Museologia social e Urbanismo XXIV

Education and skills

Cities are shaped by people, for people. It is no surprise therefore, that Human Capital is their biggest asset. Today we will look at the experience of cities in imparting knowledge and skills to their residents and consuming the product of this knowledge and skills, in ways that enable cities and the countries that they are part of to grow and prosper.

We’ll try and answer two questions: First, can achieving SDG4 or the SDG on education contribute to creating and nurturing sustainable cities? And second, can cities help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on Education?

Let’s start with the first question and begin by asking ‘Why do we care about education?’ We care because at a fundamental level, educating children and enabling them to be productive, fulfilled individuals who can live life to their full potential is the first responsibility of every society.

Education is an important right in itself, one that has been recognised in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that was adopted in 1948 at the United Nations. Education is not just a Right, it is also critical to achieving Sustainable Development in all its dimensions. Its first immediate effect is on individual wages and on national incomes. Hanushek and Woessman showed in their 2015 paper, the direct link between learning and incomes.

In the case of lower middle-income countries, they estimated that the universal acquisition of basic skills will translate into gains that would be 13 times current GDP, averaging out to a 28% higher GDP over the next 80 years. Additionally, Education especially, Early Childhood Education helps reduce inequalities. Data from 73 low and middle-income countries has shown us that if we increase pre-primary enrolment from current levels in these countries which average to about 15% to 50%, we could cut the gap in education attainment of 15 to 19 year olds between the highest and the lowest income quintiles, by half. But that’s not all; education improves health outcomes by lowering mortality rates, reducing the risk of chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and reducing morbidity related work days. And finally, education can help build social values of civic behaviour, social justice, global citizenship. Indeed over much of the 20th century since mass education was implemented by governments, it was seen as a tool to transmit national values and cultures just as much as build capacities. In today’s age, it can help build skills of critical reasoning, innovative thinking, interpretation, socialisation, self-direction and creativity, what are commonly known as 21st century skills, helping form communities that are economically and socially inclusive and thereby building the social capital for a sustainable future. If we take a step back to look at the state of global education today, we can see that there’s been enormous progress in school education across the world. The biggest success story is one of Access. Since 1990, the number of out-of-school primary age children has dropped from a 102 million to a 61 million a worldwide.

The Sustainable Development Goal on Education calls for all countries to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” As you can see this is a fairly ambitious goal. Its targets require countries, to provide free equitable and quality education at primary level and at the secondary level, to ensure quality learning outcomes to provide pre-primary education, to allow young men and women access to technical, vocational and tertiary education and to build skills in young people amongst other targets.

The SDGs are global commitments that all countries have signed up to, but they do not make up national policy. Each country designs its own national policy on education which in most cases is also implemented at a national level.

Now this create special challenges for cities: First, cities have little control over national curricula, decisions on what to teach are not in the control of school boards. Second, in many cases there are overlapping jurisdictions where the ministries of Education and local municipalities share responsibilities leading to fairly complicated implementation challenges. Third, cities often have little control over fiscal transfers and grants to run or open new schools. In cases where city limits expand or new populations congregate in certain areas, this lack of fiscal autonomy can become a binding constraint. Fourth, in many countries teachers’ recruitment happens nationally, this means that school boards and municipalities have very little control over the quality of their teaching staff making it harder for them to improve the quality of teaching. While these factors do make it harder for cities to deliver on education, there is a wide space of innovation that still available in most countries.

So let’s look at how the urban experience interplays with education.  We’ve just seen that at its most basic level this is a positive relationship, but in reality the experience is more complicated and more variable. Let’s do a tour across different parts of the world and look at the experience of cities in different regions recognising that first, there is a vast intra-regional variation but second, also noting that some common threads do weave through regional and economic experiences of cities across the world.

Let’s start with the United States which is one of the few countries where education outcomes and cities are relatively worse than those in rural areas. In 2005 nationally 47% students in urban schools dropped out of school, compared with 29% in non-urban areas. In some selected cities, as you can see this difference was even sharper. The experience of urban education in the US is inextricably linked with the experience of urbanisation itself. In 1954, in the Brown versus Board of Education decision the US Supreme Court struck down the ‘separate but equal’ principle requiring children of different races to study together.

