Thursday, 30 June 2016

Democracy must go to school!

I have never really woken up until today when I set my eyes on these words from former US president, "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of a democracy, therefore, is education." -Franklin D Roosevelt.
 A few steps on, the words of former UN Secretary General shot at me from another chart on a wall. "Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development."-Kofi Annan.

 Questions shot out of every corner inside my head! If education is so crucial to the freedom, democracy and sustainable development, and we do have an educational system, then one of our task then is  to focus on the training of our next generation in a way that makes them productive citizens able to champion their personal and communal development. What can we do as a nation to ensure that education serves its rightful purpose in building our democracy? One thing comes to my mind: (as radical as it may sound) 
Let's take democracy to our schools! It's the right place to begin!

I am often confused by the very lack of will to shake up those ways of thinking that have rendered us unable to unleash the great potential hidden within our great nation and the African continentHelping our country escape the powerful clutches of corruption and poverty is arguably one of the biggest challenges facing Sierra Leone today. The process producing true development needs the helping hand of a meaningful education system. We have currently failed to consciously help our young people to understand what democratic processes really are, and how to become well informed, involved and productive citizens in a democratic context. Yet, we carry on dreaming of prosperity. It is like making a bed of thorns and hoping to find comfort lying in it!

The ways of thinking and behaving learned  in schools in turn get applied into society -for good or for bad. For example if I have learned in school that my voice doesn’t matter, that success is money, cars, big houses, passing exams,  and 'things'. Or say girls cannot be made leaders, that the wisdom of authorities is unquestionable, or that the only way out of poverty is pulling out a corrupt trick –and no one is going to do anything about it, then these learned behaviors and ways of thinking become the filter through which I see, act towards, and evaluate myself and others. Just as the saying goes it’s impossible to teach an old dog new tricksNo matter what, young people will learn to implement the ways they have seen adults make decisions in their community. Are decisions made by bringing people together to find a collective voice? Are all members supported to have a stronger voice? Are we teaching children to care about not just themselves? Questions like these prompts one to start seeing that without a more proactive education system, sorry to be blunt,  our dreams of prosperity and sustainable development will only remain to be dreams.

 School is where we train young people to take up critical roles in our society. Hence, to do a good job at this, we must ensure to reinvent our thoughts regarding education and take radical action to make it fulfill its rightful purpose. If schools are just a place to get basic skills and paper qualifications we are doomed. Young people need to be able to think critically, to believe that their voices matter, and actively participate in decision making processes in addition to those formal skills they need to be productive citizens in today’s modern world.

The solution? Let us take democracy into our schools! Let us go in there, involve children and instill the values and attitudes of a true democracy. I believe this is our only hope if we are to achieve our important dreams of lasting development and prosperity. Actively simulating democracy in our schools is what we need if we are to stamp out the forces of extreme poverty, denying millions of Sierra Leoneans the means to lead a dignified life, able to fully participate in nation building and security.

Where do we start? We need a radical change to happen! For this radical change to happen, you and I who believe in a truly democratic Sierra Leone must put hands and voices together and take the challenge of driving this revolution towards towards a new face for Sierra Leone. The first step, in my opinion, involves encouraging government, schools, and other agencies wishing to help Sierra Leone to directly involve young people in all matters of the planning, design, implementation and evaluation of all programs and interventions affecting their lives. Is that not democracy?

The result will be a highly skilled population with a higher sense of personal responsibility to hold themselves and others to account and think with a democratic perspective. Isn’t that a good thing? Or should we wait until they are too old and out of school? When we have directly and indirectly taught them that their voices do not matter?

I passionately agree with the words of Franklin D Roosevelt and Kofi Annan, in education lie the hope for saving our society and achieving our president's agenda for prosperity and a truly independent Sierra Leone.
If we are passionate enough, I believe we can.
In the next couple of posts we shall start looking at what this really means in the Sierra Leonean context.
Thank you.
Let's begin!

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