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).

 

Education and Equal Concern

I was at two contrasting events this week that provided strong connections.

The first was the Annual Prize Giving at Ashmole Academy, where I am Chair of Governors / Directors. Our guest of honour was Professor A C (Anthony) Grayling – one of this country’s best-known philosophers and writer on ethics through books such as “Liberty in the Age of Terror”. He has also recently opened the New College of the Humanities (NCH) in London – a new private university.

The second was the inaugural meeting of the Board of Directors of Future Brilliance Limited – a not-for-profit set up by Sophia Swire, a courageous and hugely talented woman who has spent much of her life working to improve the lives of Afghans. Future Brilliance – Afghanistan has already begun work to provide business skills training and business opportunities to young Afghans and has a focus on especially improving access to woman for education and business in Afghanistan.

Education

I introduced Anthony Grayling to parents and students and quoted from his book mentioned above – a quote he himself had taken from Ronald Dworkin’s “Sovereign Virtue”:  “Equality must be understood in terms of the equal concern for its citizens that any legitimate government must show  – equal concern is the sovereign virtue of political community: without it government is only tyranny” and equality of resources or opportunities, giving everyone a fair start in making something of their lives.”

The concept of “equal concern” for all is not about providing everyone with the same standard of living but a desire to provide everyone with the same opportunities. It is up to the individual how they exploit those opportunities.

Anthony Grayling gave an excellent talk to our students. He described how we only have around 1,000 months to live and 2/3rds are spent sleeping and shopping or similar. That leaves just 1/3rd of our lives to do something meaningful. He believes that we should use our time in education to broaden our knowledge, ask questions, to develop the enquiring mind.

This was brought home by Sir James Dyson’s comments about education – where he decried the reading of French lesbian poetry as his example of a liberal, humanities-based education rather than one focused on science and engineering. Michael Gove defended the former. Anthony Grayling provided a very good set of reasons for ensuring that the humanities gain equal concern.

At Ashmole Academy, we have developed the ability to help students pass the exams they need and at the right level to gain acceptance to Russell Group Universities (and a large percentage do this in science and maths) but also produce individuals ready and equipped to face the world. Ashmole is non-selective and provides equal concern for all students – providing that equality of opportunities that gives everyone a fair start in making something of their lives. If only that was true of the whole education system in this country – where there is a major disparity between independent (alpha schools) and maintained sectors (although we believe Ashmole now challenges that assertion) and between good maintained schools (beta) and those who struggle (epsilon) for any number of reasons – see https://jeffkaye.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/the-fight-over-education/  We do not have equal concern yet borne out by the equality of opportunity.

Equality of Opportunity

However, in the UK we are blessed when compared to the range of destructive problems that exist in countries like Afghanistan. The problems are well known but the solutions are tough to consider let alone implement. In 2014, US and UK troops are expected to leave and it is there will be a major exodus of the brightest and best as the Taliban threat grows.

Sophia Swire has been working in Afghanistan for some time to improve the lives of those working to make the most of their lives. I met her at Global Witness – an anti-corruption NGO – when she was working with the World Bank. The Future Brilliance task is to develop young Afghans to benefit from the huge potential that their natural resources offer them by building their skills and business base within a code of ethics and good governance.  The US and UK are now working to provide financing in the next two years to help this process before they pullout – to work to get traction amongst the people who have been traumatised by the Taliban and by war and, to an extent, by aid programmes.

What is clear is that the country is also beset by corruption and a weariness that people struggle to shake off. This weariness is because the various governing classes, whether politicians, tribal chiefs or Taliban, have a view of leadership that we find out of date. There is no equality of concern. Concern is primarily for those already in leadership positions and a country that develops this manner of leadership will not break out from its current trauma.

Beyond this, of course, Afghanistan has a view of women (in general) that we see as 16th Century. Religion-blamed customs keep women from education and business in most cases. Like Malala, the young girl shot by terrorists in Pakistan, young women struggle to be allowed any freedoms – whether for the right to be educated or to enter into business. Again, customs deny equal concern for its citizens.

As A C Grayling highlighted in his book “Liberty in the age of Terror”, in the West, we have fought hard for centuries to secure basic human freedoms such as those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this country, we have witnessed the strain that terrorism has wrought as freedoms have been whittled away for the cause of security. But, human rights have to be based on equal concern for all. In a world that is now so interlinked, it is impossible to close our eyes at the problems in other countries. To a large extent, their problems are ours. Terrorism affects us in the UK in heavier security that reduces our freedoms. It is better to also work towards improvements in those countries where terrorism is bred. Acknowledgement human rights and of economic improvement are crucial not via handouts and aid (except in emergencies) but through the use of focused assistance to bolster the ability to help themselves and to relentlessly work to rid the country of corruption.

To succeed, government has to show equal concern for all its citizens – to provide the fair start – and it has to start with education (both boys and girls) and lead into business and wider, governmental responsibilities.

In the UK, education for all must be an equal concern as we struggle to get our worst schools anywhere near the level of acceptability. The same struggle (but, with horrendous consequences of failure) exists in countries like Afghanistan. “Equal concern is the sovereign virtue of political community: without it government is only tyranny.”  Whether in education at home or in the fight against terrorism abroad, the same ethical principle is true. In the global economy, it is essential that everyone has “a fair start in making something of their lives.”