By: Karsten Gillwald
How can you determine the wealth of a nation? Is it through something as simple as adding up all the money in the banks or evaluating the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)? Or is it through something else entirely? After spending a month in Thailand in some very remote locations, one thing stood out more than anything else: discrepancy in the equality of education. In Bangkok, there were several schools with beautiful buildings that looked well supplied and prepared to teach its students. Then, as we traveled to Kalasin, and later to the Ban Toong Ting school, two things happened, the overall poverty increased, and the accessibility to education decreased. In Kalasin, we visited several schools, all of which, with the exception of the Pattana School, were small, one or two room schools with many needs. The school in the Kokjaruen Village was a one room school, with a kitchen, and two bathrooms that is responsible for 40 students.
Once we left Kalasin, we traveled north to Chiang Mai and into the remote northern villages. After an hour long ride in the beds of pickup trucks, we arrived at our next school, and where we would be spending the next several days: the Ban Toong Ting school. This was a larger school with over a ten buildings and dozens of children.
These schools, and the surrounding villages clearly had a lot of needs that weren’t being met. From weakened and weathered structures, to a lack of space and other resources, it was clear that it would take more than a bunch of college students to make a lasting difference. But it was a good place to start. With our donations and our interactions with the children, the solution presented itself. Instead of just giving them money and doing everything for them, we hopefully gave the students the desire to stay in school. If we were able to convince even half of the students of the value of education, then in the long run, the cycle of poverty could be broken. It’s through education that the students can get higher paying jobs, which will in turn, allow them to help themselves, their families, their communities, and eventually, their country. But it all starts with the value of education being understood by not just the children, but the society as a whole.
So I’ll ask you again, what is the best way to measure a countries wealth? Based on my experiences in the remote parts of Thailand, I’d say the best measure of a countries wealth lies within it’s education system. It doesn’t matter how much money a city or province has, if a country, developing or developed, wants to continue to improve as a whole, the emphasis of the government needs to be on the education of every person, not just the wealthy.