The True Solution to Overpopulation

When I launched my career as an environment activist with Action for Nature, I told my interviewer the most important environmental issue was population growth. While it is difficult to control population growth, if left uncontrolled, it will cause harm to the entire world. I suggested methods such as birth control as the only way to control population. That was in 2010.

I have since come to realize that the way to stop the harm caused by rapid population growth is not to control people against their will but to change people’s lives for the better. Poverty actually causes population growth, instead of the other way around. Not really known how poverty is caused, but we can find out by going back to history. Somehow, nobody wants to do this. The book “How the Other Half Dies” is all about world poverty, and when it comes to the history of poverty, there are only two things it says, that French people in the 1700s were starving and that the Roman Empire used North Africa as its breadbasket.

We do not realize that massive world poverty is a recent phenomenon. Five hundred years ago, Malaysia, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, West Africa, Mexico, Central America, the Andes, and the Congo contained kingdoms of such great wealth that they were renowned across the globe. Even the most progressive scholar, James Loewen, just notes in passing in ‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’ that, “Textbooks should tell us how Indians descended from the great kingdoms whose wealth and cities awed the Spanish, to the impoverished peasantry they are today,” and does not discuss this question much. In addition to the lack of poverty back then, there was also often a lot of economic egalitarianism, especially among the Islamic world and the Americas. It is amazing to think that a bronze age empire would work to distribute resources among all its people, building roads and bridges to get food and disaster aid to even the most remote and inaccessible area, but that is what happened in the Andes in the late medieval age. The gigantic Islamic empire did the same in the seventh and eighth century. Therefore we cannot conclude that when a population is big, it is hard to administer it.

But we can conclude one thing; the more educated a woman is and the more she works, the less children she has. Therefore, female education and the removal of social traditions which limit women’s roles in society will result in slowing population growth. This is so, because such a woman is likely to marry later (and may sometimes marry after her most fertile period) and will have a lot more things to do in life than just catering to marital relations and raising children. Therefore, we need to focus on women’s empowerment and girl’s education in order to both limit population growth and uplift society.

Just think of the girl who is not learned in anything and who is made to do nothing but stay at home and do chores for the rest of her life. She is trained to marry early and have lots of children. But if a girl is educated and has all the opportunities of society open to her, there are many things she can do in her life, be they intellectual, physical, or in other domains. What is more, she will be much better at raising the few children she does have. Women are the ones who raise children as opposed to men, so they being educated will naturally improve society.

Women’s education, women’s empowerment, and women having careers will significantly slow population growth and improve the world at the same time. It is however, plainly clear that education is very difficult to spread around the planet. The biggest problem is poverty. One needs money to buy education.

I just have one question, though.

Why is public schooling necessary for learning? In order to read books, which Malala Yousafzai has repeatedly emphasized as most important, why do girls have to get out of their houses, go to a school, and sit together while an official oversees them? Reading, writing, learning from books, internet, and other mediums of communication can be done sitting at home, and in fact are better done sitting at home. There are alternatives to public schooling called homeschooling, unschooling, and online schooling. Hundreds of thousands of students in north America are utilizing this method with great success.

The problem for education is cyclical. Lack of education results in violence, bigotry, and poverty. Poverty, bigotry, and violence are what prevent education. The obstacles to spreading education that Malala Yousafzai, Greg Mortenson, and other activists face are as follows:

  1. It is difficult and expensive to build and maintains schools.
  2. Schools are often of bad quality and have many problems, for example, teachers hit students in order to discipline them. Teachers are simply not good at teaching. Sometimes, teachers may be absentee.
  3. War and violence prevents children from going out of their home and being at school.
  4. Prevalent cultural and social mindsets say that half the population, girls, should stay at home, both because they are to fulfil a homemaking role and because they should not intermingle with men and instead be in purdah.
  5. Children are often too busy working to make money to be at school.

Do you notice something? All of these problems only prevent children from being at school, instead of preventing them from learning. Now, what are public schools for? They are institutions to collectively direct children’s learning by providing them educational material and making teachers available who ensure students are studying.

 The solution to global education is ridiculously simple now that we have internet technology. Throughout history, homeschooling and other forms of private education have been very effective. It is obvious that they are far easier to implement than public schooling these days. Therefore, it is online access to educative material, and not schools, which should be spread all over the world.

