It never ceases to amaze me. While we wage war on education with a variety of socio-political and media weapons here in the United States, other countries ravaged by violence, conflict, and natural disasters strive to provide quality education for their people. There is much we can learn from their stories. At the very least, we can be inspired.
Catholic Bishop of Torit, Johnson Akio Mutek, set an inspirational tone by writing: “the aim of education has ceased from merely being a vehicle for transmitting culture from one generation to another to a powerful tool of empowering individuals with knowledge, skills and confidence they need to shape a better future for themselves” (qtd. in Bosco, O., 4 May, 2012).
Here are just two recent examples and what Americans can learn from them.
Caring for Cambodia
One example we can learn from is the Caring for Cambodia program (Saturen, M. 12 April, 2012). After centuries of foreign domination, war, and genocide that included the deliberate extermination of the educated including teachers, Cambodia was left in a desperate situation, nearly unable to shape that better future for themselves that Bishop Mutek refers to (Saturen, M. 12 April, 2012). In Cambodia,
• Few teachers are left to resurrect their educational system.
• Only 13% of children attend preschool and only 54% complete primary school although it’s free.
• Most children must work in the fields at home to meet basic survival needs.
• Wages average $1.25 per day for those who are employed.
• Geography makes most schools physically impossible for many families especially in combination with financial limitations. (Saturen, M. 12 April, 2012)
In 2008, however, Caring for Cambodia, a new program similar to Head Start in the U.S. was initiated (Saturen, M. 12 April, 2012). The program’s focus is to educate both parents and students within Cambodia cultural norms (Saturen, M. 12 April, 2012). Families gather in villages to learn parenting skills, to network with other families and peers for support, and to discover both the importance of education and how to prepare children for preschool (Saturen, M. 12 April, 2012). “Despite their poverty, the children love to learn. In Cambodia, with limited resources, people are doing so much” (Sachdev, A. qtd. in Saturen, M. 12 April, 2012).
This program is succeeding largely because Cambodian culture places a high value on education—parents there believe it makes their children brave—and because teachers are highly respected as “second parents” who contribute to the well being of all (Saturen, M. 12 April, 2012).
Rebuilding Schools in Haiti
On January 12, 2010, a massive earthquake killed 316,000 people on the small island country of Haiti, crippling its infrastructure and devasting its people (Phillips, T. and Provost, C., 11 January, 2012). Furthermore, in Haiti:
• Only about one-half of promised foreign aid has been received, threatening rebuilding and recovery efforts.
• An estimated 500,000 people remain homeless and struggling to survive.
• Most Haitians have no running water or access to toilets.
• Most Haitians have no access to health care resulting in outbreaks of cholera which has killed thousands more.
• The potential workforce is 70% under or unemployed.
• Disputes and conflicts over what resources do exist is further exacerbating living conditions (Phillips, T. and Provost, C., 11 January, 2012).
In spite of this, Haitians are successfully rebuilding their educational system. Education specialist with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Sophie Makonnen, shares a brief overview in this video clip:
Note that Makonnen expressed the need for education as part of normalcy in a culture and that the government supports the rebuilding efforts. According to a UNICEF report, Haiti has been able to rebuild 612 schools and to repair 653 others; more importantly, the report cites this as evidence that Haiti and its people are healing from the tragedy (Phillips, T. and Provost, C., 11 January, 2012).
Lessons for Americans
What can Americans learn about education from these inspirational examples?
• Education is worth fighting for, not against.
• Educators must be highly respected for education to thrive and benefit us individually and collectively.
• Money is not the prime issue, as there are other considerations such as accessibility.
• People must be accurately informed about the value of education rather than be swayed by socio-political agendas and media spin.
• Education is integral to sustaining normalcy and the advancement of nations.
• Governments must support schools and their constituents at all levels.
• Education is clearly seen as the path out of poverty and tragedy whether these are caused by natural or by human events.
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is that the United States must embrace and take responsibility for its blessings in wealth, peace, and freedom from devastating disasters by supporting education domestically and internationally. Although as Makonnen stated, it’s not easy, we can make progress toward providing quality education for all. It’s time to turn anti-education socio-political agendas and media spinning into academic resources and facilities.
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