Transform the World Through Education

One year after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, this 2016 session of the UN General Assembly is a key opportunity to highlight the importance of Goal #4, Education.

Over the past fifteen years, the work to achieve the Millenium Development Education Goal has had tremendous positive impact on the world. The Universal Primary Education target has helped bring total primary enrollment in developing regions of the world to over 90%, with vastly more girls and more boys in school, and with literacy rates continuing to improve.

As the founder of the film and education non-profit The Nobelity Project, I've had the opportunity to work in partnership with more than thirty rural communities in Kenya to build critically needed infrastructure and bridge other education gaps. We began this work soon after the Kenyan government launched their initiatives to make primary school free to all. The resulting flood of new students swelled primary schools where we were partnered to replace old mud-floor classrooms and build clean water systems, and where we met many great kids who shared the a strong belief that education shouldn't end after the 8th grade.

2016-09-15-1473964548-4732081-BikesTurkSimbara.JPG
Turk Pipkin presenting bikes and laptops to top-scoring girls and boys at Simbara Secondary

As UNESCO and many others have said, education is a fundamental human right and is essential for the exercise of all other human rights. The SDG Education Goal calls for free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. Not only is universal free secondary an achievable goal, it is an essential step in the work to transform our world. Education provides the broadest and most promising route to achieve many of the other development goals. Without universal education, our progress towards a sustainable and just world will grind to a halt.

I'm not an education expert. I'm just a writer and a filmmaker and the co-founder of a small nonprofit that is dedicated to the principal of Education for All. But I have learned a great deal about what works and what does not. There is no single pathway to universal secondary, but it's clear that there in very many countries, there are huge gaps in infrastructure, gaps in the number and quality of teachers, and gaps in the ability of economically stressed governments to pay for free public education. Somehow we have to bridge those gaps.

In partnership with local communities, The Nobelity Project has teamed to build four well-attended secondary schools in areas where other public secondary schools were either too far or already crowded with students. Our work is neither aid nor charity. The partnership with the communities make the work we do affordable and sustainable. Parents contribute to the building of the schools, either financially or with their own physical labor. When heavy rains stopped construction of Mahiga Hope High School, hundreds of parents turned out with shovels to spread rock and pave the road so the heavy materials could reach the job site. Six years later, Mahiga Hope High School is beautiful almost beyond description. Each day, hundreds of primary and secondary students pass through a large gate with the school motto, Hope Shines and Lights the World.

2016-09-15-1473963248-7594437-MahigaGateWide.JPG

Mahiga Hope and the other secondary and primary schools we've helped build belong to the communities and are run by a local Board of Governors and by the Kenyan education district. While primary education is free, the Kenyan government does not yet have sufficient funds to make secondary free, but I believe - despite the many challenges - that the SDGs will be met in Kenya. In the meantime, many parents are directing much of their income towards their children's secondary schooling. And with every new high school graduate, we see a young person with the potential to create positive change for their own communities, the nation and the world.

While we've been honored to find funds and to work with the communities to build these schools, the key questions are, why does it take small nonprofits like The Nobelity Project and countless others across the world to address education shortcomings? And what are the lessons from small successes than can be adapted on a large scale.

The key in our work to identify and fill critical education gaps has been relationships and partnerships. What small nonprofits and small communities achieve on a local scale is one of the keys to the giant strides that must be made worldwide. In our education work in the U.S. - where education is strong but still has many failings - The Nobelity Project often tell students that local acts have global impacts. When you act to change your corner of the world, the ripples of that change spread far and wide. When you connect to others, they will be forever connected to you.

2016-09-15-1473963637-957213-LaburraComputerLab.JPG
The Computer Lab at Laburra Secondary in Kenya

But to achieve the goal of Universal Secondary Education, it's going to take more than local acts. Global acts are going to be required for the necessary local impacts. To reach every child, teamwork and partnerships on a wide and wise scale are going to be required. Only then can we all be connected. Only then can we truly transform our world.

Turk Pipkin, The Nobelity Project, www.nobelity.org

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or, officially, "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development"). The SDGs represent an historic agreement -- a wide-ranging roadmap to sustainability covering 17 goals and 169 targets -- but stakeholders must also be held accountable for their commitments. To see all the posts in the series, visit here.

- Here's our look at the award-winning girls music and dance team at Mahiga Hope High School. Take a moment to listen to their beautiful voices; to the descriptions of a song about a girl with an early pregnancy, and to the eager voices as they show us their school.