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Poverty and Education in Developed Nations: A Re-Evaluation

The Right to Education has long been declared a basic human right by United Nations in its famous charter. UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) has declared that all children should be properly educated irrespective of cultural, financial and living standards. Education is always the life-blood of a free people. The more educated people become, the more among them aspire higher, both critically and creatively.

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However, statistics speak otherwise: according to UN estimates, 72 million children of primary educational age are not at school while 759 million adults are illiterate and not in any position to improve their lives or their children’s. Being well educated at primary to higher education not only expands the critical faculties of the mind but also protects one from exploitation at every stage in one’s life.

The Precursors of Modern-day Poverty: The Colonial Legacy

The colonizers of the disadvantaged nations of the world have long lived on the spoils of imperialism from colonized countries. In the heyday of the golden age of imperialism, from about the long1860s to the first decade of the 1900s, there was a glorification of the powers of the imperialist. During this period, the British, French, Dutch and German nations expanded like never before. It was a time of intra-European conflicts, but mostly on colonized ground. The colonial nations suffered catastrophically from resource depletion to famines, pestilences, wars and the overall loss of millions of lives.

However, it was not just the colonial nations that suffered from loss of lives, resources and denied basic civic and human rights. There were indigenous peoples and tribes, with their distinctive worldviews and ways of life that began to disappear over time. From the Aboriginal nations of Australia and Polynesia to the proud Native American tribal nations in USA and Canada, unthinkable atrocities and sufferings were piled on them by the settler colonialists. From slow genocide to denial of basic human rights, the original people of the ‘fourth-world’ (the academic name given to the original tribal and indigenous people whose nations and lands were destroyed by settler imperialism) underwent devastating transmutations of every kind. This violent legacy went in to the making of modern day powers such as Anglo-America and the land down under.

After the two World Wars, during which Europe was almost destroyed, a bi-polar world emerged. An intense period of proxy wars and espionage followed which was known as the Cold War carried out by the US and the then Soviet Union. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new world order emerged with the US leading the way into further wars and interventions in the Middle East.

As colonies gained sovereign status after the two world wars, the economy of the UK became stagnant and only recovered partially during the post-Thatcher era. Meanwhile, the rich became richer and the poor, poorer, as a continuous number of small dips in the GDPs and GNPs of the curve of capitalism marred the US economy. In another heyday of the resurgence of post-Reaganesque neo-imperialistic-capitalism, the US declared a unipolar world and carried-out resource-extracting wars against sovereign Middle-Eastern nations giving rise to the specter of “manufactured-terrorism” which continues in present time.

Unending imperialistic resource wars are thus responsible for modern day poverty. Activist organizations in many underdeveloped and developing nations in Africa and Asia strive to increase standards of living and lessen the exploitation of the poor. They petition and urge governments to improve policies and raise the general standards of living. Corporate lobbies push for resource wars in the Anglo-American nations and destroy millions of lives and the national fabric of sovereign states. How the people of USA, UK and Australia fare in all this and what are their educational standards, are issues that raise evaluation stakes.

Poverty and Educational Standards

The developed nations of the first world economy usually had equal neglect for the poor, the uneducated and the destitute. Nevertheless, these nations continue to provide some of the best economic policies and education today. USA, UK and Australia have both sides of the coin in their educational and economic policies. A few of them are discussed below with their corresponding myths and realities.

The Situation in Australia:

The Australian educational situation shifted from the more government-centric and socialist models to the neoliberal model in the 1980s. However, despite the corporate takeover, the emphasis on welfare policies and representation towards the Aboriginal nations did not reduce. Rather, many schools and higher universities included courses and entire disciplines on studies of the Aboriginal ways of life so that further welfare policies could be implemented in near futures.

Australian primary education is compulsory and more or less free than other nations while higher education is highly subsidized. Besides, the Australian Welfare State places due importance on primary to higher education and the number of students in higher education increased during the pre-recession period. The post-recessive economy increased the number of international students in Australian higher education but reduced the number of domestic students.

Below are discussed some of the myths regarding Australian education.

Myth: Australian education is classically liberal in nature and Universities give equal opportunities to all students.

Reality: Since the 1980s corporate undertaking, all of the great Australian universities has turned neoliberal and relies much on privatized welfare. They have followed the American meritocracy system and the vast majority of subsidies and funds flow towards achievers.

Myth: Australian primary education caters for the disadvantaged as much for the advantaged.

Reality: The more disadvantaged has lesser access to education and the inequalities due to class, familial and social backgrounds are relatively more pronounced than in other international first world nations. The disadvantaged has lesser access to education than the more advantageous ones. Neoliberal Australia invests less in labor and education than in industry and finance Thus, despite a sound primary educational policy and quality, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), rates Australia as high quality/low equity. The quality of education at all standards might be high, but it is far from equal.

Myth: The Australian Constitution includes the Right to education and hence poverty does not affect educational standards.

