The role of hope

A young student at the Kyamulinga School.

Written by Bay Roberts, One School at a Time director.

Esther Duflo, an economist at the MIT Poverty Lab, believes that the effects of some anti-poverty programs can go beyond the direct impact of the resources they provide. Small improvements help poor people think about and strive for more than just survival.

A May2012 article in The Economist demonstrates the kind of thinking that keeps generations trapped in poverty: 

“Surveys in many countries show that poor parents often believe that a few years of schooling have almost no benefit; education is valuable only if you finish secondary school. So if they cannot ensure that their children can complete school, they tend to keep them out of the classroom altogether. And if they can pay for only one child to complete school, they often do so by avoiding any education for the children they think are less clever. Yet economists have found that each year of schooling adds a roughly similar amount to a person’s earning power: the more education, the better. Moreover, parents are very likely to misjudge their children’s skills. By putting all their investment in the child who they believe to be the brightest, they ensure that their other children never find out what they are good at. Assumed to have little potential, these children live down to their parents’ expectations”.

Part of the work of One School at a Time is to provide parents, communities, and schools with a large dose of hope. Parents observe improvements at their children’s school: clean water on site, renovated classrooms, teachers with more motivation and an actively involved school board. Maybe I should do everything possible to keep my children enrolled?
Recently, Hussein took a mother and her injured son on a trip from deep in the village to the big city of Kampala to visit a doctor. When the mother saw the women doctor and all the professional women in the city and all the women driving cars, she said: “I’m going to go back to the village and tell our people that they should struggle to go to school and get an education so they can lead a better life!” The very existence of women professionals had expanded this women’s sense of what is possible.
We do not doubt that this women will do everything she can to keep her children enrolled in school and that she will tell her neighbors to do the same. Big changes start small.