MITIGATING POVERTY — Solving poverty is not the prerogative of educators but equalizing every student’s opportunity for success in the classroom is.
Part of The Global Teachers Blog series
‘The GEM Report provides an authoritative account of how education is the most vital input for every dimension of sustainable development’ (UNESCO, 2016).
The whole basis for EducAid’s existence is for the destruction of poverty. EducAid works in Sierra Leone, which ranked as poorest country in the world according to the UN’s Human Development Index in 2000 and ranks as 9th poorest in 2017. Poverty is easy to view as what people do not have in their pocket or bank account, but the effects of poverty are more far-reaching and deeply undermine every aspect of human society, social cohesion and values. Not only is Sierra Leone economically poor and has extremely difficult life statistics with the average life expectancy in the late 40s and the worst child mortality rate in the world, we also ranked recently as the most dangerous place for young people to live (WHO, 2015) and we are graded ‘very high’ on the Social Institutions and Gender Index (OECD, 2017) i.e. one of the most difficult places to be a woman.
Providing education, without thinking carefully through what sort of education we mean, will not result in sustainable development but simply in the passing on of that individual’s poverty to some less fortunate other. We need education that helps young people challenge, not imitate, the role models around them that have so strongly contributed to their country’s poverty. Our concern must be for education to be more than just the qualifications and connections that will pull the individual out of poverty, but instead a concerted community effort to acquire the knowledge, skills and values that will transform society. We need to learn and teach that collaboration is better than cooperation, that injustice and inequality never build a strong foundation.
It may be true that the destruction of poverty is not the exclusive prerogative of educators but as education can so enormously transform an individual’s chances in life, we have an enormous responsibility. We must ensure that our education does not just empower without encouraging our students to rise to the challenges of true concerned citizenship. The power of real education is to alleviate poverty in all its forms: poverty of justice, poverty of ideas, poverty of respect, poverty of integrity just as much as economic poverty. How we achieve that, of course, is another difficult question and we are far from having all the answers. The 1990 Dakar summit that challenged all nations to achieve ‘Education For All’ resulted in an increase in children attending school. The lack of clarity about what good quality education looks like or even raising it as a priority, however, has resulted in years of children going to school and not even achieving the basics. When children are unable to achieve foundational literacy and numeracy at school, never mind the skills, knowledge and values that will enable them to be part of building their country’s futures differently, setting their own agendas and challenging the status quo, this is not good enough.
We must raise the generation that is dissatisfied with re-enforcing injustice, that challenges the current economic models and aid solutions, that can see the dangers to all of us when allowing some to live in poverty. My students are often among the poorest in one of the poorest countries in the world. My challenge is how to be a catalyst that enables these youngsters to live up to their potential to aspire not just to jump camp from being oppressed to oppressor, but to be those who will turn that paradigm on its head.
|EducAid Tools of Real Education||Description|
|Every Voice Counts||This is a way of working that requires all EducAidians to experience the right and the responsibility to have their voice heard in the building of a more just community: participating in decisions about resources, teaching styles, student behaviour management, etc.|
|Ubuntu||Borrowed from southern Africa, the term Ubuntu means ‘I am because we are’. On a daily basis, EducAidians discuss their day in terms of Ubuntu: who has shown kindness? who has been caring and sharing? who has prioritised somebody else over themselves? Not only academic progress is celebrated.|
|Community Service||Once a year, all EducAid students spend at least two weeks doing some form of community service. They learn the dignity of giving – where one has no money, one can always give time, love, concern, expertise and knowledge. Our students teach in nearby primary schools, undertake community cleaning projects or other activities.|
All schools are divided into tutor groups. All tutor groups are divided into families. In one’s family students learn to look after each other as a family, undertaking chores together, sharing food together and studying together. As families too, the children learn to facilitate each other’s sense of accountability and responsibility. Family leaders are trained to look after and protect, not to bully and boss.
Even among the poor though, there are hierarchies of poor. So, we use this fact. We engage with the challenge and the opportunity to create learning opportunities for our youngsters where they can realise their capacity to reduce inequality even within their school community, to facilitate justice, to have their voices heard in the demand for better conditions for all and not just for their own rights, to value responsibilities as much as rights and to believe in their own agency to achieve change for good.
A real EducAid education is about learning to think in different ways about one’s role in society and responsibilities to stand up and be counted. It is about ensuring that your former poverty does not control and dictate your future, but it is also about ensuring you fight equally for the destruction of poverty in others’ lives too. It is about being dissatisfied with your own advancement at the expense of others. Of course, not everybody gets it! But, we as educators continue to adjust and try again in order to devise a new way to break through, to create a different opportunity to open eyes, to facilitate engagement with a different route to a different definition of success and most importantly to inspire to not only defeat one’s own personal poverty but poverty more generally.
If you are interested in knowing more about our work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk
If you would like to support our immediate emergency relief activities supporting those in the EducAid family who were affected by the floods, please donate through the following link: http://www.educaid.org.uk/get-involved/emergency-flood-appeal/
If you are in a position to support us in the long term work for a sustainable Sierra Leone that will cease to be buffeted from disaster to crisis please consider making a regular monthly donation using this link: http://www.educaid.org.uk/get-involved/donate/