|Volume 6 | Issue 05 | May 2012 ||
Education for Regional Connectivity in South Asia
SHAKIL AHMED highlights the role of education in enhancing and improving regional connectivity,
David Malan /Getty
South Asia includes Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Maldives according to SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation). While the first prime minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru stated that “peaceful co-existence is not a new idea for us in India,” the region is facing a range of issues -- poverty, violence, war, disease, population control, corruption, resource mismanagement, environmental disasters, etc. These problems led to the formation of SAARC in the first place, with the hope that greater regional cooperation and connectivity may lead to the resolution of these problems.
Here, I aim to depict how education, even that in the classroom, may have a role in encouraging greater regional connectivity. After all, Rabindranath Tagore said, “The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.”
I attended a planning conference, which attempted to highlight various strategies to deal with the regional problems of South Asia, called Building Bridges: Strengthening Physical, Emotional and Economic Linkages by COSATT (Consortium of South Asian Think Tanks), held at Godavori, Nepal from 6-7 April, 2012. The conference was organised jointly by the IPCS (Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies), New Delhi and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Germany. There was at least one participant from each of the SAARC countries.
As we discussed about multiple ways of improving regional connectivity in South Asia, questions kept arising in my mind -- who is benefitting from such connectivity? Is it the individual, the community, the industries, the nation, the region or the world? What concerns me most is whether the people are being helped, especially the underprivileged, which in reality represents the majority in the South Asian region.
Obstacles to regional connectivity
Each person involved in any stage of a project, starting from ideation to implementation, is a different individual with different personal goals. The fact that these people belong to the same process of actualising the project should entail the assumption that their goals are aligned with the overall project's goal. If goals of individuals come into conflict and/or are not fulfilled in light of the overall goal, whole projects may run the risk of coming to a standstill. The greater the difference in agenda, the greater the likelihood for projects not going according to plan. In reality, the impact of this difference also depends on how powerful these individuals are in the implementation process. A mere example is how the Teesta water sharing treaty between India and Bangladesh, an opportunity for greater connectivity, is facing obstacles since the goals of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee are not being met. Professor Imtiaz Ahmed of International Relations, Dhaka University explained that Mamata was an ingredient that was not considered in the biryani of regional policies proposed between India and Bangladesh.
Looking for a system of values
Retd. Major General Dipankar Banerjee mentioned during the conference that if projects are practical, feasible and economically beneficial, then it fully makes sense for such projects to be implemented. However, given that people are not on the same page or rather the same value system, conflicts arise and projects get slowed down.
Mediating the inception of ideas through education
An effort that considers education to promote regional connectivity is likely to be a long-term effort. To appreciate such an effort, one should understand the inception of ideas. After all, people were in this conference to exchange ideas. If at least one good idea sticks, then those concerned will probably put their efforts surrounding that idea to realise its implementation.
It may be hypothesised that with the right exposure of ideas, a generalised (not identical) behaviour pattern may be observed. However, the education media cannot be one of rote memorisation.
The individual needs to be exposed to experiences and role models, through and from which she can actively learn to inculcate certain values and attitudes.
If desired values are practised while people are young, the hypothesis is that as people grow up to become thinkers, politicians, businessmen, farmers, policemen, teachers, doctors, etc, there may be a shared understanding to bring about connectivity at home, community, districts, nation, continental region and the world.
Enhancing the curriculum
To attain greater connectivity and understanding among people by exercising skills in reasoning and analysis, philosophical discourse should be encouraged in all sectors of society. It is already in practice outside the classroom for example, when people are involved in adda. In the true sense of adda, there is no facilitation in the process and conversations may lead to anywhere, where the people involved in the adda may generate any number of possible claims or conclusions.
To intentionally reach certain conclusions, which lead to the appreciation of desired values, classroom facilitators should practise the process of Socratic questioning and eventually, through an argumentative process, reach appropriate conclusions.
Something, which comes close, is debate. In debate, students take opposite sides and at times, it is hoped that through compelling arguments, students may eventually agree with what seems right. However, if students argue for a side which actually may seem against the values of connectivity, then those students may actually come up with more compelling arguments than their counter-parties, convincing themselves to be in a position that discourages connectivity.
Other experiential activities can also be organised for children to experience problems/conflicts within their own communities and the region, through which they attempt to come up with solutions to resolve these simulated scenario-based conflicts. Other media as such audio-visual material in the form of movies, songs and cartoons, books, etc. may also be created.
However, one note of caution: the above strategies in the education system do not just relate to the idea of encouraging regional connectivity; they could be used for almost any idea, for good or for bad. The onus of what ideas should be encouraged relies upon the policy-makers of the education system and needless to say, if the policy-makers are working towards the benefit of their people, then accordingly, they have to make their decisions responsibly.
All in all, an education system that addresses the concerns regarding the lack of regional connectivity and incepts these ideas/values which encourage greater connectivity into young minds may lead to the smoother implementation of relevant ideas within our own homes and the region. If people do not appreciate initiatives for regional connectivity as they grow up, it is difficult to expect cooperation when it comes to the implementation of such projects. With the appropriate steps, it is hoped that education for regional connectivity could lead us to overcoming the region's woes of massive poverty, nuclear power enmity, drugs and arms smuggling, border killings, mistrust arising from the partitions of 1947 and 1971, water management issues, regional terrorism, etc., leading to a peaceful and healthier future of South Asia.
Shakil Ahmed is a staff researcher at the Institute of Educational Development, Brac University.
© thedailystar.net, 2012. All Rights Reserved