Education builds peace and prosperity; it’s that simple

BOISE, Idaho – En route to speak to Rotarians about Central Asia Institute this week, I had a chance to catch up on some reading and came across three things that coincidentally but emphatically made the same point: Education is the key to a more peaceful world.

The fact that this point was reiterated three times by three different people made me think that perhaps – as our Western understanding of conflict, extremism and militarism has evolved – we have reached a turning point.


The three items I found were:
• A quote by Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, in Delta Airlines’ magazine (of all places): “Education is, quite simply, peace-building by another name. It is the most effective form of defense spending there is.” The quote wasn’t part of a story. It was just pulled from Annan’s new book, blown up in a large font, and posted on the page with a thumbnail-size photo of Annan.
• A 2012 op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor by Matt Zeller, a former US Army trainer for Afghan security forces, in which he identified four “steps to success in Afghanistan”:
1. Reform and decentralize Afghanistan’s government.
2. Strengthen local Afghan governance.
3. Transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces ONLY when those forces are ready.
4. Improve Afghan literacy.


Zeller said, in no uncertain terms, that literacy, i.e. education, is “the key” to moving people out of poverty.

It’s hard for most Westerners to fathom, but the reality in Afghanistan is that 75 percent of people are illiterate.

Imagine what that means: People can’t read signs. They can’t count money. Police officers can’t file reports or even write a ticket. Soldiers can’t read training manuals. Mothers with sick children cannot read simple medical instructions or prescriptions. Most people can’t write their own name or read a map, a newspaper, or a ballot.

Imagine trying to rebuild a country after 35 years of war when 75 percent of the people are illiterate.

Yet here is a U.S. soldier who spent time in Afghanistan, helped train Afghan security forces and worked with Afghans, who concluded that of all the things the world could be doing to help, education is right up there with governance and security. In fact, they go hand in hand.


• A University of Maryland School of Public Policy survey about Pakistani women and support for militancy and terrorism. Here, researcher Madiha Afzal’s conclusion – one that has long been supposed, but never proven – that as women become more educated, they are less likely to support militancy and terrorism than similarly educated men. She also found that uneducated women are more likely to support militancy and terrorism than similarly uneducated men.

She said the correlation between education and support for, or rejection of, militancy and terrorism was “important and robust.”

This is important for many reasons, not least of which is that young men and boys recruited by the Taliban and other extremist groups are required to get their mothers’ blessings before joining such an organization, or going on a suicide mission, the researcher noted.

So, girls who are educated – especially who complete secondary school – grow up to be mothers who are less likely to give their sons permission to pursue violent solutions.

And that’s not to mention the myriad other reasons – proven time and time again – that education, especially for girls, makes a difference. Education matters. It changes people and their communities. I’ve seen it myself.


Back in the early 1990s, Greg Mortenson, CAI’s co-founder, and a former mountain climber, saw firsthand the effects of poverty, government neglect, and geographical isolation on people living some of the most beautiful places on the planet. Many of these communities had never had never had a school; illiteracy was the norm.

CAI now has more than 200 schools – especially, but not exclusively, for girls – in some of the most remote, far-flung mountain communities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan that you could imagine. We have also worked with communities to introduce women’s literacy and vocational programs and centers to help adult females who were unable to attend school.

And they are making a difference. Over the course of more than six years of working with CAI, I have probably seen more of those schools than any other CAI-US staff person, including Greg. And I can vouch for their efficacy.

Education works. It makes a difference. It’s that simple.

QUOTE: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela

– Karin Ronnow, CAI’s communications director