Students Learn About the 5 “P”s of Global Poverty

From an article written by World Savvy about Cate’s collaboration with Marin Country Day School…

With the help of Cate Biggs and World Savvy, the Fifth Grade Team at Marin Country Day School launched a new multidisciplinary Global Citizenship unit that has become one of the foundations of classroom and service learning curriculum at the school. Using David Perkins’ concept of “throughlines” (from the Harvard School of Education’s Project Zero), the teaching team adopted the following Essential Questions to guide the unit:

  • How does where you live impact your world view?
  • How does one make the world a better place?
  • What does it mean to be a global citizen?
  • What does it take to build a nation?
  • How can we share global resources?
  • What does it mean to be a hero?

At the core of the unit is an in-depth lesson on Poverty and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), including a Microfinance project where students raise money to participate as individual lenders in Kiva’s on-line microcredit program.

Seeking to pack context around students’ Kiva projects, the innovative team – consisting of veteran teachers Kyle Redford, Clara Greisman, Mary Katherine Menikheim, and Jennifer Seely – turned to World Savvy for help in developing students’ understanding of both the experience and the root causes of global poverty.   Cate Biggs, author of the World Savvy Monitor edition on Global Poverty and International Development, and consultant to World Savvy, was brought in to work with the team, and then to present to the students.

“Why are poor countries poor in the first place?”  “How is being poor in a poor country different from being poor in a rich country?”  “What is the world doing, on various levels, to try to help the “bottom billion” or one-sixth of the population who live on less than $1 per day (the cost of an iTunes song)?”

These were the questions Cate posed in a presentation to three classes of budding social venture capitalists in an effort to explain how Microfinance fits into the larger picture of international development assistance.  Cate started with a premise: even if an African weaver lucky enough to be supported by an MCDS student’s Kiva loan works really, really hard, she will struggle to make the most of the loan because of larger realities in her country that contribute to, and perpetuate, her poverty.  She will also need assistance for her country, provided by other nations and international organizations.

For example, students learned how lack of a water system likely consigns the weaver to hours spent finding and fetching clean water, hours that she is not able to spend working on her business.  Poor roads make this task even more time-consuming and also mean that she cannot reach larger markets for her goods, and is thus relegated to only selling to other poor people.  No electricity means she can only work, and her children can only study, during daylight hours.  Poor access to quality education means she will be unable to successfully negotiate contracts and tasks necessary for growth of her business. Lack of sanitation facilities contribute to diseases, that, along with Malaria and TB, mean she is often sick, and her children are frequently sickened and needing her care – again, making it impossible for her to work. Lack of quality health care facilities only exacerbates this dynamic.  A dearth of government and diplomatic institutions means there is often insecurity and armed conflict in her country with the potential to put her completely out of business – through destruction, displacement, and disability, and even death.

Microloans are a fabulous way to help individuals, Cate explained, but experts agree they must be accompanied by larger efforts aimed at the countries in which the borrowers live if these individuals are to escape poverty. In other words, pluck, hard work, and credit can only take you so far if you happen to live in countries of what we used to call the “Third World,” and now call the “Global South” (because they are mostly located in the Southern Hemisphere) or “Least Developed Countries (LDCs).” (Cate noted that, sadly, experts don’t call these “developing countries” anymore because the truth is, they are not, in fact, developing economically).

Alleviating the plight of LDCs is important for many reasons – moral, economic, and security concerns among them.  It is also important, Cate demonstrated, because most of the population growth expected to take place in the world in the next 50 years will occur in LDCs.

“Why are poor countries poor?” Cate distilled the reasons into the 5 Ps of Poverty: Place, Past, People, Politics, and Peace.  She then illustrated each P by asking a series of questions to construct a case study comparing a wealthy nation (the US) and a LDC (Chad, in Central Africa). Through this exercise, students started to see that poverty is often linked to things over which an individual has no control such as location, history, or demographics.  They came to see that what happens on the larger world stage impacts a country’s prospects for development.

Cate explained that the things that make you poor in the first place also keep you in poverty, in a vicious cycle where root causes and symptoms are often hard to separate. It’s like a trap. This is true on both the micro (individual) and macro (societal) level.

Click here to see the Powerpoint Presentation explaining the 5 Ps of Global Poverty

A lot of information for 5th graders!  But, Cate explained, this was intentional – the students were not expected to retain all the details (whole college courses are taught on this), but rather to come away with a sense of how complex the topic is, and to recognize that there are no easy answers.  Cate wanted students to understand that:

  • Poverty is linked to an array of micro and macro issues – the small and the big and the in-between– and thus the solutions to poverty must hit on all levels.
  • Microfinance is one tool in the toolbox, and is used alongside a wide array of other tools that support poor people living in poor countries, including foreign aid, peacekeeping, and corporate foreign investment.  No one solution can stand alone.
  • By participating in the Kiva Projects, and learning about global poverty, the students are joining a large international community committed to alleviating the plight of LDCs, and this makes the world a better (and safer) place for all.
  • The subject of poverty need not be approached from a place of guilt, apathy, or despair.  Knowledge can inspire meaningful action in manageable doses.  From a place of understanding, even Fifth Graders Students can become microfinanciers, educate others about poverty, and advocate for the world’s poor.

Cate returned to MCDS in February with a presentation about Haiti and the 5Ps of Poverty – why the earthquake was so devastating, and why the recovery effort is so daunting.

Reactions From Students

Below is a sampling of comments from students who were asked to write a letter to World Savvy about the presentation.  Nearly all students showed retention of all 5 Ps, and indicated that they really understood what is meant by the phrase, “being poor in a poor country is different from being poor in a rich country.”  Most were able to draw on facts they learned about LDCs and to formulate great questions.

A sampling of 5th grade student comments:

“I think your work is very interesting because if nobody knew about poverty, nobody would be able to fix it.”

“My ideas about what it means to be poor have changed from your presentation.  Before, I thought of poor people just sitting out on the streets and being lazy. But now I think they have to do a lot of work to live.”

“You really changed my mindset about America and how much poverty is a trap to those who are in it.”

“I learned so much (more) about poverty than I have ever known.  I think you have very good information that can help the world, step by step.”

“I learned so much about poverty and was surprised at how much there is around the world.  Now I feel like I need to do something to help end it (not just Kiva, but something more).  You really opened my eyes to what is really going on in the world.  I just know I can make a difference if I try.”

“When you talked about children having to study under streetlamps because they don’t have any electricity, I was shocked and now I would like to let those children know that they are doing the right thing by getting an education.  Will you tell them that for me?”

“I knew about poverty before but I never knew if was this complex.  I didn’t know where the country is mattered or if you are near an ocean or not, but you taught me it did.  It all depends on where you are born.  It’s the luck of the draw.”

“It’s really overwhelming what people in other countries are going through.  I thought the 5Ps was a really cool concept. I learned more about poverty, in just an hour, than I have in my whole life.”

“I liked the comparisons with Chad and the US.  Do you know a way out of poverty?”

“Now I know that it must be very hard to be poor.  I always thought it wouldn’t be very hard.”

“It was sad to hear about how poor some countries are, but it made me think how we can help, too.  It made me think how much harder it is to be poor in a poor country, because even if you work very hard, it is still difficult to get out of poverty.”

“I learned so much about poverty.  I am so glad because I feel so strongly about and would love to help and also now I don’t feel so weird and guilty about it because we are more fortunate. There IS something we can do about it and I certainly plan to.”


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