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Letter to Avaaz 17 December 2014

EducationPosted by Graham Thompson Wed, November 25, 2015 14:47:56

This letter I sent to the Avaaz Team some time ago, but the content is and will be relevant for many years to come, and though to some my point of view may be controversial but I believe that western style education IS a new kind of colonialism:

Dear Avaaz Team,

I have supported many of your campaigns, especially on the environment, but I really feel that it is not our task to tell 3rd World countries how to educate their children. I have great sympathy for the victims of the massacre and have no possible sympathy whatsoever with the Taliban or IS, but to say that western style education is an antidote to terrorism is a huge mistake. Did you not know that the engineers of the Twin Towers disaster were educated in western universities?

In fact we have used western style education in developing countries and encouraged post-colonial governments to do the same, all with the wrong focus. The education is oriented into turning them into western style consumers and believers in a democracy which patently does not work: the greatest divisions between rich and poor are in countries like the US and UK, and are based on educational inequality.

In 3rd world countries education modelled on western values and knowledge actually produces terrorism. The huge population bubble of the past 30 years has produced billions of well-educated people, torn away from their rural background, living in mega-cities with no knowledge of their own local environment or how to survive in those cities. Education turns them towards the west, makes them believe that jobs and professions will come to them automatically - but it is patently impossible for these young people to all obtain employment. There are millions of graduates in many countries who are jobless or who work in underpaid unskilled work, all because education gave them expectations of living a western lifestyle. No wonder they turn on us in what they see as the decadent west in terrorist acts - western education is a bad joke and a broken promise to most young people who hope to become somebody like the media role-models suggest. Only a very few can succeed.

We need to change the focus of education so it is based in local cultures, local needs and local knowledge. Not on our decadent culture and false promises of democracy. We love to think we do so much good by subsidizing schooling and encouraging girls like Malala, the one who was almost killed by the Taliban, but how many of her schoolfriends will ever get to do what she has? Be whisked to a western hospital and then sent to a top school in the UK. Get realistic: we have made her a western icon, a symbol of the "Anglo-American Dream". In reality we breed jealousy and resentment against such "heroes to the west" amongst the vast majority in local communities by elevating such young people. We increase the distance between dream and reality.

So have a proper analysis of what has happened in the past 50 years of post-colonialism before making campaigns that end in the opposite of what we all desire - peace and harmony between people. Stop imposing a western ideal of development and education on the world´s poor. You will do precisely that by asking for money or support to build western style schools, you will increase terrorism, not stop it.

Graham Thompson Ph.D., Social Anthropologist

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