If countries don't close the global gap in access to education, unrest will grow – not because young people are anti-American, but because they have lost hope. We must persuade governments and publics that educating a child in a poor country is a worthwhile investment.
Historians will look back on the Arab revolutions as the first stirrings of a movement for change that will eventually transform political, economic, and social rights around the globe. The recent anti-Western demonstrations take protest to a new, dangerous level, but the popular mood may be far less about hostility to America and Europe – or support for religious extremism – and far more about a loss of hope.
Having visited countries in the Middle East and North Africa recently, I can see how the uprisings of 2010 and 2011, born out of growing optimism about the dawn of new opportunities, have now morphed into angry protests fueled by frustration and despair. Eighty million young people are now formally registered as unemployed. In some countries the majority of young people are out of work, and I found young people – more connected than ever to what is happening in the outside world, yet hanging around local street corners with nothing to do – increasingly questioning the justice of their fate.
Discontent is rising not just because of the lack of jobs but because of the lack of opportunity. In South Sudan, the world’s newest state, there are more than 100,000 girls aged 14, 15, and 16, but only 400 of them are in school. New figures show that a total of 61 million girls and boys around the world are not even reaching education’s first base by going to primary school. For the first time in decades, progress has stalled, and despite the promises made in the UN's second Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015, Africa is sliding backward. Its out-of-school numbers will have worsened by 2 million in 2015 if nothing changes.
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