“There can be no contentment for any of us when there are children, millions of children, who do not receive an education that provides them with dignity and honor and allows them to live their lives to the full.”
– Nelson Mandela
As a society, we all consider education as a tool of empowerment, growth and development for the communities and nation as a whole. School, colleges and universities as an agent of education are seen as the ‘great equalizer’ of income, wealth and historical inequalities or injustice between different communities, poor and rich, men and women. Education has become the ultimate solution to all of the problems in our societies. Through the right based approach, education has become the priority of many governments, civil societies and NGOs. The present education system promises so many things; reducing poverty, gender equality, social or inter-generational mobilities, skilled workers etc. It also promises to solve various problems like unequal access to different institutions, climate change, etc.
The realities on the ground and lived experience are in contrast to what the education system promised. Inequalities are reaching new extremes. 1% of the world richest have more than twice as much wealth as 7 billion people. The present education reinforces the neo-liberal ideas of growth and development, 6 lane highways and multi-billions company owned by a person is not the only benchmark of development. Before getting into ‘false-promised land’, students are committing suicide, they are stuck with debt for trying to access knowledge. People die because they lack access to affordable health care and are forced into extreme poverty due to high costs. Small indigenous farmers are nearing extinction and committing suicide. People are forced to displace from their own communities and countries because of war, violence and climate change. We have witnessed the migration crisis one after another in recent years. On top of it, we are seeing a wider prevalence of mental ill-health in global communities.
These inequalities pull apart our societies, communities, and trust between different institutions. Realizing the problems and challenges, many organizations, philanthropies, educational experts and governments try to reform it. They introduced many ideas, models, initiatives and strategies; student-centered learning, project-based learning, social and emotional learning, deeper learning, blended learning, personalized learning etc. And the list goes on (and on). Are these reforms able to fulfill the needs, reform the system and solve the issues? In my opinion, only peripheral reforms and changes took place as many of them prioritize teaching, student-teacher ratio, resources and infrastructure. They are not necessarily focusing on the inherent systemic design flow and foundational ideas of the so-called ‘Modern Education System’. The system is to design workers which should not ask questions and based on an outdated idea of happiness which is to get a degree and a job. It is such a powerful tool that it can create and reinforce whole worldviews that are subsequently being taken-as-granted by the vast majority of people. To come out from this bubble of ideas and make the changes, we need to make a political stand and choose to discard the mainstream education and try to improve or reform the inherently flawed design.
To Project DEFY, inequality in education is not inevitable. Revolutionizing the education system by challenging mainstream education is inevitable. Project DEFY took the stand and choice, worked together with the local communities to design their own education system, which is based on the needs, aspirations and curiosity of the community. We are not making any promises here. We just believe that everyone is rational and can make their own decision. We are just providing a space through Nook, which is owned by the community, to create their own learning journey, to make an informed choice and actively participate in public debates and issues, to address needs and challenges we are facing on a personal, community and societal level; and – ultimately to co-create meaningful, engaging and prosperous lives with each other and alongside each other, instead of imposing a pre-given system on them.
So, we encourage everybody who cares deeply about education to reflect and revisit the reforms, initiatives and learning programs and ask ourselves one simple question: does it really address the systematic design flaws of mainstream education? If not, start designing new models, explore more, and experiment with them. We will keep looking for false promises made by the mainstream education system.
About the author
Huidrom Boicha is a life-long learner, a reader, avid photographer and travel enthusiast. He has set-up self-designed learning spaces with different communities, locally and internationally.