There are two reasons why public schooling is not the only way. Firstly, parents always want the children to prosper, so they should take charge of their child’s education. They will do a keener job than hired teachers. Secondly, learning is a human urge. It is actually a form of recreation and induces pleasure and excitement. In fact, it is probably the ultimate form of having fun for human beings. Poor and oppressed children, who do not have much access to recreation, will immerse themselves in learning all the more.

US President George W Bush has been described as the “anti-Lincoln.” Whereas Lincoln learned and studied diligently in the most deprived circumstance, Bush has been alleged to have used his family name to get into the finest institution of the land, Yale, and learn almost nothing. Lincoln was homeschooled and he grew up in exactly the sort of condition that afflicts countless deprived children around the world. Yet, Lincoln learned without the schools that education activists are focusing all their attention on providing to the poor.

A far more extreme, yet beautiful example, is that of Frederick Douglass, an American slave who lived in the 19th century. He was a slave from birth and never went to school. “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take a foot,” said a man who warned his wife against teaching Frederick Douglass to read. The woman, nevertheless, gave Douglass an inch by teaching him some letters. He then worked as hard as he could to teach himself to read and write. His pen was a stick, his textbooks were some trashed newspapers, his blackboard was soil, and his teachers were white boys in the neighbourhood. The result was one of the most imminent minds of the 19th century, whose oratorical skills were so brilliant that many doubted he had been a slave.

What Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln did back in the days of no internet is far easier to do for the 57 million girls and boys out of school in the world today. Men like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas changed the course of history for the better, yet is this the way to honour their legacy, by denying all children in the world the same opportunities to change their lives and the whole world?

The only reason public schools are enforced in the more developed and richer areas of the world is because children have access to a lot of non-educational activities, such as games, which are arguably more fun. But for the poor children of the world, especially girls, even this is not so. If tools of learning are put into their lives, they will learn without going to school at all. Also, because learning will be such an important part of their lives, children will pass it onto each other. Children who know how to read and write will teach their illiterate friends. Plus, combining learning with storytelling will motivate them to study. This can involve giving them educational fiction, with shows like the American Sesame Street, or non-fiction, such as biographies and historical accounts of people like Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, who show us children can learn without anybody even teaching them at all.

Greg Mortenson worked hard to bring education to a remote village in Pakistan called Korphe. He did it by labouring to build a bridge across the mountain gorge, then building a school, then presenting the school to Korphe’s children as “the place you will have to go to in order to write and read the very few books I have given you.” Ziauddin Yousafzai did the same thing, spending his whole life building a few schools into which children are to go to study. Malala Yousafzai wants the same thing. During her life in Pakistan, when the war made all children homebound or IDPs, tools of reading and writing could have been distributed among them so they learn while bearing out the darkness which permeates outside. Instead, Malala called for the children to be in a vulnerable building where they shall sit down and be disciplined and of course, be accessible to hostile attackers . The same goes for the UN, for the I Am Malala Petition, for the Malala Fund, and for all third world education activists. The Malala Fund has raised a lot of money. They could use the money to buy books. Even the most scholarly book is relatively inexpensive and can be distributed to poor children. Instead, they use the money to buy bricks to build buildings where children can be collected for teaching purposes. Malala has constantly called for books and pens to be distributed to poor countries. Yet, she has also made it clear she only wants children to use them collectively, and to use them while sitting together inside a school.

The same amount of finances that go into building one school in a remote rural area and paying teachers and other staff could be invested into buying tens of thousands of books and maybe even PCs and distributing them among the children of the community so that they can read at home anytime they want. These boys and these girls, suffering greatly from their destitute circumstances, will have an extreme hunger for learning, and learning in the best environment possible, their home, and among their family. If children are too busy working to put food on their family’s table, they shall still have a pile of pens, of notebooks, of books at their side to benefit from. If there is war going on, if violence wracks a community, if rockets and bullets are flying everywhere, then children shall be in the quiet, safe sanctuary of their home, occupying themselves with reading and writing so that they will be equipped with the knowledge to step out one day and end the violence and the cycle of poverty. And as for the ignorant mindsets, the fundamentalists, the people who do not want girls to go to school, who irrationally resist the idea of learning for girls, who are not just extremists and terrorists but ordinary misdirected people, what they want is for girls to not go outside, to remain in purdah, to not intermingle with society. What they believe is that women’s place is in the home, for homemaking and for childbearing. Therefore, the idea of homeschooling should go down well with them. In fact, being occupied with homes schooling will make girls not engage in the “ultimate” form of misbehaviour which results in them being killed by their own family members.

