Securing the Future through Universal Education

“The Pen is Mightier than the Sword”

On Friday, July 12, Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 16th birthday by giving a speech at the United Nations. If you’re unfamiliar with Malala’s story, catch up with this NATO Council of Canada article. Malala took the opportunity at the UN to spread her message: “Education is the only solution. Education first.” Her argument was that education is the most effective way to fight against extremists like the Taliban (that were responsible for shooting her in the head because of her efforts to get an education). This is a message that is common amongst people interested in development, but it should also be a priority for people interested in international security. I recently wrote about why development is a security issue; well, education is arguably the development issue of this generation. Malala made a call for all governmental leaders to provide compulsory, free education. Why? Because strong indicators suggest that education decreases recklessness, elevates public discourse, and decreases conflict. It creates a passion for finding solutions outside of violence, and lessens the likelihood that people will be influenced by extremist rhetoric.

But is education for everyone actually feasible? Malala advocates for governments to provide universal education, but the reality is that this is probably the least efficient way to go about getting it done. This is where private and non-profit companies are leading the way to secure the world. Given the amount of information now online, Malala’s vision, and the vision of so many others, does not have to wait for government action – it is already in motion.

The [dot]com is Mightier than the Pen

Mobilizing the international community in the fight for global education has never proven to be an easy feat. But the argument for universal education is more than its role as a social good. There is more than a strong correlation with education rates and elevating a society out of conflict. This applies for developing countries as well as communities in our own back yard that struggle with poverty. The problem with these areas is that they are the ones that are not getting information; they are not connected. In areas of the world that are not connected, it becomes easier for populations to be manipulated because they do not have access to credible information. In fact, most of the information they do receive is altered for the benefit of those feeding it to them (case and point, North Korea). But this issue of access is changing – education is going digital.

Generational divides see half of the population as skeptics of the internet, and the other half as optimists. When it comes to finding information online, one of the biggest concerns from skeptics and optimists alike is determining the reliability of sources if you are unfamiliar with the internet. However, high-schools are now teaching how to find academic sources online. But this is something that can be harnessed for online viewers that do not have the advantage of the classroom structure to finding reliable information. Online education is a booming industry, with some organizations (like Khan Academy) not only attempting to restructure how education is taught, but concurrently working to get information to people on a variety of topics (over 4,000 to be specific). Additionally, university’s across the world are joining the trend, providing free online access to university level courses through websites like edX, Coursera, and Udacity. It’s not a stretch to say that, soon enough, virtually every subject will be covered online – and will be credibly provided through these university outlets.

Things are Looking Up

The next issue with empowering the world to realize global education is getting that virtual information to the entire world. Funnily enough, internet access at the time of writing this article is down, causing me to reminisce about my time in India where I could walk 5 minutes in any direction and land in front of an internet café. Access to the internet is one of those things that the West cannot claim domination over (though in terms of access to content on it, it can). “China has by far the most Internet users in the world, and it appears that soon half the country will be on the Web, thanks largely to cell phones and other mobile devices. In percentage terms, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden have the highest Internet penetration, with more than 90 percent of residents online. The U.S. is 27th, with 78 percent of Americans online.”

But what about those that do not have access to the internet? The tech world is always one step ahead, with Google constantly proving itself as the leader in innovation (from how it treats its employees, to how it develops for its customers). They are already on the mission to get internet everywhere. Project Loon is “a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill [internet] coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”  Still in its pilot stages, projects like Loon give us the hope that access will someday actually be for everyone. Connectivity, much like education, enables those that have it, but also seriously disadvantages those that do not. Google is trying to rectify this situation, which is more than can be said for governments. China is still heavily controlling its internet, and North Korea is hardly open to the idea of the internet – though it did meet with Google executives to discuss how it could get the internet while maintaining control. The real negotiators in this are not the governments, but rather the private companies working to change how the world works.

(Obstacle)Courses for Everyone

Education is the route that “teaches women and men how to fish” rather than “giving them a fish.” It is more sustainable than high-cost, short-term military projects, and has the highest chance for enduring change in our global society. The security community only stands to benefit from enabling the civilian populations to educate themselves on the importance of security. For security organizations to simply see technology as a method of attacking, or a way to be attacked (see: the numerous articles on cyber security) is a very narrow approach.  Technology can be used as a force for good, and whichever player hopes to harness it for good will find themselves among the leaders of the next century. At this point, it appears it’s the private companies, like Google, that are winning the race of leading this security strategy. Governments, it’s time to catch up! Traditional war is not commonplace anymore – the democratic world increasingly finds itself battling with insurgents who target vulnerable and uneducated individuals to gain support for their radical agendas. Having the foresight to educate the world will decrease the pool from which insurgents can gain supporters. Education for all is more than a social plea; it is a matter of global security.


Radha Patel

About Radha Patel

Radha Patel completed her BA at McGill University, with a double major in Political Science and World Religions and a minor in Politics, Law, and Society. Her areas of interest include international relations, comparative politics, and transitions to democracy. Radha is interested in learning about Canada’s role on the international stage and how it can be optimized to be more effective in its global endeavours. She was the Program Editor as well as a Research Analyst for the Emerging Securities Program at the NATO Association of Canada.