Investments in education are essential to improving Africa's human capacity. That
capacity is the foundation needed to realize increased productivity, improvements in
health status and reductions in fertility, and the development of democracy.


From the donationcollecters to the many tv-campagnes for a good cause, ever since the fifties our complete society gets involved in the development of developing countries. Yet we seem to have more and more reasons to save some doubts about the usefulness of our well-meant help. On this page we therefore ask ourselves: Is education the correct tool to reduce poverty in developing countries?
Before we can give an answer we must first ask ourselves, what is poverty? The general definition is limited to ‘receiving a low income’. This is done in absolute terms, for example when we look at the Wereldbank - defining poverty on an income below $1 a day, but also relatively by ascribe poverty to those who statistically hold a relatively low income. Although these income-related measurements are often used to define poverty, we can criticize that they leave a wide range of important individual and social circumstances out of the picture.
A more realistic point of view on poverty can be found in the ‘Bosnia and Herzegovinia’s Poverty Reduction Paper’ (2002), in which we read on page 5:


It is becoming widely recognized that poverty takes various forms, including the lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or no access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and disease-related mortality; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments; and social discrimination and exclusion. Furthermore, restrictions on or lack of participation in the decision-making process and in civil, social and cultural life are also violations of human rights. A multidimensional understanding of poverty helps us define poverty as a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.


This definition allows us to consider poverty as a subjective experience, an issue of participation and human assets. Although the level of income plays an important role within this definition, it doesn’t limit it. Besides income related poverty, we have three other analytical categories which are of great importance. These categories are capability-poverty, participation-poverty and consequential poverty.
The economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen defines poverty as the condition that results in the absence of freedom within a society, the freedom to function effectively. This includes the deprivation of capability, knowledge and skills which are needed to act independently. We can describe this kind of poverty as Capability-poverty (Sen 1999). This category is caused due to lack of training, skills and information.
In addition to capability-poverty there are more subjective experiences in terms of participation- and experiencing deprivation. Participational poverty refers to deprivation in the range of things that people can be - including the potential to participate in social life and integration in decision-making processes (UNDP 2002). This form of poverty can be understood as an externally imposed status as well as an internalization process. On the one hand, individuals can learn to increase their inclusion. On the other hand, we have to admit that this potential does not extend as far for person A as it does for person B. Like we, for example, see in relation to working women, who are often not registered when it comes to developing countries. Therefore they are excluded in the decision-making process and they are limited in their ability to participate in the development of priorities (Sweetman 2002).
Consequential poverty
This third category of poverty is the result of deliberate human and political interventions in the natural or social environment of individuals, whose harmful effects are felt in an indirect way or only on the long run. The most common forms are the exploitation of resources (including labor), national debt, war and conflict, and environmental degradation caused by capitalist greed and political unwillingness to take appropriate action. Other examples are unequal markets, migration, health problems and bad governance and leadership. This form of poverty will manifests faster in countries where democracy and equality are weak, which makes the most vulnerable also the most susceptible.
In developing countries, however, we see that poverty is not limited to one of these categories, but involves the complex interaction of all the different categories. And in this sense, it is impossible to state that education by itself can solve this situation. However, education does have potential within each category - in every category it can play an important part in the solution.
We have to acknowledge though, that education is not a universally identical tool which will in all cases contribute to the improvement of social and individual circumstances. From a critical view on the relationship between poverty and education, it is possible to look at the joining of two complementary angles. Firstly, we see education as a source of empowerment - for example, learning to increase the probability of an income increase. But second, education is also a learning tool which can strengthen poverty – for example when we promote literacy education which widens the gap between literates and illiterates. Despite these contradictions, education can be a powerful tool to improve opportunity, awareness, social responsibility and motivation to promote and to contribute to a more egalitarian society (Scottish Parliament 2002, European Commission 2000). But only if we pay attention to, and act on, it’s negative effects.
This table summarizes the four main categories of poverty and gives both possible positive and negative effects of education.
Possible effects of education

Income related poverty

Relative: In relation to relative values within a limited social environment, for example:
  • Access to media
  • Home ownership
  • Low wages
Absolute: Absolute measurements, for example:
  • Life expectancy
  • Literacy
  • $1 poverty line

Negative effects:
  • Exclusion of certain socially disadvantaged groups such as the illiterate and for youth who has to work for the family


Positive effects:
  • Rebalancing a imbalanced society
  • Promoting democracy and equality
  • Promoting social, political and environmental awareness for short- and long-term.

Capability related poverty

Discrimination in the accessibility of things people can do – knowledge and skills for someone’s economic live

  • Professional skills
  • Financial skills
  • Access to loans/credit
  • Training opportunities


Negative effects:
  • Wasting time by applying an inappropriate curriculum
  • Promoting unbalances communities by the lack of attentions to certain social groups – for example girls, disabled people or ethnic minorities
  • Lack of variation in labor
Positive effects:
  •  Accelerating social development
  • Promoting critical citizenship
  • Stimulation of innovation
  • Involvement of disadvantaged groups in social and political progress

Participation-related poverty
Discrimination in the accessibility of things that people can be – participation in social life and integration into decision-making processes, for example:
  • Cultural activities
  • Development committees
  • Voting
  • Political representation
  • Social class, gender, race, disability status, confidence, self-esteem

Negative effects:
  • Deception by undemocratic information
  • Exclusion of certain social groups such as (pregnant) girls, illiterate, or those who have to work constantly to survive.
Positive effects:
  • Repairing and strengthening social balance.
  • Increasing the chance of inclusion.
  • Improvement of communication channels and diffusion routes.