Racial tensions worsened especially in cities that had seen large-scale migration of black families during the war years. To comply with the Brown ruling, urban districts began busing programs and magnet schools but in the 60s and 70s, white middle-class families keen not to send their children to desegregated or distant schools took advantage of the newly created federal highway programs and housing incentives to move away from urban school districts into the suburbs, what is popularly referred to as “the by more than half leaving urban schools in disarray and followed quickly by an exodus of teachers that continues to date. At the same time racially stratifying, social and urban planning policies led to deeply segregated urban communities seen in the rise of ghettos and reflected in the student mix in urban schools who today are predominantly poor, over half qualify for free-lunch programs and belonging to minority groups. Over 70% today are either black or Hispanic. This combination of poorly resourced schools, serving a disadvantaged community which was geographically distinct and is located in economically depressed often crime-ridden parts of the city has created a challenge that over 30 years of reform efforts – for example, charter schools, the No Child Left Behind initiative, The Race To The Top program have not been able to solve.

Let’s move now to Latin America where education outcomes in urban areas are much better than rural areas. Latin America is 77% urban and home to some of the largest urban conglomerates in the world, Mexico City- 21 million people, Sao Paulo 19 million people and over a 150 million poor people live in the cities of the region. The migration rates into the cities far exceed their carrying capacity or their planning capacities, leading to shortages in housing, infrastructure, education. Large belts of poverty have developed at the periphery of the cities which over time become informal settlements with communities, cultures and often laws all of their own. These settlements exist along the fault-lines of income, class, race, employment and invariably educational opportunities. High-quality private and select public schools are accessed by the wealthy, while the poor send their children to under resourced and overcrowded public schools. Latin America is also the only region in the world to face a reverse gender gap especially in the higher years of schooling. Gross enrolment rates for upper secondary for girls is 96%, compared with 82% for boys. This is predominantly an urban phenomenon, a consequence of overcrowded and under-resourced schools and the opportunity costs of working, which is what attracts boys away from schools.

Cities in Sub-saharan Africa and South Asia are viewed as being privileged compared to rural areas, both in terms of the number of schools but also in terms of their quality and resources that they have. The large cities in both sub-continents host the best schools and the most well-functioning schooling systems in the countries. Yet, as in Latin America, the largest cities Lagos- 21 million people, Mumbai- 22 million people and others like Delhi and Johannesburg have settlements of deep poverty and deprivation. The urban poor are located in areas where educational planning has not yet reached; and this has led not just to the under-provision and poor quality of public schools but the rise of informal and low-cost private schooling that proliferates in urban areas. In Nairobi, for example over 40% of the poorest children in slums attend private schools. Gender disparities are persistent in both Sub-saharan Africa and in South Asia, but in both regions girls in urban areas are twice as likely to be in school than girls in rural areas. Cities offer greater educational opportunities and fewer barriers of access, of distance and facilities though girls especially adolescence in cities have to navigate different kinds of safety concerns. Cities in these regions are also where migrants from different states, languages and occupations come together.

Urban schools face the additional challenge of teaching children with different mother tongues who are often unfamiliar with the language of instruction. This is not just a South Asian or Sub-saharan African problem, this is also a problem that several cities in Europe are facing, in schools with large immigrant populations. For instance, recent estimates indicate that Turkey now hosts over 1.5 million refugees of which 1 million are Syrian. An estimated one-third of Syrian refugees in urban settings are unregistered and in 2014, 70% of school-age refugee children were not attending school.  When they do attend, the burden on the Turkish education system will increase manifold. In many countries the urban poor have worse primary completion outcomes than the average rural household – a disparity that becomes more pronounced in lower secondary, possibly because the opportunity cost of employment is higher in cities. Finally, cities of East Asia and China have had a very different experience with education.

