OVERCOMING OBSTACLES TO GLOBAL EDUCATION

Education for all is the most important campaign in the modern world (though I consider conservation to be critically important as well, the former helps the latter). It is vital to the future of our world. The issue of global education was brought onto the center stage by an incident in Pakistan when the Taliban shot a 15 year old activist for her support for educating girls. Afterwards, the international community joined fifteen yearl old Malala in championing education for everybody in the face of threats like poverty, violence, and extremism. Education is the number one issue the UN is working on now as means to making the world a better place.

Education transcends everything else. Human beings entirely rely on skill and knowledge for everything they do. Education is therefore the backbone of every human activity and spreading it is the only solution to the many problems the world faces. The necessity of education, for some reason, has been hitherto understated.

I have been following the struggle of people like Greg Mortenson, Gordon Brown, and Malala Yousafzai to bring education to everybody. In examining their obstacles, I notice the problem is cyclical: education is prevented by poverty, violence, and ignorant mindsets, while poverty, violence, and ignorant mindsets are caused by lack of education. Then, how on Earth are we to deal with such a complex problem?

I find something wrong with the approach the worldwide education movement is taking. The only kind of education that the activists want for the world is one in which children leave their homes and go to school where they are taught by professional educators. The main impediments to education do not prevent ‘learning’ but only children going to school. Examples include:

  1. War and violence prevents children from being at school (Malala said exactly this in her UN “youth takeover” address).
  2. It is too expensive or difficult to build and maintain good schools.
  3. Schools are often of bad quality and harbor destructive trends such as teachers keeping children quiet with a stick.
  4. Certain cultural mindsets insist that girls should stay at home and be in purdah.
  5. Children are often too busy working to go to school.

‘Public Schooling’ is not necessarily the only way of ‘learning.’ There is such a thing as homeschooling, and it has been shown to be more effective than public schooling. I do not understand why the global education movement is fixated on sending children to sit in public buildings to be educated, even when it puts the children at extreme risk due to the dangerous circumstances related to war, epidemic and the like.

Is there any reason children cannot learn inside their homes?

Homeschooling, unschooling, online schooling, etc, have been shown to be very effective compared to public schooling, which is a great burden on even developed economies. A lot of prominent people in history have been homeschooled. Abraham Lincoln was a homeschooler, who eagerly taught himself in adverse circumstances (in contrast to George Bush, who seems to have learned nothing in one of the world’s finest universities). The premise behind schooling is that children must be ‘ordered’ to learn, and that learning must be ‘controlled,’ and monitored. But learning is innate to human mind and is actually a lot of fun. Just like a nose can not help smelling, a brain can not help learning.  In much of the world that the Malala Fund is dealing with, kids, especially girls, often have very little to learn from.

The homeschooling approach to education that I propose brings learning in many fields of knowledge to the secure environment of the home rather than dragging kids out of their homes. The money that goes into building schools and paying absentee or ill equipped teachers should instead be spent on building educational websites and handing out educational material including laptops to school aged kids in areas where safety is their prime concern. Children will educate themselves by using these tools. Learning tools can be distributed and shared among the community.

It is usually the requirement for homeschooling that the children’s parents or adult associates be educated, which is obviously not the case for the children the Malala Fund is fighting for. However, an online teacher can replace a parent educator and can be as interactive as commercial schooling in public buildings. The children can be taken out of school and given online educational tools by the government, activists, NGOs, and their community with which they can educate themselves throughout their childhood. Online teachers will be of good quality because their methodology is transparent. Children can learn in a competitive environment by being logged on to the web with their peers in webinars. Mosques, churches, temples or a designated local shop can be trained to provide guidance to children in using the web should it be necessary. In areas with little or no electricity, similar places can be equipped with a generator where children or an adult from their home can charge the batteries of their laptops during a time set aside for the same purpose. When you compare this to the cost of building cumbersome and large structures and maintaining them, and the psychological cost of having abusive teachers who abuse with impunity or teach badly with impunity, and the time it takes to fight an oppressive social order that requires girls to be at home, you can fathom the benefit of the approach I propose here,

If the Malala Fund and the UN spent their money on making online learning available, they will not have to deal with other social issues they are battling today. If Malala was learning like this, would she have been shot?

