Frontlines Online Edition
Sudan & South Sudan/Education
September/October 2011

Q&A with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)

Rep. Nita Lowey is a 12-term congresswoman from New York, and among her many leadership roles, holds that of ranking Democrat of the House Appropriations Committees' State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. A stalwart champion of education both at home and abroad, she also serves on the Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee, and the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)

FrontLines: With all the challenges the world faces, how does support for education in developing countries fit with our country’s strategic goals?

Rep. Nita Lowey: Education is not just a building block, but the cornerstone of free societies. No country has reached sustained economic growth without achieving near universal primary education. Education lays the foundation for sound governance and strong institutions, and gives the next generation the power to harness new ideas and spur economic growth. Today more than ever before, education is also a national security issue. Education can turn back the disruptive forces of violence, disease, and poverty. It is one of the easiest ways we can counter terrorism and make societies less vulnerable to fanaticism. This is why, even in these tough economic times, it is so important that we continue investing in education throughout the world.

FL: What is your vision for U.S. support for USAID education programming in the future?

Lowey: Throughout my time on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, I have worked to increase the funding for USAID’s education programming because these programs are absolutely essential.

I also recently introduced the Education for All Act, which would bolster the United States’ leadership role in the march for access to education worldwide. The bill lays out U.S. policy that includes working with other countries, international organizations, and civil society to help developing countries strengthen their educational systems; to assist NGOs and multilateral organizations that work to expand access and quality; and to promote education as the foundation for community development. Schools can serve as the centers of communities, bringing together parents, students, teachers, and government officials through services that support and lift up families and societies. Sustainable and lasting change requires the resolve of the U.S. Government to centralize and coordinate our efforts.

FL: What would you say to a young person in a developing country facing multi-faceted pressures to drop out of school early?

Lowey: Young people face all kinds of pressures to leave school, and one of our biggest challenges is empowering them to overcome those pressures. I would tell a student she is not alone and urge her to get a mentor—a teacher, a relative, a friend, a faith leader—to help find ways for her to stay in school or continue education in an alternative setting. Children faced with the choice of staying in school or entering the workforce to support their families, or working on the family farm in order to feed their siblings, should not have to face those choices alone.

FL: It wasn’t too long ago that women were not expected to work or go to college. Do you have any memories of your grandmother, mother, or other female relatives breaking through this ceiling? How were they able to do this?

Lowey: My mother was very forward-thinking in her parenting approach. She made sure I had a good education and exposure to the many options available to women, including through my internship in college at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. She laid a solid foundation for me to explore opportunities at a time when most of my college classmates were focused singularly on getting married and starting a family upon graduation.

FL: Investing in education, home and abroad, is a long-term project. As a legislator, how do you reconcile that in a climate that often demands immediate gains?

Lowey: Slow and steady wins the race. Real, effective change takes time, but gradual gains are both possible and essential to sustain investments in education. All kinds of measures should be used to determine effectiveness including traditional test scores and literacy rates, or more progressive measures like community and parental involvement and enrollment of girls in school. We must also be vigilant in expanding successful strategies and scaling back those that don’t show strong results over time.

FL: Do you prefer e-books or print? How can USAID and the U.S. Government use technology/classroom alternatives to expand education options in developing countries?

Lowey: I’m still learning to use my iPad! But I guarantee my grandkids know how. New technologies may provide effective and efficient ways of reaching young people and can be used both in traditional school settings as well as in classroom alternatives. Working with local communities and governments to ensure that whatever tools we utilize are accepted and effective in each setting and aimed at that nation’s plan for achieving education for all is paramount