Credit for this blog post goes to Class of 2015 Global Scholar Ronah Baha. Thanks Ronah!
Many Global Scholars are passionate about the field of International Development, but not everyday do they have the opportunity to hear the experiences and insights of development practitioners. During our November Community Meeting, the Global Scholars heard from representatives of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) in a discussion of development aid and education in Africa. Dr. Montague Demment, the Acting Vice President for International Development, and Anne-Claire Hervy, Associate Vice President for International Development and Programs at APLU discussed the vital role of education in furthering African development.
According to Demment, the World Bank has funded many development projects under the premise that primary education is a better investment with better – or at least, more immediate – economic returns than higher education. Many development agencies operate this way, focusing on short term, measurable goals that enable evidence-based decision making. But, as Hervy pointed out, increasing the aggregate knowledge in a society by emphasizing higher education has actually proven to bring much greater returns. Demment and Hervy explained that these returns are not sheerly economic – rather, higher education equips people with the information and skills necessary to help advance and rebuild their countries.
Indeed, when Global Scholars co-director Professor Simon Nicholson asked Demment and Hervy what development issues are most pervasive and important today, neither indicated that education is the end goal of development. Instead, it is an important tool that will be crucial in addressing the climate change and food supply issues that Demment stated will bear a tremendous impact on the entire world, and especially the world’s poor.
Demment and Hervy emphasized the importance of the higher education we are receiving as students at American University – it is an opportunity that must be afforded to people around the world if there is to be real development. For those of us seeking careers in the field of development, they concluded with words of advice: first, to have an area of expertise, and second, to spend time overseas. Finally, they reminded us of something practitioners often forget when working toward the development of other societies – we cannot be the heroes of the stories of others; we can only help.
Demment left us with this: “It’s an Ethiopian who’s smart who’s going to change Ethiopia – it’s not an American. That’s why higher education is so important. That’s why it’s so important to invest in people.”