A nation's education system is deemed to be one of the most vital pillars of a strong societal structure, and is equally responsible for economic growth. Almost all nations across the world have developed their unique models of education after synchronizing the same with their socio-economic structures. But amidst all, the Western education system since the last few decades has developed and transformed itself as one of the most flexible and most accommodative systems of education. The fact that the Western education system is renowned globally, drawing tens of thousands of students from developing nations, is because of its higher funding and prudent administration.
America holds exemplary credentials on this account. One of the first things that the United States did during its developmental years was to invest handsomely on education to create world-class academic institutions. As a cascading effect, the country slowly but surely developed an immense talent and skill base that became one of the key drivers of rapid industrialization and economic growth witnessed from the 19th century onwards in the nation. Even today, the best talent from across the world is attracted to United States because of the nation’s superior educational system and the resulting employment opportunities thereafter. Similarly, Western Europe too treaded the same path, although on a lower scale compared to United States, both in terms of the quality of education and the investment on institutions.
However, in this race for attracting the cream of global talent, the United States is running out of steam as the pressure of sustained recession is taking a huge toll on academic funding. If in 2009, a benchmark year, the US Department of Education’s discretionary funding on education was $155.4 billion, the same in 2013 is $65.7 billion, a shocking drop of $90 billion. The latest report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which brings out an yearly analysis of education funding in the United States, mentions that 26 states in America are reducing their education investment per student in 2013, while 35 states are still investing at levels that are below the pre-recession levels. The report mentions that this has resulted in hundreds of thousands of job losses in the education sector in the past few years, especially hurting the low-income groups in America further as many important school programs targeted at these communities have been the first to be purged. Many schools, colleges and universities have closed down their educational units, augmented fees, abolished extra-curricular activities and even research facilities that were pivotal to drive the innovation fuelling the US economy and its top position in global academia.
The cookie is crumbling in Europe too. The latest OECD report titled Education At A Glance 2013 confirms that per student educational investments are plummeting in most EU countries. Other statistics confirm that Italy, Greece, Spain, Scotland, Portugal, Poland, Estonia, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Luxemburg, Sweden and Malta, all of them experienced cuts in educational investments. Immersed in immense federal debts, these troubled European nations have had no option but to divert funds from critical sectors like education to repay their external obligations.
All this has unfortunately attracted large-scale resentment and cynicism from the academic and student communities, as well as from disadvantaged groups in these nations. And that, perhaps expectably, is resulting in something dangerous. The budget crunch is indirectly fanning the radicalization of education, and in extreme cases, is also promoting the sowing of religious hatred amongst the abovementioned disadvantaged groups. Even though there clearly isn’t anything objectionable in studying and following religious teachings (as has been the case through the entire ancient and Middle Ages), using religion and its teachings to breed political, ideological and religious hatred is a cancer growing in a covert and subverted manner within the education systems of many developing nations. While most Middle East nations have their educational systems hemmed sparklingly in Islamic academics (some countries like Saudi Arabia even have madrassas for the majority of its students and youth), specific groups in countries like Sudan, Pakistan and the erstwhile Taliban controlled Afghanistan have turned Islamic teachings into hate campaigns against adversarial countries, communities and religions. For these groups, embedding religious and communal hatred through their ‘educational institutions’ within the mindsets of impressionable youth and children in their respective countries is more of a political campaign to either retain their power centers or to usurp power from democratically elected representatives.
As a specific example, Pakistan, for decades, used religious educational institutions to spread hatred against India, something that their armed forces needed badly as a cover-up for their armed misadventures, as well as for shaping the country’s foreign policy. In 2003, the then Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote in an official memorandum, “Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the [terrorists that] madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” In 2004, the then Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that madrassas in Pakistan and many other nations were “breeding grounds for fundamentalists and terrorists.” In 2009, The Guardian reported, “According to most security analysts internationally, Pakistan’s madrassas are effectively jihadi factories spreading terrorism around the world.” When the state itself sponsors terrorism, then there’s not much that can be corrected in the nation’s education system (In June 2013, Peter King, US Congressman and Chairman of Sub Committee on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence, confirmed what everybody knows since decades, that “ISI provides...a safe haven and funding to train and prepare for terrorist attacks”).
Thus, the twin woes of the fall of educational investments by the developed nations and the rise of fundamentalist teaching fanning religious hatred in underdevelopedand developing nations are debilitating the bulwark of the global education system and working against the unbiased and balanced flow of information to youth of the world. On one side of the spectrum, the entire multi-billion dollar education business in Western countries is facing a crisis due to the continuing effect of global recession. On the other side, increasing hate messages involved in the curriculum of the young and formative minds in Asia and Africa presages a negative world order and a threat to mankind. These kinds of negative and distorted ultrareligious teachings are the fountainhead of global terror and rightwing politics that is a sign on the wall for clashes between civilizations. To stem this dose of social, political and economic danger that our crumbling education system poses to the world, the developed nations of the world have to necessarily refuel and reenergise the education system globally. Funding in education from these developed nations is what has ensured that hundreds of thousands of youth and children in underdeveloped and developing nations have been able to live the great global dream. Cuts in educational investments by the developed lot will only result in the growth of radical educationist groups – and this is something the world cannot afford ever.
- 28 June 2013 |