Reality: This is by far the most ridiculous assertion. In a Social Darwinian version of a neoliberal economy, only the best are invested upon and enjoy subsidies. The neoliberal scheme, by its very nature, lessens access for the already disadvantaged. From pre-school training to higher education, dropouts keep increasing as fewer students are able to cope with the demands piled on them. Less than 20 percent of year 12 students move on to University. The seeds of inequality are sown during pre-school and continue throughout educational life.

 Myth: Poverty is non-existent in Australia, as there is no inequality in education.

Reality: An equally ludicrous assertion since more dropouts due to a neoliberal, meritocratic system leads to further poverty and increase in criminal activities. It is a vicious cycle in which the lack of education leads to a life on the margins from where there is further denial of education for the next generation leading to further marginalization.

 Myth: Australian education, at every standard, is of high quality and will continue to remain so.

Reality: Australian education is already undergoing costs and course cuts due to the post-recessive economy, with the liberal arts taking the biggest hit and the future remains uncertain.

Conclusion: It might be said that Australia needs more investments and interventions by the federal government within the labor and educational markets. A strong federal policy is required to implement and invest in a variety of unskilled and relevant jobs for the disadvantaged. Only with the cautious, sensitive and unique handling of the needs of the marginalized can a socially sustainable system endure.

The Situation in United Kingdom:

The situation of education in the United Kingdom has a long history. Before the application of Common Law to the King and the advent of Magna Carta, the dignity of the individual before the monarch was irrelevant. The Magna Carta brought the monarch inside the aegis of the law applicable to commoners as well. Thus begun the long journey for the formation of a Constitutional Monarchy in which the monarch was just a titular head to abide by Constitutional Law as implemented from local parish courts to the highest echelons of debate in the British Parliament. Education was always at the forefront of British policy.

Again, during imperialistic times and right down to the Thatcher era, education was always for the elite. The poor and the destitute hardly had any access to basic needs and amenities let alone education. When the stagnant period of British economy came to an end in the 1990s, and the urban homeless and the destitute were “successfully wiped” away from public memory by the Thatcher regime, the UK found itself welcoming East Europeans after the Berlin Wall fell and the erstwhile Soviet Union was no more. Education policies had changed in the hands of the Tories and multiculturalism and neoliberalism were watchwords for Blair and his cabinet. The UK was a fabulous destination for both education and site-seeing as ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair openly declared that education was the best economic policy that the UK had.

Apart from the “negatives” of neoliberal privatization and commoditization, there were certain positive influences that brought out the best of investing in education in a post-1990s unipolar world. Many lesser-known and under-funded universities came into prominence and since the recession, the UK academy-related job market has resiliently bounced back despite the mounting pressure of student debt and the closure of many departments in the Arts and Humanities. Previously funded by the state, many art companies just closed-down after the bailout.

There are few myths and realities about the right to education and poverty in a post-recessive UK. Some of them are discussed below.

Myth: The UK has touched record-lows since the recession and lesser people are opting for higher education.

Reality: The recession hit the UK hard and funding to Universities and arts and humanities departments were drastically cut. However, many Britons are self-educated and since the 2010s, the job-market has bounced back, with funding now concentrated on domestic and EU students. Besides, the quality of research in UK is always of the highest quality in the Anglophone world.

Myth: The UK concentrates on international students and is negligent of its own students.

Reality: This is true only to the extent attracting international students is considered good investment policy. The fees for international students are comparatively higher than domestic or EU students and the latter receive much more funding benefits. However, there are still competitive scholarships for international students at postgraduate research levels.

 Myth: There is racism and poverty in the UK and international students have to face harassment.

Reality: Although there are racially extremist groups in the UK, they are present like in any other nation. Homelessness and Poverty are there, but much less than in the 1980s.  International students may occasionally face racism if they remain segregated. Lack of education is not a problem in UK as many Britons are highly conscious about education and only the rural poor sometimes lack liberal education.

 Myth: The UK has always been a “rich nation” that provided for its peoples by living off other colonized nations.

Reality: UK did drain colonized nations economically, but this was not their sole source of wealth. In addition, this wealth never went into enriching the poor and the destitute; it always siphoned off to the elites. The UK introduced welfare policies for its own people only after the Thatcher regime. Besides, many colonized nations gained a sense of nationhood living under the technological superiority of the British Crown.

Conclusion: The UK has gone through many vicissitudes throughout its long history. However, most of these were piled on the common people and the elites and sometimes the middle-class enjoyed the spoils of empire and colonial oppression. Welfare policies in UK are the result of centuries of struggle with a monarchy and the urban poor are more self-educated now. However, since the 1990s, the UK has greatly improved its welfare schemes and the right to education is a top priority now. More funding for higher education is available for domestic students in the post-Recession era.

The Situation in the United States of America:

The USA is a vast nation with more than 250 years of history as a sovereign state. The cities on the East Coast are the oldest and the great institutions of learning gradually spread to the West as the USA expanded its fifty states through the hackneyed, but inspiring doctrine of manifest destiny. It is the self-taught honor and liberalism of a free people that has rocketed the USA to the heights of a unipolar world. On the darker side of US history lies war-mongering, imperialism, infinite deception and the eyewash of an empty “American Dream.” Both sides of the coin warrant discussion and debate and the First Amendment to the Constitution makes freedom of expression absolute to make this possible.

