The truth about economic growth has been right in front of us and it has been in the public domain for years now. Economic growth is just a means to achieve the ultimate goal of human development, nothing more than that (Human development report 1996. Published for the United Nations development program (UNDP)). Report after report every single year, tries to point out facts that the world’s affinity towards economic development does not effectively translate to better quality of life. I am not going to make the same mistake of pulling out 100s of pages of documents with statistics and interpretations by economic pundits. As a matter of fact, I have to accept I don’t have a clear understanding of the extensive documents published each year and I rely on interpretations by the pundits. Something is evident from every single report/ interpretation; at least the developed countries would have fared much better on human development if the current model of economic growth was efficiently impacting people’s lives. I would like to take a few steps back and ponder upon the historical significance of economic growth and the evolution of our race.
The basic problem with us human beings is that, we haven’t really understood our true strengths and weaknesses. Probably, a SWOT analysis for us might help better understand what might be good for us as a race rather than blindly running behind numbers and projections of economic growth. I would like to point out one or two significant factors in each column; STRENGTHS: knowledge (perceived as intelligence over other species) and diversity in our thought process/ interpretations of a problem at hand, WEAKNESSES: differences based on caste, religion, colour and spoiled competition (where everyone wants to win at the cost of someone rather than thinking of a win-win), OPPORTUNITIES: Educate everyone (not focussed on getting a degree which doesn’t mean anything to anyone) knowledge and skill based education, THREATS: $$$$$ (Money).
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need but not every man's greed." Let me elaborate more on the threats and weaknesses, we are easily lured by the wealth earth has to offer us, we had created divisions early in our evolution to protect the resources we had and those divisions have taken a very ugly shape in today’s world and leads to discrimination and disparity. We can observe this divisive guarding of ones territories to safe-guard self and resources even today among our primate ancestors and other animal species. So, it’s natural that we did that hundreds of thousands of years ago but, can’t we do much better than our Stone Age ancestors? “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” Today let’s give this phrase a different interpretation; many rich countries have good reserves of fossil fuel but they still tend to look out for reserves which are out of their territories to exploit. Fossil fuel is just one example and many other natural resources are getting added to this list as we chase better economic growth. In a way, our threats and weakness are interlinked. As centuries rolled on, our obsession towards something which had most value around the given time has determined the fate of millions of people. No one really cared much about fossil fuel until the industrial age and that was the fate of precious metals and stones, iron, livestock, crops, and similarly, things which are spurring economic growth now will also become irrelevant.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” This is a well-known phrase, but how much do we really understand this? There are so many things which we take for granted today like shelter, food and even heat/fire; these were commodities 100s of thousands of people died for through the ages. We don’t know for certain how fire was discovered, but when that first moment of making fire happened, they would have seen something supernatural in that blaze. As years past, our basic needs became more sophisticated; we forgot about our real strength, our collective knowledge as a race which had put us on top of the food chain and started to create economic and social barriers. We have achieved so much success as an organism, learning, building over existing knowledge and discovering or inventing things faster than one could dream. A simple example of the cosmic time scale which scientists give regarding human evolution popularized by Carl Sagan can help understand the enormity of our accomplishments, if the earth was created at the stroke of mid night on new year’s day and if now is the eve of the next year, known human history started only about 15 seconds ago; whereas mammals would have existed for just 5 days now. Imagine if we were like our mammalian ancestors without human intellect, we would still be running around hunting animals in the forest. On the contrary, picture a world where everyone among the 7+ billion people can contribute to our growth and development, compared to a few million who are able to do it now; how surreal that development of our race will be? Most of the others, are left out due to lack of education and worse case lack of food, dire poverty and senseless wars. To add on to these issues, we also have discrimination based on gender in education, jobs and wages which is more common than what we think of.
Education has evolved over the years as any other activity of human interaction. From the time when education was just for the elite to a time where internet connectivity is bringing knowledge to our footsteps irrespective of who we are. Yes, we can argue that now everything is online and there is no problem, everyone can find things to learn. Sadly, that’s not the case; the aristocracy has been replaced by money/ability to purchase knowledge. There are still a lot of things which we cannot learn from the internet. Take for example learning to swim. Yes you watch a video on YouTube, taking it for granted that we have a swimming pool which probably isn’t a case in most developing countries; how do you exactly learn? You cannot know how your hands and legs are moving under water unless someone tells you that you are making a mistake; I am not going to talk about special cases of people like Julius Yego who won gold in world athletics championships in javelin just by watching videos online.
Internet based education is a start which has opened the doors for many knowledge untouchables, but it should never become an excuse because classroom based teaching can never be replaced. If online teaching was working efficiently, all the leading universities would have moved online but that’s not the case. Developing countries don’t seem to invest much on education comparable to their respective GDP which is evident from world banks data on education specific country’s expenditure. More importantly in many developing and underdeveloped countries, the money allocated might not really reach the grass roots due to the high levels of corruption prevailing in the political system. Many developing countries have allowed private enterprises to enter education sector; the private sectors did a great job may be 100 years ago in education, but today even the so called respectable non-profit educational private sector is opening doors only for the economically elite (there are always exceptions). This idea of investing on knowledge training is not new, it stems from the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But there are serious constrains at our hands as well, how can we even teach anyone who is starving? Will we give the children who are starving, fish to eat now or teach them to fish? It is a complex question but the only solution which looks plausible is to increase funds for education. The funding for education must also be complimented with creating social awareness among the masses about education and how it can change the future of their children.
We as a race need to get our priorities right; we need to make a choice about our survival as a race, are we going to follow a ill equipped economic growth which does not translate, or are we going to make sure our race stands the test of time? Knowledge based education is the only way out of this awkward dollar centric economic growth. As William Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI part 2 act 4 scene 7, “..ignorance is the curse of God, knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven,..” As of now, we are making a lot of people on this planet, our fellow earthlings feel, they are cursed by God. Hopefully, we can change this in our life time and make the world a better place for our future generations to further prosper as a one world civilization.