While we spend millions on bringing education to developing countries, I want to argue to educate our own citizens better for global development.
The theme of WFD 2016 is “democracy and equality – does education matter?”. I would answer with a very enthusiastic YES. But I am not the only one. There’s a reason this is the topic of a conference that has 2000 attendees from all over the world. Here at society 3.0 we have been presenting our own views in line with this statement as well.
I want to go deeper into the equality part. We all know there is no equality, I don’t need to quote the numbers (the richest 1% own 50% of global assets). Sad as it is, it comes as no shock, we all know this. Yet for all of the development efforts we are undertaking, we are very reluctant to look inside. The focus is very much at bringing education to developing countries, very little on creating understanding in our own societies.
Shifting focus: honesty hurts
My plea: change OUR education. It takes a European only travelling a couple of thousand kilometers to realize they know nothing about the country they arrived in. Slavery and colonization are generally accepted topics in history courses. But they are also topics of the past. We are careful to on the one hand to acknowledge the harms we did in the past, while at the same time understating and nuancing their impact. Today’s citizens, feel no connection or responsibility for its legacy.
So first of all, I think we need to create a better understanding of inequality through being more honest about our pasts. Give history courses in primary and higher education that regard past and present international relations better. Also, teach general history of areas like Africa and Asia, not only of the traditional superpowers Europe (UK), America and Russia (it might differ per country what dominates in history courses). Teach people what make countries in these regions to the societies they are today.
Power and dependency
I want to take it even further. As said, people in developed countries feel no connection to the inheritance of colonization. What they should feel connection to though is the current state of (power) relations. I am not simply talking about the fact our clothes are made by underpaid garment workers in Southeast Asia, or the fact that the metals for our tech are coming from dangerous mines in Africa.
I am talking about the fact that we effectively keep developing countries from developing. We tell them they should be focused on specialized production (in for example agriculture). A country like China is succesfully developing pulling millions out of poverty by industrializing, innovating and investing in knowledge. We instead put a lot of funding in foundations and NGO’s that invest in local farmers, fair trade chocolate (which in itself is a good thing), small entrepreneurs that sell bracelets, or bags, or shoes. This is not raising anyone to the living standards the developed countries know. Worst of all, the most valuable resources (diamonds, metals, cotton, should I continue?) still come from developing areas, yet we are still the ones making a profit off of them.
Better understanding creates better politics
And these are topics that are maybe not so revolutionary or controversial among experts in the field, development workers or politicians. But I think under the wider public there is a bigger lack of knowledge (for a purpose?). So these are topics that should be discussed in public education. Both in journalism and in schools. We can sit in a fancy European Council building, and discuss with highly educated people on how to bring democracy into education. Or we could bring education to our own people, so they can be more effective in steering our national and international governing bodies towards a more equal world.