from their formal education to the decisions and actions they will be required to make as adults, education is a car without fuel – or a driver.

Think of the number of “over educated, under employed” people you have heard about. I know people with doctorate degrees who work at coffee shops. Why is there such a disconnect? The answer is not simple and the proverbial finger cannot just be pointed at the educational systems around the world (though there are massive and distinct problems within modern day educational institutions). 

We talk about gaps in education everywhere: The opportunity gap, the skills gap, the racial education gap, the achievement gap, the education gap between rich and poor and so on. These gaps are problems – massive challenges that require much work. The National Education Association (NEA) provides the following list of demographics affected by gaps in our present-day American education system:

Student Groups Experiencing Achievement Gaps, according to the NEA:

  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • English language learners
  • Students with disabilities
  • Boys/girls
  • Students from low-income families

But, there is a massive gap faced by EVERY student in 2017 that does not appear on this list:

The gap inherent in the transition from education (K12 institutions, and often colleges and universities) to adulthood and the real world.

By not teaching young people the “rules to the game of real life”, we are only further perpetuating the existing cycles of disempowerment in the world, including, but certainly not limited to poverty.

Without teaching children how to navigate the challenges of adulthood they will soon face, each student is essentially spending 12 years in the education system building a vehicle we never teach them how to drive.

For example:

  • When we do not teach young people financial literacy, they unknowingly contribute to poor financial decisions based on false information and media marketing rather than making informed choices regarding the unavoidable decisions adulthood demands.
  • When we do not teach young people the importance of networking and how to build professional relationships, we further perpetuate the separation of classes, communities, resources, opportunities and so much more. 
  • When we do not provide ample real-world hands-on learning opportunities where students can discover their passions and learn how to channel those passions into jobs and careers, we create individual lifetimes of unanswered questions and challenges.

Young people must be taught how to build lives they are happy and personally fulfilled to lead. If we don’t do this, we create more of the same overwhelming number of problems that exist on our planet today. Worse still, we allow problems to perpetuate without graduating skilled problem solvers from our schools who are eager to tackle those issues.

When we simply say that “education is the solution to poverty”, many people feel a sense of pride in that declaration. Yes, access to fully-funded education is critical, but it is only one small piece of a much larger picture.

The same old business-as-usual approach to education alone is not the solution – and that includes the societal belief that it is the responsibility of educators alone. So please, stop saying that education is the solution and then going on about your day. We need you to get involved, speak up, help solve the massive problems in education and close these gaps.

The NEW way of educating children should look like this:

  1. Connected to the real world
  2. Engaging the community
  3. Ever-evolving
  4. Curriculum deeply informed by and in-step with the present day
  5. Prioritizing preparing problem solvers for the problems that exist in the world
  6. Focused on providing education that meets today’s citizen’s needs – and those of the future

That is the solution. And it requires everyone to get involved and care. It requires ALL HANDS ON DECK.

To prepare young people for the careers of tomorrow and free them from the shackles of poverty requires us to build anew. As long as we continue to operate within the same educational methods and morals that have been stagnant and broken for generations, nothing will change. The time is here to create new methods that guide young people to develop the skills they need to be creative problem-solvers and decision-makers.

In 2017, the emphasis in education is placed on assessing student performance on standardized tests. The standardization of curriculum is disconnected from present day work and economic realities. In the real world, there will be no standardized test. The biggest test is happening right now, and we are failing.

Time to stop duct-taping the rusted car and invest in electric – or at least hybrid technology.

About the Author:

Amy L. Carrier is an advocate for 21st century skills readiness, true education reform that puts children first and the “community as a classroom” model in education. She has been building new solutions in education since 2000. She is known for empowering teens to become entrepreneurs teaching them how to create their own unique solutions to problems in their communities. Amy has been interviewed on CNN about teaching business and entrepreneurship in schools.

Amy founded Empowerment Through Education in 2012 and serves as a coachspeakereducational consultant and advocate for educational change that puts children and their futures first.

Follow and read more of Amy’s writing on her blog and connect on LinkedIn.