Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established by the UN in 2000 are eight objectives proposed by the UN, its member nations and other organizations as an initiative to reduce global poverty. These goals include; eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development. The timeline for which these goals were to be achieved is 2015. There have been many strides taken to ensure that Universal Primary Education (UPE) is implemented in poor nations. Many African nations have now introduced the UPE model in their education systems. This model basically entitles every child to a basic education, and the goal of this model is to reduce illiteracy and innumeracy and ultimately improve standards of living in the long run.
While this has enabled many children to have a basic education, the way the system has been set up in some countries is very unsettling. In some African nations, students don’t have access to classrooms, and thus have their lessons under trees – which isn’t an ideal situation because their make-shift classrooms won’t be able to accommodate them in event of heavy rains. Moreover, because they don’t have any furniture, enough text books, or basic school needs like books, pens, pencils or reading materials, it’s hard for them to really practice what they learn at school if they don’t have the materials to support such learning. Those who are privileged enough to sit in a classroom often have to deal with issues of overcrowding, and they are taught by teachers who are sometimes not very qualified or equipped enough to take on the responsibilities that come with teaching big classes.
In Central African Republic (CAR) for example, the ratio of student to teacher was 95:1 in 2009, 84:1 in 2010, 81:1 in 2011 and 80:1 in 2012.  The ratio of student to teacher in most African nations, and Bangladesh is staggeringly high, when compared to other rich and affluent nations. For students who come from poor families, they face an even greater challenge because they have to show up to school on empty stomachs, or promise of a meal during the day, and on top of that, they have to walk long distances just to get to their schools. This isn’t a weakness of the system in and of itself, but it’s hard for students to concentrate on their studies on an empty stomach, and therefore for a person who is already living in poverty, the dream of getting an education is further complicated by the very circumstances they live in.
UPE public schools also face the issue of unreliable teachers, who are often underpaid and therefore aren’t very motivated to keep their schedules. A research study in Uganda shows that the average salary of a primary school teacher is 300,000 Ugandan Shillings a month, the equivalent of 150 Canadian dollars! In some cases, the teachers don’t even show up for their scheduled lectures, and therefore, students are left by themselves with nothing to do to pass the time, but chat with one another. Furthermore, while attaining an education is crucial, it’s also important to remember that the quality of one’s education is as important as the education itself. It is a common practice for most UPE schools to promote all their students to the next grade, even though some students might not have acquired enough skills to move on to a higher level. The dropout rate in many UPE schools remains very high, especially for girls.
Likewise, while a lot of emphasis is put on improving education systems, it seems that very little is being done to create more jobs in poor nations. All things being equal, if all the students were to successfully graduate from school, their degrees wouldn’t amount to much if the economy remains underdeveloped, and unemployment rates remain high. If the government focuses all its resources in instituting a basic education system, but neglects to improve its economy by creating more jobs and creating a conducive environment for entrepreneurship, the standard of living of that nation will remain low. In theory therefore, the UPE system seems like an ideal solution to global poverty in developing nations and it does have a lot of potential, but the implementation of such a model requires a lot of monitoring, resources, and planning, something which hasn’t been done very well thus far. It has presented many problems, which are yet to be addressed in order for this to be an effective solution to illiteracy and ultimately eradicating poverty in developing nations.
It’s worth noting that the UN has been broadly successful in implementing programs that have helped reduce the spread of diseases through organizations like Roll Back Malaria (RBM), WHO, and UNICEF. RBM was created with a sole mandate of eradicating malaria in the world, and they have been doing this through the distribution of insecticide treated mosquito nets in nations plagued by malaria. The MDGs were originally designed as objectives to be achieved by 2015, but it’s safe to say that global poverty will not be eradicated by the year 2015. The statistics of those still living in abject poverty remain high, and in some nations worse than ever before. The UN through various organizations like the IMF and the World Bank has been trying to eradicate poverty since the 1940s and so far none of the attempts taken to achieve this goal have been successful. To date trillions of dollars have been given through systematic aid to poor nations, but we don’t honestly have much to show for this. Nations that are still receiving aid and development loans seem to be worse off, because not only do they have to pay back the loans they received at ridiculous interest rates, they have other issues like corruption, misappropriation of resources, and inflation to contend with.
 See list of MDGs here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview.html accessed on July 17, 2014 at 10pm
 View Pupil to teacher research data here, accessed on July 17, 2014 at 10 pm: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.ENRL.TC.Z
 View research study chronicling a day in the life of a UPE student in Uganda, accessed on July 18, 2014 at 4:25pm: http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/657582-upe-17-years-later-mangoes-for-lunch-and-mango-tree-for-cla-.html
 Research study on the life and struggle of primary school teachers can be viewed here: http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/657642-universal-primary-teachers-struggle-pain-to-survive.html , accessed on July 18, 2014 at 5:07 pm.