Despite government deception during the Cold War and the tens of proxy and dirty wars, interventions and coup-de-etats the US has been involved in, the USA has experimented with educational policies, implemented through its institutions of higher learning. Before it became a full-fledged meritocracy in and after the Reagan era, the USA was already a celebrated destination of higher learning. Besides, in its unique rural traditions and ways of teaching at pre-primary to secondary levels in K-12 schools, the USA has produced some of the greatest minds that were born through by experimenting with apparent electronic junk in warehouses and garages. It was with the onset of the Reagan era that the USA begun an economic policy of meritocracy in which achievers were nurtured and invested upon and the homeless and the destitute were further marginalized. The policy regarding standardized Common Core education was born in the Reagan era and begun the process of implementation in a post-recessive economy in 2009. Before Common Core was adopted by majority of the states with the lure of Federal funding, most rural and urban schools had their own traditions of teaching that continue till-date.

On the economic side, urban squalor and poverty in the USA have reached new lows since the post-recessive economy and crony capitalism and speculative banking are still watchwords of the banking system. It is this system that has been blamed for causing corporate lobbying, warmongering, a police-state and more poverty and homelessness. Although the Right to Education is a fundamental right in the US Constitution, it has been difficult to employ policy in far-flung rural areas and suburbia were many communities still live with a medieval mindset. In fact vast majorities of them view the US liberal education system as conspiracy against their way of life.

There are many myths regarding US primary, K-12 and higher education. Some of these are:

Myth: The US has a glorious and all-inclusive educational policy that has made it the “super-power” that it is today.

Reality: Nothing could be so far removed from the truth. Vast sections of US population are even without basic education, let alone formal and liberal education. The US has become a “super-power” due to its deceptive capacities during the Cold War, its unending proxy and direct wars and interventions in the Middle East, an unending black market of arms and narcotics known as the shadow economy and an elitist banking policy that is based on manipulation and cronyism.

 Myth: The US has the best universities in the world and they have not been affected by the recession.

Reality: The US does have some of the best institutions of higher learning in the world, but it also has many universities and community colleges that are not even accredited properly. To think of US higher, K-12 and primary education as a superior monolithic chunk is nothing short of idiocy. Besides, the recession has affected many of them in their funding prowess and to get a tenure-track job in academics is very difficult in today’s economy. Only, those students graduating from Ivy Leagues or equivalent levels find tenure-track jobs at hand. The not-so-fortunate has to make do with adjunct positions.

Myth: The US education system is the best in the world and it was always so.

Reality: This is a monolithic statement, as it does not take into account the long histories of the Academy in European and the non-European countries. The utilitarian and philistine popular mindset of today can hardly take into account that real knowledge creation has only a small part of it as utility-based.  Original and innovative knowledge is not instant, but based on hundreds of years of collaborative and legacy-oriented research. The US only begun its journey towards superior higher education about three hundred years ago and has realized it in the second half of the twentieth century.

 Myth: The US education system does not allow poverty to intimidate its progress.

Reality: The reality is not that rosy. The US education system is based on student loans and post-recessive student debt is at an all-time high. Although the very meritorious with advantages can make it in this economy, the same does not apply to those without a similar advantageous position. Besides, the US educational system has been harmed by the recession and poverty continues to plague at every level. Adjuncts still struggle to find a tenure-track while only the best survive in this kind of economy.

 Myth: There is no racial and ethnic inequality in the USA.

Reality: Discrimination of disadvantaged Native Americans, African-American, Latino and Muslim minorities is at an all-time high in USA. Even freedom of expression on political issues in universities is at stake.

Conclusion: The USA is a vast nation that has experimented with diverse forms of educational standards since it gained independence in 1776. Although it has a rich tradition of private schooling and religious education, which has evolved over two centuries, majority of its peoples in far-flung rural and suburban areas, are functionally or completely illiterate with a medieval mindset. The best institutions of the USA are based in the big cities or in developed rural areas. Most of these institutions are related to primary, K-12 and higher education and are some of the best in the world. However, after long decades of warmongering, a malicious shadow economy, financial deception of the people and indefinite speculative banking a regressive effect on the funding of many universities has crept in. Student debt is at an all-time high and there are many dropouts before starting a graduate degree. But students are now turning to the internet for self-education and this is a big surplus as the digital information boom has led to vast sections of urban societies being benefitted with self-motivated knowledge.

In addition, distant education classes and virtual classrooms are held by many recognized universities, which, along with MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), have revolutionized higher education and offsite learning.  In the long 1980s, Reagan-era reforms turned the US into a meritocracy and the ulterior end became the utilitarian implementation of knowledge and investing on achievers. The pedagogical models of the classical university system that concentrated on making every student a wholesome and knowledge-based individual, gradually disappeared, apart from the liberal arts and natural sciences. The implementation of the Reaganesque Common Core educational plan since 2009 is on a gradual path to standardize education at all levels. However, there is little doubt on the continuing brilliance of the US higher education system and cutting-edge research in a post-recessive economy still holds strong.

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