Education in Third World Countries Term Paper

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Education in Third World Countries

Education has been recognized as a basic human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nation's General Assembly in 1948. Since then, numerous other international conventions and declarations have reasserted the importance of this right. Achieving universal education and ensuring that "all boys and girls complete a full course of primary education" is one of UN's 8 Millennium Development Goals agreed to in 2000 by all the world's countries and the world's leading development institutions. Although some progress has been made in increasing the level of education in most countries, a number of third world countries have fallen behind in their effort and are unlikely to achieve the goal by the target date of 2015.

Moreover, the quality of education in the poorest third world countries is far from satisfactory and better quality education is only affordable by a tiny minority in these countries. Due to this, the knowledge gap between the haves and the have-nots (i.e., between the rich and the poor countries of the world and the rich and poor people within countries) is likely to widen further, unless a more committed effort is made by the governments in third world countries to improve the education levels of their people and the international community provides the necessary help. This paper outlines the benefits of education; discusses the co-relation between illiteracy and poverty; reviews the status of education in the third world countries; enumerates the reasons for high levels of illiteracy in these countries, and how they can be overcome.

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Term Paper on Education in Third World Countries Assignment

While discussing the topic of "education in third world countries," we have to remember that the literacy levels in most of these countries is very low and their concept of 'education' may be slightly different from its concept in the developed countries, where primary education is taken for granted and "education" usually refers to higher levels of education. On the other hand, substantial portions of the population in some third world countries are illiterate -- i.e., they are not even able to read and write, and even being literate may be considered as 'educated' in them. Hence the benefits of education discussed below include the benefits of literacy as literacy is an essential part of primary education and adult literacy programs in third world countries.

Responsibility of Governments in Education and its Social Benefits

In the modern day obsession with privatization and the insistence on a diminished role of governments, how far are governments justified in spending public money on education? In this regard, it is pertinent to note that even the father of laissez faire economy, Adam Smith, has recognized the substantial social benefit of education and makes the following observation in the Wealth of Nations:

The state derives no inconsiderable advantage from the education of the common people. If instructed they... are less liable to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition, which among ignorant nations, frequently occasion the most dreadful disorders. (Book V, Part III, Article 2, quoted by Riddell, 2004)

Hence, government expenditure on education is justified because the society benefits as a whole from education in addition to the private benefits that accrue to those receiving the education (Riddell, 2004, p. 3). Moreover, even the private benefit of education to individuals contributes towards social development. This is because those individuals who do not have the financial resources to afford education are unable to reach their potential, resulting in a less than optimum utilization of the potential talent of the population. Government's expenditure on education is no more than a profitable investment, whose returns are greater than most other commercial investments. Cost-benefit analyses of investment on education in third world countries carried out by Psacharopoulos are very high for almost all underdeveloped regions of the world (i.e., Africa, Asia and Latin America). For example, the social rates of return for primary education alone in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are 26%, 27%, and 28% respectively (quoted by Hough, 1993, p. 13). If we add the social rates of return of secondary education (17%, 18%, and 15%) and higher education (13%, 13%, and 16%) for the same regions, the total rates of return approach almost 60% (Hough 1993).

The social benefits of education include:

Democratization: According to the World Bank, countries with higher primary schooling and a smaller gap between rates of boys' and girls' schooling tend to enjoy greater democracy. Countries with higher literacy rates and education levels tend to have stable democratic political institutions including devolution of power and fair elections ("Education and Development" 2007)

Peace and Stability: Education promotes human security, equity, justice, and intercultural understanding. It also reduces crime, delinquent and violent behavior. At a global level, higher education levels may reduce terrorism as well (Ibid).

Economic Competitiveness: An educated and skilled workforce is critical to the development of economies in the modern world, where knowledge has become the primary engine of growth. Comparative advantage among nations is now more the product of technical innovations and the competitive use of knowledge that comes from an educated workforce rather than from natural resources or cheap labor (Ibid.)

Individual / Private Benefits

The private or individual benefits of education are even greater than its collective or social benefits. Numerous long-term studies have indicated a strong correlation between individual income and their level of education and translate into higher lifetime earnings, lower levels of unemployment, greater job satisfaction, and improved quality of life. They include other positive consequences such as improved health, longevity and reduced participation in crime. Furthermore, education is deeply tied to an individual's self-esteem, confidence and personal empowerment and may also enable people to enjoy life more fully, appreciate literature and culture, and educated individuals are likely to be more informed and socially involved citizens (Riddell 2004).

The private rates of return in third world countries as determined in a study by Psacharopoulos are as follows:

Private Rates of Return for Underdeveloped Regions of the World:


Primary Education

Secondary Education

Higher Education



Latin America

Source: Psacharopoulos (1985)

Intergenerational Effect of Education: One of the most significant benefits of education is the strong intergenerational effect it has on individuals. A number of credible researches on the effect of parents' education on their children suggest that educated parents in third world countries almost always educate their children. This is especially true of educated mothers. Educated parents, in general, make substantial family investment in their children -- this results in a chain reaction as children of educated parents pass on the positive values of their parents to the next generation.

Lower Fertility rates: Higher literacy and education of girls also leads to lower fertility rates due to increased use of contraception, and late marriage age. This results in lower population growth rates, which is particularly important in third world countries.

Lower Maternal and Infant Mortality rates: Women with formal education are more likely to seek medical care during pregnancy, ensure their children are immunized, and practice improved sanitation. This helps to prevent maternal deaths during child-birth and significantly lowers infant mortality rates. ("Education and Development" 2007)

HIV / AIDS infection: Girls' education ranks among the most powerful tools for reducing girls' vulnerability to HIV / AIDS. It reduces the spread of HIV / AIDS because educated girls have greater information about the disease and ways to prevent it; it also leads to delayed marriage, female economic independence, and family planning -- factors that reduce chances of acquiring HIV / AIDS. (Ibid.)

Co-relation between Poverty and Literacy

There is a strong correlation between poverty and illiteracy. Wherever literacy rates are lower, poverty rates are invariably higher and vice-versa. The relationship between the two is a vicious circle as poor countries do not have sufficient resources to invest in education; most of the people who survive on incomes of less than 2 dollars a day cannot afford to send their children to school. On the other hand, a low literacy rate is a major barrier against personal improvement and prevents the poorest people to lift themselves out of the poverty trap.

For example, in third world countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mozambique and Nepal, 78% or more of the population lives on incomes below U.S.$2 per day, adult literacy rates are below 63%, and the number of adult illiterates exceeds 5 million in each country ("Education for All: Literacy for Life" UNESCO Report, 2006).

The link between literacy rates and poverty is also evident in different areas within the countries. As literacy rates tend to be lower in rural areas as compared to urban area, the disparity in income levels closely follows the literacy rates. This disparity between the income levels and levels of education between the rural and urban population is particularly pronounced in third world countries such as Pakistan and Ethiopia (Ibid.) Evidence from thirty developing countries and seven sub-Saharan African countries, with particularly low overall literacy rates, indicates that literacy levels almost always correlate with wealth. The… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Education in Third World Countries" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Education in Third World Countries.  (2007, December 8).  Retrieved December 3, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Education in Third World Countries."  8 December 2007.  Web.  3 December 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Education in Third World Countries."  December 8, 2007.  Accessed December 3, 2020.