Homeschooling is far easier than going to a remote place and painstakingly building a school where all the children are to come and take exams. Like Greg Mortenson is trying, hand out books, pens, pencils, writing pads, textbooks, laptops, and videos to the children which they will use on their own. Exams and tests can be taken online when a child is ready, not when his school is ready.

The mindset, which Malala Yousafzai started out fighting against, that says that girls should stay at home can be ‘tolerated’ (and encouraged in places where rockets and bullets are flying everywhere outside), but only if it allows the girls to learn inside their homes. Malala’s autobiography describes a mullah saying that, “When they reach puberty, girls are so sacred, they should be kept in purdah.” All the traditionalists want is for women to stay at home and not mingle with society. Homeschooling placates their wish while providing girls an opportunity to educate themselves. (sometimes bullying and social problems cause people to be homeschooled, and in the process become very educated).

The Taliban say that women should only read the Quran and any other education is unholy. Home education may also mellow patriarchal opposition to girl’s education. If their children read books and use the internet to primarily study what is relevant to their lives, such as how to cure their goat of its sickness, patriarchal opposition to girl’s education will decline. When a father watches how his daughter has learned to cure the cow of its debilitating disease and saved the family from suffering a huge financial loss due to online schooling in the subject, he will begin to appreciate his daughter’s educational activity. Plus, since it is the boys who toil outside all day and the girls who stay home, the latter would obviously have more time to study. They would become the storehouse of knowledge for the family.

This is what the Malala Fund should use its money for. In fact, it is possible that the petition could achieve its goal of providing education to every child in the world by 2015 with this approach. This is the solution that will break the cycle of problems which prevent education and which are caused by uneducation. While darkness reigns over half the world’s population, while violence, poverty and ignorance hold back the development of society, the children can learn in the security of their homes and one day rise up to change the world.

If online education is designed properly, students will study diligently. It has been well documented that this often happens. One of the greatest examples is Frederick Douglas. I seriously recommend his autobiography as perhaps the most relevant book for Malala’s campaign. He managed to become well educated not only without going to school, but also while being a slave and having to read and write without others knowing, because he, despite his circumstances, had an insatiable urge to learn. A well built educational program on the web can give all the children the same desire.

Malala spoke about the importance of reading and learning and said, “This is the way forward to our destiny of peace and prosperity….  Some books can travel you back centuries and some take you into the future. In some books you will visit the core of your heart and in others you will go out into the universe. Books keep one feeling alive. Aristotle’s words are steal breathing, Rumi’s poetry will always inspire and Shakespeare’s soul will never die. There is no better way to explain the importance of books than say that even God chose the medium of a book to send his message to his people.”

Point well taken – but why does one have to go to school in order to do so? It is better that the children weather out the storm raging outside in the shape of violence by delving into books at home, shielded from the harsh reality around, and ultimately come out equipped with the power to stop the destructive forces in their midst.

I was shocked to learn that the UN has set itself the goal of putting all the world’s children in school by 2015. It is like deciding to put a man on Mars by 2018 or exploring the entire ocean floor by 2020.  But, with alternative approaches to education, which has been practiced throughout history and which is gaining momentum in the West, the deadline for the I Am Malala petition, which is two years away, can actually be met. Just substitute, “Put every child in school by 2015,” with, “Provide education to every child by 2015.”  The UN, Gordon Brown, Ban Ki Moon, and Malala’s dad better put all their effort into popularizing home schooling for girls and boys in areas where the obstacles to the same are formidable in the shape of attitudes and violent conflict. We have a better chance at success through homeschooling than through public schooling in such circumstances.

I did not go to school since I was six years old because I had to be protected from terror of a different kind while growing up in the US. I was a child witness to a crime and the perpetrator was very powerful vis-a-vis my family. I have received an excellent education and have been able to think of innovative ideas with which to help many worthy causes. I want to help the Malala Fund for educating girls and children in poverty and violence stricken areas of the world. And I want all the children to get the gift that God has given me. So, I hope the Malala Fund and the UN will consider popularizing homeschooling.

 

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