Silently and imperceptibly, without stepping on any obstructionist toes, girls will get empowered through online homeschooling. There is infinitely more one can get out of reading than from going outside. You go outside, you visit some forest, you visit a field, you visit a lake. But when immersed in books, you visit…. well, what do I need to say?

“Dear sisters and brothers, Books are very precious. Some books can travel you back centuries and some take you into the future. In some books, you will visit the core of your heart and in others you will go out into the universe. Books keep ones feelings alive. Aristotle’s words are still breathing, Rumi’s poetry will always inspire and Shakespeare’s soul will never die,” said Malala Yousafzai when she opened the Library of Birmingham, where one can go and get books and go home with them. Is there any reason books cannot be read anywhere else than in a school which people have laboured profusely to build, and a school whose construction took up most of the money going into education and a school that is at risk of a bomb attack?

Teachers are not necessary for learning, maybe not even for learning to read and write. I learned to fully refine my reading and writing by watching a show called Mrs Smibs and Smoothie (or something like that).In schools which poor kids manage to get into, instead of listening to a not so good live teachers, students should listen to recordings and videos of people explaining things (that’s how I mostly learned). Good quality videos are easy to collect than good quality teachers.

When dealing with the bigots, persuading them to educate girls in this manner is still going to be a complex issue. “Why should I teach my daughter to read and write,” says a normal father from Afghanistan, “So she can write love letters?” They do not want girls to learn, for it will result in their empowerment later in life.  

Even with homeschooling and online access, our journey is long and has only just begun, and we shall have to work hard and continue against severe obstacles. But we have to adopt the right approach and be armed with the right ideas. The campaign of public schooling is, as far as anybody can see, destined to fail. What we need to envision is something much greater, to see girls and boys living in the most destitute circumstances follow on the glorious footsteps of men such as Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and build up their own lives regardless of an obstructionist societal environment. Individual initiative will uplift humankind more than anything else.

Because women’s roles in society are such that girls and women usually stay at home, it is they who have more time for education. Boys go outside to play and engage in physical activities while men work, so they do not have much time for learning. Women do. When girls read and learn, they will firstly benefit their families in the most direct way. They will know how to cure their cow’s illness, how to plant crops in healthier way, how to use and conserve water efficiently, etc. Etc. Parents will thus eagerly welcome education for their female children. Distributing educational material to children for free is easier than building and maintaining commercial schools for children on top of some inaccessible mountain into which a few children go while others remain outside.

The children one sees in poor countries, working or begging, would not giving them reading and writing materials help them more than trying unsuccessfully to send them into a school whose building is vulnerable because it is either dilapidated or situated in a conflict zone? If you do not think so, then take the example of Frederick Douglass. He was not forced to learn but was forced to not learn. Yet he did it all on his own, because it would better his life. He then changed the world. If he could do it, why can’t street kids of today? I was homeschooled. I learned at home so that I am now able to give this advice in the service of humanitarian causes. I can possibly help implement the new initiative I have proposed.

The UN signed a petition to get every child in school by 2015. This is clearly impossible. But if they substitute “in school” with “getting an education,” I believe they could succeed in their goal. And when that happens, there will be betterment in human lives across the globe and as a consequence, the population bulge will be controlled. People have tried all kinds of things to prevent overpopulation. China has a harsh policy of enforcing the rule of one child. Birth control and abortion is being spread around the world, leading to conflict between the conservatives and the liberals. But the real solution to the monumental problem is education and girl empowerment.

The most important thing is that women as adults should have equal rights in society and pursue careers. If all women are working, childbearing rates will go down a lot.

Education will solve much of the world’s environmental problems (but not all, though. Education has not stopped companies from polluting the Earth). It will make people focus on the long term rather than the short term. They will know that preserving the environment will benefit them and future generations. People will come up with new ways to help the Earth. It is not good that education is only for people in developed regions who do not live off the land. If education goes to the rural people and the poor who do, it will be an enormous benefit, since they directly work with the environment. Education will mean people will not believe in ideas that harm the environment, such as traditional Chinese medicine made from limbs of exotic animals, causing the latter’s endangerment. Educating people means they can run their country and have the knowledge to develop and implement sustainable policies and fix environmental problems. Education will make people, especially women, have far less children.

No matter what cause we are campaigning for, we must direct all our energy into spreading education to all human beings. Education is the backbone and the source of all human activity and it is the primary solution to all the world’s problems.

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