What does knowledge stand for?

Knowledge is power - what education is good for

Knowledge is power - this insight is four centuries old. The English philosopher Francis Bacon laid the philosophical foundation of the Enlightenment with this and other theses. His thesis has lost none of its topicality and importance: Knowledge is power, education is the elementary prerequisite for economic and political development, for democracy and social justice - this can be checked every day around the world. Most recently, it was particularly impressive during the Arab protest and reform movement, which started with the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia around a year and a half ago.

When losers become winners: the Arab protest movement

It was the educated and the middle class who kept the protests going. The younger ones in particular: 20 to 35-year-olds, students and academics who had been cheated of their chances by the regimes. From Rabat to Riyadh, they - doctors, engineers, journalists - fought for more freedom, for more participation, for fair access to the job market and, above all, for real prospects. A fight that is far from being won, but now has to be consolidated through elections and democratic institutions.

The fight for more freedom in the Arab world is far from over

Education empowers, education ensures more participation - the Arab rulers may have underestimated that. Without the determined expansion of the school and university systems in the Arab countries over the past 20 years, this movement would probably never have come about. The Human Development Report shows that the Arab states began to consistently expand access to education two decades ago - with visible successes. The Tunisian ex-president Ben Ali was also a reformer when it came to education. A growing number of people enjoyed a good education - and yet hardly benefited from it: no jobs, no opportunities, no participation. Because all that was always already distributed, always to the same clans. Unemployment in Tunisia was 40 percent before the protests. Dictators like Ben Ali would hardly have focused so consistently on education if the emancipatory effect that it emanates had been so clear to them from the start.

Access to education: a fundamental human right

No development without education - the international community has long recognized this and made a clear political commitment and a political demand out of it. The second Millennium Development Goal of the United Nations demands that all people around the world receive a basic education. There is progress, albeit slowly and extremely unevenly from region to region. The rate of children attending primary school rose by only seven percentage points between 1999 and 2009: to 89 percent.

In fact, the pace of progress has slowed recently. In Africa and Asia, the target will not be achieved in many regions by 2015. In the developing regions, only 87 out of 100 children complete primary school. In many poor countries, as many as four in ten children leave elementary school before reaching the last grade. Children in rural areas and in crisis areas have fewer educational opportunities. And girls in particular are still disadvantaged almost everywhere in the world. Its a lot to do!

Education defines the lives of young people in China

No human development without education

Nevertheless: the Asian tiger states, India and China show that education has clear economic benefits. In the 1950s, South Korea was in worse shape than many African countries are today. Investing in equitable education for men and women - in addition to better health care and access to contraceptives - has contributed to a decline in the number of births and an economic upswing. China's rapid economic growth can also be explained by its thirst for education: For almost every Chinese under 25, education is a key issue. It determines the life of the younger generation. But China is also an example that there are still regimes that rely on more education without offering more freedom. These models will only work as long as a majority supports them.

More education leads to more participation and say

In the long run, no illegitimate regime will compete with the overwhelming power of a well-educated majority. If there are, then there will be opportunities for democratic change, for more participation and codetermination, for example in countries like Russia or - at least in the first, tentative approaches - in China and countries in the Arab world.

It becomes much more difficult in countries like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan or North Korea. As long as the majority there lives in poverty and is surrounded by state propaganda, as long as this majority neither knows comparisons nor has access to independent information due to a lack of education and can hardly network and exchange ideas, dictators and usurpers can feel safe. A good reason to fight resolutely for the fundamental right to education!