They Yearn to Learn


The pen is mightier than the sword”, Bulwer-Lytton’s famous line from his 1839 play about Cardinal Richelieu, has never been spoken with more force and meaning than by a young girl on her 16th birthday at the United Nations.

Malala Yousafzai talked with a certainty that arose from a recovery from a coma caused by Taliban gunshots that were meant to kill her in Pakistan just last year. She spoke with a determination that transfixed all those that have seen her and, maybe, read her words.

174 years after the first performance of Bulwer-Lytton’s play, the pen has been overtaken by computers and mobile phones and, with the enormous advances that have been made in technology; it is now technically easier than ever to provide education wherever it is needed. In this way, learning can be used to help fight the ignorance that shot to kill a young girl who had dared to want to be educated.

Learning at a Distance

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) or distance learning are becoming highly competitive to standard university teaching in the United States. In Creative Destructionism in World Education I discussed the phenomenon that threatens traditional courses at universities and which are being sold off at much lower prices to compete. Creative destructionism in education can exist where the laws of supply and demand are allowed to be employed and where excellent learning materials and worthy accreditation regimes exist and where the technology is affordable. In the USA, all of this exists.

Equality of Learning

Yet, 57 million young people in the world go without education and millions more young adults who already have missed out on education (and are being forgotten completely as we focus on children) seem to have nowhere to go to catch up.

Worse, in a number of countries, not only is technology a crime against religion but large sectors of the population (mainly women and girls) are made to fear education by their male counterparts – and risk being killed if they dare to want to be educated.

In October, 2012, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (writer and author and a Senior Fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations in the USA) wrote on the positive response in Pakistan to Malala coming out of her coma just nine months ago: “I have spent years interviewing women who braved real personal danger to set up living room classrooms and girls who braved their familys’ security just to sit there. And a lot of times I’m asked, ‘Is this a Western import or a foreign import?’ The truth is, even when the world forgets these girls, they fight themselves for the right to go to school. And I think what Malala’s story has done is made it impossible to look away and impossible to forget about these girls’ struggle.”

But there has been progress, Lemmon says, at least in one nation in that part of the world.

“You know, in Afghanistan particularly, you really see a lot. In 2001, less than one per cent of the country’s girls were in school, and now close to 3 million are. And every day, they go out and battle all kinds of threats just to sit and learn. Their battle is really everyone’s fight because, if you look at the world, 40 million of the 70 million children who aren’t in school are in countries that are struggling against war, and there is no better correlation to predicting violence than education levels.”

This incredible struggle to learn enfranchises women and girls in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan like nothing else. But, it can be even better. Learning can be there for everyone – as it is through improved access to education and the motivation to access it that nations can develop and thrive. That is vital for the male sections of society just as much as it is for the female. That is true for developed nations just as much as it is for developing.

Motivated to Learn

In the UK, governments of all hues have played games with the education system for decades – playing games with the curriculum and making life for teachers difficult and undermining the profession.

Yet, our problems are tiny when considered against those faced in developing countries where so little money is spent on education (like in Africa or even in rapidly developing countries like large sections of India – where education is prized). At least in many of those countries, learning is understood as the foundation stone of progress. There, technology can now being provided to reach all areas – broadband that carries the information, notepads that are cheaper every year, education materials that can be carried electronically on all subjects with potential for the best teaching from the best teachers.

Aid to Learning

Future Brilliance is one organization that is putting together all these pieces of the jigsaw. I am a Director of Future Brilliance in the UK, but there are now operations in the USA, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The challenge is to provide the technology and associated learning materials into the latter two countries – beginning with the Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) that is aimed at providing Internet knowledge to enable businesses to be started up taking full advantage of the technology. With computer tablets at $100, secure Internet (through satellite where no other form exists and as back-up to terrorists or corruption) and progressively greater learning materials, the opportunity must now be seized by the developed world to assist in this global marketplace.

This initiative was launched at the House of Lords in London on Monday, 8th July to an audience of 150 – including Ministers and Embassy officials from Afghanistan together with UK Ministers, journalists, technology companies and educationalists plus representatives from the US Government.

Future Brilliance already has a contract to provide Afghans with training in gem design  – which is being provided in Jaipur, India. The new project (for which funding is currently being sought) will provide teaching to wherever it is needed – with the added capability of highly secure systems to combat all forms of attack.

Searchers for Education

The aims are not technological but educational and transformational. It is also not a top-down Aid programme. The key aim is to assist Afghans and those from Pakistan to develop from the ground up utilizing the capabilities provided by the technology and learning materials. As troops leave in 2014, Afghanistan and Pakistan need a large core of educated citizens to provide the cement in the middle – not more politicians but increasingly capable business people, health workers and those involved in all forms of a civil society.

The Digital Literacy Initiative is highly innovative – but not just in the manner of the service offered. It is a bottom-up programme that enables citizens to make the most of their lives. It is a programme where developed countries do not centrally compel from the top. Learning cannot be compelled by rote (as Mr. Gove in the UK would like to do) but is enabled. Strong teachers, excellent materials, security of surroundings (the DLI is aimed to provide teaching in the home or wherever safety best exists) and secure systems are provided.

With the UK spending 0.7% of its GDP on international aid, outside of emergency funding of disaster recovery and health, the best way for this government and governments like it is to invest in developing nations by enabling them to foster their own salvation. This is the bottom up approach.

In the internet-ready world, the military aim has been to intervene to combat world-wide terrorism. Now that the soldiers and air power are leaving Afghanistan, it is timely to provide help and assistance where it is most needed: to prove that the pen is mightier than the sword – brought up to date by DLI and similar initiatives. More like William Easterly’s “searchers” from his “White Man’s Burden” than the traditional “planners”.

“Initiatives like this can play a part in sustaining the counter-insurgency campaign into the future, and will represent an enduring and meaningful extension of the British and ISAF coalition’s commitment to facilitate enduring stability, economic stimulation and distribution of knowledge and education to the Afghan people.”
– General Sir David Richards GCB CBE DSO ADC Gen (Chief of the Defence Staff, UK).

 

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