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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Why the Keough School teaches integral human development

Borrowing words from Confucius: “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.”

As I asserted in my previous op-ed, accessible and quality education is essential in closing the technological and knowledge gaps within societies. In fact, educational investments can be measured through long-term human capital gains. However, such measures of economic efficiency can be problematic in lower-income countries where huge variations in education quality exist.

It is indisputable that economic improvement, institutional modernization and technological efficiency are critical in our modern world, but education is not solely a tool for economic growth. Education acts as a safeguard for human dignity. Education promotes equity, social cohesion and agency — key elements recognized by an integral human development approach to sustainable development.

In the Keough School of Global Affairs, we embrace complexity. We consider development goals as a coupled system — the ultimate objective being the development of the wholeperson and the development of each person. This is integral human development at work, and when it comes to education, it has a lot to do with it.

Integral human development highlights the importance of social cohesion and agency where other approaches fail.

Social cohesion is the glue that binds societies together. Additionally, increased social mobility and inclusion can result in increased educational opportunities for the poor — creating a mutually beneficial relationship between poverty, education and social progress.

Education can ameliorate social inequalities not just by establishing an equal playing field, but also by changing the rules of the game. Schools across the globe must be organized to promote human development, establishing a common goal: to ensure every child’s access to basic human needs and to protect every child’s basic freedoms.

Equity stems from an equal system, not from equal competition. An individual’s ability to choose from many options to shape their own future is a basic human need. Given accessible and quality education, people gain agency over their lives with the promise of both monetary gains and social mobility. According to our very own Keough School Professor Clemens Sedmak, an integral human development approach to education grants individuals the choice between simply being and having.

Quality education is especially important for children living in developing or lower-income countries, as it has the power to reduce poverty and enhance social mobility. An integral human development approach is multidimensional — recognizing how quality education improves other aspects of development such as health, poverty and inequality. Currently, an estimated 61 million primary school-age children, with a disproportionate amount coming from poor families, are not enrolled in school. In too many countries, governments do not acknowledge the payoffs of investing in early childhood education. As a result, public investment is too low to fund early childhood development programs which are already insufficient in number and quality to compensate for the disadvantages of impoverished children.

A dangerous gap exists between the wealthy and the poor in lower-income countries.

In most countries, parents’ wealth and education attainment remain “the main determinants of their children’s education.” Quality of education has the power to deepen cleavages between favored and disadvantaged groups. The poorest and richest quintiles in most developing countries see a 32 percent gap in the chances of their children completing primary school.

Excessive inequality in education undermines social cohesion, and therefore, undermines the unique goals of an integral human development approach. If the ultimate goal of sustainable development is to ensure that all children have the chance of prosperity, the philosophy of integral human development can be utilized to persuade governmental and political elites to effectively implement a holistic approach to education. After all, education is not a privilege, but a human right.

In the last month, I have had the opportunity to work at both of Notre Dame’s Admitted Students Days as an outreach and programming intern. I was especially inspired by the future Fighting Irish who decided to take a chance on the new, but quickly growing Global Affairs major at Notre Dame. As a Global Affairs major myself, I was eager to discuss my experience with prospective students — to validate their commitment to Notre Dame or to encourage them to choose Notre Dame as their home for the next four years. In all of these conversations, I emphasized the role of integral human development in Notre Dame’s approach to global affairs. After all, it is truly what sets us apart from other prominent universities.

In the Keough School, we are problem solvers. As problem solvers, it is crucial for us to remember that the core of our work is the people whose lives we are constantly striving to make better.

A unique consideration of integral human development is how development efforts impact an individual’s perception of their own human dignity. By placing the humanity of the people you serve at the forefront of your mission, you are able to account for life satisfaction and overall well-being, rather than just quantitative measures of development. Consequently, when it comes to solving problems related to education, we must work to provide all children with quality education in order to promote their growth in all dimensions and fully unlock their human capabilities.

Ashlyn Poppe is a second-year student living in Pasquerilla West Hall studying Global Affairs and Political Science. She currently serves as the Vice President for BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center Meeting Room 1, South W106 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.