Archive | February, 2010

Hade’s lullaby

23 Feb

Tell us if our days have meaning
For our nights are startling cold
Carry injury/depth of feeling
Through the roof of tomorrow’s morn
Sleep, sleep tight, and tuck your eyes
Beneath the realm of living light
Touch me softly, hold me sweetly
Define me through your endless eyes
My universe, your sarcophagus
What is this, the reality?
What concerns you or me?
Why make profit the margin of existence
The glory of being, a fitful thing?
Encircle my mind as I surrender my pride
Close deep curtains, devour all sight
Enter into the world of night
My darkness, deep possession.

What does education mean for them?

13 Feb

In the first chapter of ‘A Crime so Monstrous’, Benjamin Skinner repeatedly mentions the need for affordable/available education to dissolve the ‘restavèk’ phenomenon rampant in Haiti (restavèks are children bought by lower-middle class families from rural families who hope their children will get a better life and education in the cities, but the children are instead frequently used and abused as unpaid domicile workers in their new residences.) In my trip to Kolkata, I was also struck strongly by the lack of adequate education available to the street and slum children. This situation is said to exacerbate their inability to change their social status throughout generations.

I felt troubled by what I saw in Kolkata. And after reading that it only costs $5 month for rural children to receive their basic education in Haiti (and $72 a month in salary for each teacher), I wished for a steady income so that I could contribute.

What sort of education would truly benefit these children? (picture from Greg Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea, an inspiring story of building schools in rural villages to fight poverty and terrorism.)

But the situation in Haiti is different in some ways. Their economy consists of a majority of subsistence farming. Public infrastructure concerning health care and education is inadequate. The country relies heavily on foreign aid (to the extent that the ex-Assistant of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega once stated that if sanctions were imposed on Haiti, the country would veer sharply towards becoming a full- on failed state.) It is due to these considerations that made me wonder – how useful is a normal education to these children? What is the purpose of the education we intend to give them? Will it really help them reach for better things in their future when their infrastructure evidently lacks better economical opportunities for all of them? For the two arguments I have heard in which lack of adequate public education was cited, the ones most concerned about their children getting an education were the parents. Hoping their children would get an education, parents in rural Haiti allowed courtiers to take their children into the city to live in the house of strangers, parents in rural Afghanistan sent their most gifted to madrassas where they were indoctrinated with fundamentalist Islamic teachings (Three Cups of Tea). These children do not receive the education that the parents hoped would help them, and this results in tragedy – child slaves in Haiti, human suicide bomb fodder from Afghanistan.

We all see smiling pictures of kids in school, kids who long to learn. What I’d like to know is how much is this education really helping them? What kind of educational content will really help them change their life and society for the better? And how do we define a ‘better’ society?

With basic education we often use a ‘one form fits all’ approach: Language, Mathematics, some Science. The content of such classes, if I don’t miss my guess, are adopted from texts originally designed for children who have a very high chance both of ongoing education and the developed environment to make mental connections with the examples cited in these books. How much will the content relate to the children in a developing environment? Also, I imagine the classes to be more of a top down spoon fed approach. Would these children, with their dynamic and challenging environment, not benefit more from programs that encourage greater self-initiative and creativity? I believe there must be a smarter way to design these programs to suit the environment that the children are growing in.

The second question is how we define a better society. Education programs from the developed world inevitably bring with them the image of development as we see it from our history of earth exploitation. However, there is an increasing call for a sustainable model of development which, though possibly not as speedy in effect as the industrial model we followed, would in the long term not only lower our adverse development footprint on this planet but help preserve the culture and environment of the developing region. In this case, we should make a conscious decision to import educational programs to these regions with an eye on preventing unnecessary cultural seepage that may cause confusion, and including an advanced component that helps them understand their environment and what informed actions they can take while developing to prevent damaging there as irretrievably as we have damaged ours.