Each time I look at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) global rankings the pattern is the same. The top five countries are Scandinavian or Australia and its neighbouring New Zealand. The next pack are the usual OECD countries. The pattern at the bottom is also predictable. It is awash with developing countries of Africa.
The index is a composite of education, health and economic activity. I long for the day when this index will become obsolete. It will not be relevant to have such an index because all countries will be equal.
For the ideological economist, death of the HDI is synonymous with the so-called neo-classical convergence. That is, at some point in our lives all countries will enjoy the same standards of living. The road to that convergence will see slow growth in the developed countries.
On the other hand, developing countries will grow faster to catch up. Convergence will then become inevitable. The conspiracy theorist would be excited as it philosophically guarantees the doomsday scenario or some apoplectic fantasy.
Similarly, for one sociologist Durkheim and his disciples, I reckon the dream of an egalitarian world would be real. We would wake to that reality. But at the same time, the Marxist scholar disagrees that the rich person would fight to keep poverty. The premise being someone has to be rich because the other person is poor. One channel is through electioneering where tactical benevolence rules but in fact it ensures that recipients are made to believe that their situation is unchangeable. Their situation must remain the same to sustain capitalistic philanthropy that thrives by perpetuating dependency to own means of production.
In such an environment, inequality is allowed to persist but with serious consequences, often undesirable. It is a norm among macro-development scholars to make reflections of global development rankings including the level of inequality. It is easy to see how easy or difficult to access university education between countries.
Similarly, it is also straight forward to make cross-country comparisons on how long it takes to get to a hospital or how many hours of electricity an average household has. We can go on as the list is endless. However, the devil is always in the details. Inequality breeds underdevelopment and demeans the integrity of humanity.
You can relate to different situations and their consequences. One classic example is the “quota system” or the politically correct “equitable access” to education. It seeks to ensure that there is “equity” in how we access education in public schools whether national secondary schools or tertiary institutions. It is premised on the notion that there is inequality. I agree there is inequality but I reckon the inequality reins in the fact that we have less educated people and not necessarily where they come from. After all most of us trace our roots from the Congo forest where there is no university but gorillas thriving on bush fruits.
It is a debate that I don’t want to start but to think of the dropout rates in public universities one gets worried. It must force all of us to think about inequalities with sober minds and calling a spade the way it is supposed to be.
Whether authentic or not, but a University of Malawi (Unima) top dog have conceded that they need to admit more students that is necessary because most are likely to drop out due to the high cost of education. Therefore, it does not matter whether a quota system is used or not as it does not guarantee completion.
From the other angle, it perpetuates inequality on the basis of economic status. It is only those children that come from economically advantaged families or backgrounds that will be in a position to access university education.
It will not matter whether these kids come from district X or Y, but the reality remains cash is power. Public university selection lists bear a lot of testimony. Elite private schools dominate university selection and are only accessible to children from middle to higher income families. This is the inequality we must address not some obscure origins. After all, cemeteries in our cities have marks of people from corners of the country.
Stings of inequality can be lethal and trap most of our society in poverty. Education is key to start getting each under-privileged person out of poverty or destitution. It could be the reason why most foreign companies are not in a position to find skilled workers and seek to bring foreign expertise. Such jobs could potentially go to all these youths that are dropping out of university because it is expensive. Only a tiny elite has access and foreign experts, as you know, are people in transit and remit their income home. Double loss.
Inequality stings but sobriety and knowing which is unequal can get us pressing the right buttons. We could be pressing no button at all. n