The fight for universal education and the Nobel Peace Prize

With 2015 fast approaching, education is a development issue that is currently under the spotlight as one of the key Millennium Development Goals. Inma López examines the future of education in light of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. 

Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, the two children´s rights activists who won the Nobel Prize 2014, reinforce the importance of education as the key to develop a society. Malala stands as a figurehead for female’s rights to go to school, standing up, as she did, to the Taliban’s ban.

The young Pakistani shares the Nobel Peace Prize this year with Kailash Satyarthi, an activist from India who has rescued almost 80,000 children from child labour and runs the charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA).

© Prashanth NS/ Creative Commons license

© Prashanth NS/ Creative Commons license


The 2014  award brings up some important children’s rights: the right to education and the right to being free of oppression. With regards to education, the focus is on universal and free education, one of the human rights recognized by United Nations.  This human right is pushed in the second Millennium Goal. Since 2000, the effort to promote universal education has seen some success. The UN’s 2014 MDG report highlights that developing regions now have 90 per cent enrollment in primary schools and more equitable ratios of girls and boys.

So why is education still considered so important within development?

The UN certainly seems to think that education can change the world. “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”: said Malala, addressing the UN on her 16th birthday.

Education is often considered as the key to the prevention of child labour. Education is also a necessary tool to reduce illiteracy and as a consequence, to lower poverty by reducing inequality in societies. Universal education is also crucial in creating a  freer society because by spreading knowledge, people are more able to defend their own rights. This is also why both Malala Yousafzai and Kaliash Satyarthi  pin progress within their respective countries on eliminating children’s rights violations.

© LM TP/ Creative Commons license

© LM TP/ Creative Commons license

While universal education is an excellent tool to allow societies to progress, it is a goal that is not without its impediments. According to the UN, 50 per cent of out of school children live in conflict-affected areas. Sometimes the school is too far away for many pupils or it is not safe to walk there. There are situations in which extreme ideologies do not allow it, or even cultural reasons such as the segregation of boys and girls in school. Satyarthi pointed out in a recent editorial that “employers benefit immensely from child labour as children come across as the cheapest option, sometimes working even for free”. In the same editorial, Satyarthi said that, according to non-governmental organizations, there are 60 million children working in India, which is six per cent of the total population.

The current MDGs will expire in less than a year. Following this, heads of states and governments will agree on a new development agenda to build upon. Many voices claim poverty should be a priority for the new MDGs while others think that the goals are just too big and should be simplified. However, as we head towards 2015, there is no doubt that education will continue to be a huge development priority.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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