Cities and countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have invested heavily in education, their learning outcomes, their attention levels, their years of schooling: all exceed many industrial countries in the West. Across the world, Higher Education is almost entirely a privilege of income and largely an urban phenomenon. Gross enrolment rates in low-income countries hover at under 10% compared to middle-income countries where there in the 37% range and for high-income countries where they’re over 70%.

Most students enrolled in tertiary education come to cities to study, and are limited by the number of higher educational institutions in those cities. Students who are unable to enrol in formal degrees, join institutions that teach vocational or technical skills.

Such institutions are almost always found in urban or peri-urban areas because of the proximity to industry. Technical and vocational skills are critical for manufacturing and services sectors and for overall economic growth.

Talent and creativity drive the Triple Helix Model of innovation; one that builds synergies between higher education, government and industry. Such synergies are best situated in cities.

Two examples illustrate this: San Francisco is the first that comes to mind. Stanford University incubated the talent and knowledge base that then interfaced with industry and government to create a global hub of knowledge and growth. Over 18,000 firms are estimated to be created by alumni of Stanford in California alone. The Tsukuba Science city near Tokyo in Japan is a second example. It was set up in the 1970s by the government to upgrade and decentralise science and engineering research. It hosts universities, publicly-funded scientific research laboratories and national research institutions that receive about half of Japan’s public research and development budget and has become an important global site for government-industry-research collaborations. Cities host institutions of higher learning that not just add to their economies, but also create journalists, doctors, lawyers, artists, public intellectuals on one hand and low skill labour on the other.

For instance the city of Shanghai in China, is situated within a network of other smaller cities and attracts over a 100,000 graduates from 60 higher education institutions every year and more than a quarter of the labour force has a college education which is double the proportion from just a decade ago. Finally, as we think about SDG4, higher education institutions are in a unique position to offer evidence-based scientific solutions to the problems of sustainable development. Cutting-edge research on issues of Climate Change, solutions for adaptation and mitigation, alternate energy sources, management of water resources and ecosystems are being led by academic institutions today. Universities and research centres can claim the space of high-quality, locally relevant research that will offer solutions to the cities and the countries that they are in. By doing so, they can help cities solve the challenges of exclusion, inequity and deprivation that are a reality not just of urban education but of the urban experience more broadly.

In summary, ‘How can cities help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on Education?’ First, by providing improved access and opportunities for learning which as we’ve seen – cities do much better at than rural areas. Second, by providing better infrastructure and resources in terms of connectivity, safety, access, teachers, facilities. Third, cities allow for greater connection to markets and immediate links to skills, employments and opportunities to work and Fourth, at the higher education level cities are central for universities and provide the ecosystem for linking with innovation and tapping into the creative and the cultural zeitgeist of the time.

Let’s come to our second question: “How can achieving the SDG in Education help build sustainable cities?”

First, widespread quality education is a must for creating a strong pool of human capital that allow cities to thrive.

Second, education adds to productivity, it improves health as we saw earlier, reduces inequality, help stabilise demographic change: all of these factors allow for a stable healthy population.

Third, a skilled and educated workforce can help fuel economic productivity, build social capital, encourage creative thinking and innovation.

How do we do this? How do we ensure that sustainable cities help in the achievement of the SDG on Education and how do we ensure that the achievement of the education goal contributes to the development of sustainable cities?

First, governments need to plan for education centres for schools, for colleges, for universities concurrently with city planning. Second, governments need to deal and expect the diversity of student mix, students of different backgrounds, different linguistic abilities, different economic levels and train their teachers, their school principals and their administrative staff to be able to welcome students into the schools without discrimination and without disadvantage. Third, cities need to encourage links between the educational institutions that they host – with markets, industry and jobs. And finally governments need to plan for creating educational clusters that could encourage growth, innovation and jobs together. In this way urban education can play a much needed and critical role in helping cities become sustainable.

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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OpenEdition sugere que esta publicação seja citada da seguinte forma:
Pedro Pereira Leite (27 de Março de 2017). Museologia social e Urbanismo XXIV. Global Heritages. Recuperado em 21 de Julho de 2024 de https://doi.org/10.58079/p38f


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