Consequents-related poverty
  • Concerning health
    • HIV / AIDS
    • Malnutrition
    • Malaria
    • Disabilities
  • Concerning enviorment
    • Overmining of minirals
    • Land overbegrazing
    • Polution
    • Droughts
  • Concerning war
    • Militairy invation
    • Civil war
  • Concerning natural desasters
    • Earthquakes
    • Flood
  • And gender-related discrimination
    • Violence against woman
    • Sexual harassment
    • Rights and access
    • Media representation

Negative effects:
  • Spreading wrong information
  • Abuse
  • Promotion of individualism
  • Promotion of Colonialism
  • Repairing and strengthening social balance
  • Promotion of the status-quo
Positive effects:
  • Sustainable development concerning health peace and equality
  • Promotion of awareness
  • Repairing and strengthening social balance.
In short, education has the potential to contribute to the progress in developing countries. This is often raised by NGO’s and the government. But the importance of an adequate quality control is often forgotten.
To strengthen the positive- and limit the negative effects of education, it is important to pay much attention to the different possible choices and the associated consequences before making decisions, and the evaluation of those decisions made. Our projects get this attention. In doing so we pay attention to a wide range of aspects such as durability, wide accessibility and minimization of the burden on the environment. Because SOZ deals with a wide range of projects, we customize this attention time after time, instead of implementing a global less appropriate strategy. Hover, independent of what project we’re working on, there are four factors plating a fundamental role.
Participatory Design – Social participation is based on the principle that an environment works better when a society is actively involved in its development, as opposed to being a, what Sanoff calls, passive consumers. In Soz we emphasize this. We are also fully aware of the difference between our perspective, as a western development organization, and that of our audience. That’s why the participation of the local society is of great importance to SOZ. This means in practice that we involve the community in the decision-making processes that affect them. An argument against this type of work is that it leads to a constant stream of conflicts, delays and disputes (Rosner, 1978). This often follows from the fact that a majority of the population, those who do not participate actively, hold an attitude of intolerance and resistance to change. For this reason SOZ sees its task to not only involve the local people in its projects, but also encourage then to actively participate. Together we walk the road to efficient and democratic decision-making.
Partnership and Cooperation – SOZ is a relatively small young organization. This makes us flexible but it also limits us. It is therefore very important to not only us our own experience, but also those of others. We see learning and working together with others, therefore, as a means to add value.
Local self-reliance – The term self-reliance comes from Emerson’s equally named essay. This work emphasizes to avoid the simple acceptance of compliance and (false) consistency. An individual, as a society, should follow their own instincts and ideas to create an image of possible choice and consequence. In the context of SOZ, the importance of self reliance is enhanced by the finiteness of its projects. SOZ aims to eventually give full control over the local people of Zambia. To achieve this, each project has to start from their perspective, and as soon as possible we encourage the local population to get involvement in the projects and the related choices and decisions. The implementation of Participatory Design contributes to this.
Continuous evaluation – For the best results and a correct implementation of these principles SOZ devoted extensive attention to evaluation. Our reviews focus on the objective analysis of choices and the associated effects in relation to alternatives. This process consists in part of a self-evaluation, performed by our staff, and partly from an external evaluation carried out by local people not directly involved in our project.
Is education the best way to address and reduce poverty in developing countries? No, we must conclude. Poverty, in it’s for we see it in Zambia, cannot be banned by education alone for it is entangles in a web many different reasons. Education, however, has indeed the potential to influence poverty and development, and should therefore be seen as a helpful tool in the struggle against poverty. This does not mean that education is always useful – as for example in the implementation of an undemocratic and misleading curriculum. In many cases this happens unintentional, and this could also for the projects of SOZ be a risk. By carefully observing our choices and their associated consequences, by both short and long term analysis, we try to minimize this risk. But this brings us to the unanswered question; what is good and what is wrong? In answering this question we give sustainability a central role. From this perspective, we believe that this decision should be determined locally, but with the appropriate escort. Firstly because this develops the locale support our projects need to increase the success rate. But more important is the process of developing. SOZ tries to limit its leading role as far as possible over to local sources, and hands it over to the locale people. In this we take an informative role to promote important issues and raise democratic inclusion in decision-making processes.
To achieve the above, we use four projects-independent principles:
During Phase 1,in which our projects are prepared, we use Participatory Design, where we largely involve stakeholders in the development of idea and concept. It is based on Partnership and Cooperation to include the experience of others to learn.
During Phase 2, in which we implement our project, we give local self-reliance a central position. Simultaneously we use a continuous evaluation process, in which both internal and external sources are included to get grip on the choices and associated outcomes in relation to alternatives.