The global economy, even before its evolution and sophistication, was and is about access; about controlling access to resources, knowledge and markets. Economic growth for any one nation is also predicated on this same concept of access. However, as the many of the current economic, political and social systems are set up, only a small percentage of a given population benefit from a nation’s acquired access. They have privileged access through geography, patronage, gender, status, nepotism, corruption, and family history. For example, in the U.S, the top 20% of the population have 85% of the wealth. This year, the poverty rate in the U.S hit 15.1%, or 1 in every 6 people. In Australia, according to a report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the wealthiest 20% of households in account for 62% of total household net worth. Research has also shown that such wealth inequality is not truly understood by the public.
“I think one of the reasons that we see people having a disconnect between understanding how much wealth inequality there really is, is this very strong American belief in the ability to be socially mobile and to be mobile with your wealth. So people have very strong beliefs that across generations and even in their own life they can go from rags to riches. And it’s certainly possible. I mean one of the fantastic things about America is that that is in fact possible. But it’s much, much rarer than people believe, and especially wealth transmission, so money that goes from generation to generation to generation is very flat. So it tends to perpetuate a great deal over time” (Prof. Michael Norton, Harvard Business School).
Wealth in very uneven in its distribution, both in the U.S and Australia, and across the world. Yet, international institutions continue to push for economic growth-oriented policies in international development contexts. These policies are deeply rooted in a particular understanding and histories of industralisation, capitalism and growth. However, there are others, such as many UN agencies, smaller actors such as Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), and individuals like Amartya Sen, who push for a broader understanding of, and approach to, development. Ones that encompass well-being, social, environmental and human development, reframing concepts of freedom and happiness without the intense focus on wealth.
However, this concept of access has trickled down into our articulation of these new spaces in development, and into sectors such as microfinance and education. It is believed that greater access to, and control of, finances and credit will empower and reduce poverty. Yet, the evidence is far from conclusive. In education, for example, the eight Millenium Development Goals (MDG) articulate access. In particular, MDG number two and three which relate directly to education say nothing of learning. Indeed, it is not even stated in the MDGs whether children need to learn once they are in a classroom. It was wrongly assumed or just not considered. It is only recently that international attention has prioritised a post-access agenda as data reveals declining standards, high dropout rates, and low achievement rates in countries such as Uganda, Ghana and India. Although there has been remarkable success in striving towards the MDGs, in some cases, we are seeing rising levels of inequity. For example, according to a World Bank report on Ghana, a girl in a rural area from the poorest quintile is 13.9 times more likely not to have attended school than a boy in an urban area from the richest quintile. This is despite the government achieving almost universal primary school access and an average GDP growth rate of 5% over the past decade.
It is not such a far leap to then say that the access agenda is characteristic of very individualist societies, and has perhaps contributed to a blindspot on equity.
The conventional wisdom holds that if a child has access to education, then it is their responsibility to take advantage of it. Traditional educational pedagogies encourage individualism and competition. Through learning activities, standardised assessment tasks and even whole systems. Complimented by extra-curricular activites, children are constantly encouraged to compete against their peers; even when with a team, they compete against a team of their peers. Education systems are geared towards giving children a competitive advantage throughout their lives.
But, what if we were able to change this narrative? To encourage truly collaborative learning, in which children share knowledge, ideas, resources rather than compete for access? If we want to challenge the current economic growth model, then it must start with education. An initiative of the Post Growth Institute, an international group seeking to inspire people to explore paths to global prosperity that do not rely on economic growth, is beginning the challenge through an innovative and participatory approach. On September 15th, at various public locations worldwide, people will hand out their own money to complete strangers, two coins or notes at a time, asking the recipients to pass one of these coins or notes on to someone else. The aim is to raise awareness and start conversations about the benefits of economies based on sharing, as well as offering a learning experience that gets us thinking more critically and creatively about our relationship with money and how we could have new types of economic activity. It would be great to see this event adapted to schools to include children, teachers and parents in conversations about not just economies, but education, based on sharing.
To learn more, and to participate, visit: http://freemoneyday.org.
This is a cross-post with the Post Growth Institute
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