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Blog Action Day 08 - Poverty

By Murray Bourne, 15 Oct 2008

The theme for today's Blog Action Day is "poverty". With the recent meltdown in the global economy, poverty is going to get worse. So here are 7 thoughts on how to reduce poverty.

1. Education

The most important aspect in this area is education of women. When girls are educated, they are able to generate an independent income. They tend to have less children and they have them later in life. Their options for avoiding the poverty trap are increased dramatically.

2. Microcredit

Organizations like Kiva provide a conduit between those who are willing to lend small amounts of money, and those who desperately need it to start small businesses. Kiva's tag line: "Loans that change lives."

3. Redistribution of excess

Some countries have too much food and too much water, so both are wasted and consumed to excess. I'm talking about voluntary redistribution, not a communist approach.

4. Computers

There are some really interesting things going on in India with "hole in the wall" computers. The computer is placed in a village with little explanation about what to do with it or how. Amazing learning can occur when you take the teacher out of the picture. See Sugata Mitra: Can kids teach themselves? on YouTube.

When children learn computer skills, there is a better chance of bridging the digital divide and reducing poverty.

5. Online learning skills

Over the next 20 years there will be an explosion of online learning offerings. But not everyone wants to learn online and in many cases it's because they don't have the skills to do so.

There is great potential in giving kids from disadvantaged backgrounds the skills to learn by themselves.

6. Corruption

Corruption is endemic in many countries. Corruption was a high priority for Singapore (where I now live) from the day it became an independent country. It is no accident that it has one of the highest per-capita incomes in Asia. A strong commitment to education has also helped, of course.

7. Math skills for future sustainability

Last but not least, give students the math and science skills they need to begin fixing some of the most pressing problems of today. (See Twenty Global Problems and Twenty Years to Solve Them)

The biggest poverty traps are global warming, biodiversity and ecosystem losses, fisheries depletion, deforestation, water deficits and infectious diseases.

If students can work on these issues in their local area, there will be a positive impact on poverty.

Final thought

So there you have it. Seven thoughts - none of them original - but all important.

I'm looking forward to the day when I can devote more of my time to volunteer work. My plan is to go to Cambodia and help out. The majority of the country lives on around $1 a day. They lost an entire generation of educated people during the madness of the Khmer Rouge days. Hopefully my efforts there will have an impact on poverty.

See the 3 Comments below.

3 Comments on “Blog Action Day 08 - Poverty”

  1. MariaD says:

    An interesting take on the issue can be found in the psychological theory of flow ( Some poor people and poor communities (and poor countries) seem to be significantly happier, or more able to achieve "flow," than others. Many social groups, such as graduate students, artists, or some intentional communities, register low on money measures and high on other life success measures. If we look at networks, some extremely successful and large web projects get a huge bang for a buck (Craigslist, Wikipedia). I just finished reading the Mars trilogy, an excellent science fiction book where a future society combines money and "other" economies. It is utopian, yet quite inspiring.

    All in all, I am thinking the answers to problems of poverty will come from social mechanisms - people helping each other, cooperating and in general networking. Which makes technology education and cooperative learning extremely important goals for all educators, in particular math educators. I am working on organizing coop math clubs, and collecting group math activities that support high level of interaction and result in contributing to the creative commons. People who organize OERs (open educational resources - a good list is here) and invite their students to contribute content make the world richer, and are my personal heroes. When you send Intmath newsletters out, you fight poverty!

  2. Murray says:

    Thanks for your comment, Maria.

    I also read one or 2 of the Mars Trilogy a while back and enjoyed them.

    Speaking of Mars, I have to say I am quite concerned about the talk from NASA (and Dawkins) along the lines that we need to explore other planets as it is the only hope for our race in the future. From New Scientist:

    The renowned University of Cambridge physicist has previously spoken in favour of colonising space as an insurance policy against the possibility of humanity being wiped out by catastrophes like nuclear war and climate change. He argues that humanity should eventually expand to other solar systems

    How about saving the billions of dollars and fixing the environmental mess this world is in first? Don't get me wrong - I'm all for scientific exploration, but nuclear war and climate change are things we can do something about at significantly less cost than trotting off to some nearby sun. Really...

    Thanks for the great list of educational resources.

  3. MariaD says:

    I got to (cynically) say that we need to provide "those" boys and girls with toys and games that are more exciting than war in order for them to abandon war as their game of choice. And then provide "those other" boys and girls with means of personal profit even more lucrative than war. Space exploration may just work for the purpose, as it is both expensive and exciting. I am calling these people "boys and girls" to indicate their pre-conventional stage of moral development.

    It would be nice to promote actual moral development, though.

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