Inter Press Service » Education News and Views from the Global South Thu, 27 Oct 2016 21:37:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Student Struggle in South Africa Gains Momentum Fri, 21 Oct 2016 17:12:45 +0000 Desmond Latham Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

By Desmond Latham

When #FeesMustFall began to trend on social media platforms in South Africa in October 2015, government shrugged it off as an example of isolated hotheads, while political pundits predicted the student campaign wouldn’t last.

But a year later and the protest movement has gained traction across the country, with all major tertiary institutions partly shut down or barely functioning, and civil society warning that the effect on various sectors of the economy will carry over to 2017.Black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

In the latest action, hundreds of students marched to the Union Buildings on Thursday, Oct. 20, and called on government to take their complaints about the high cost of education seriously.

The University of the Witwatersrand student movement began in 2015 when students shut down the campus on the eve of exams after it was announced that fees would increase by 10.5 percent in 2016, citing the weak rand which lost a third of its value against the dollar in 2015 as one of the main reasons.

Since then protestors have taken aim at government as well as their local institutions and have called for action against the ruling African National Congress after its leaders told the country’s parliament this week that education could not be “a free for all”.

Posters emerged of students calling for the ruling party to “Fxxx Off” and the Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to be fired. Speaking to media on Oct. 14, Nzimande said government could not afford free education demands.

“In South Africa it is the taxpayers who give you money up-front and then say when you are working bring it back in order to assist others,” he said. “Somebody is paying… So we must understand these slogans properly.”

Students have rejected this view and mediation between the students and state by church and other NGO’s has failed so far. South Africa spends 5.4 percent of its 100-billion-dollar budget on education, and earlier in 2016 allocated an additional 1.1 billion for higher education over the next three years, with 400 million specifically aimed at keeping fees for tertiary institutions as low as possible. However, this has failed to address the students’ demands.

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

The call for education to be free comes as South Africa’s economy flounders and its currency, the rand, lost a third of its value against the U.S. dollar. The country’s high youth unemployment rate of over 45 percent has exacerbated the problem, while South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world in terms of the rich/poor divide.

The Wits Student Representative Council warned that its members can no longer afford the tuition fees and early memoranda included the demand for free education, the scrapping of registration fees and for all security forces to vacate the university campus.

But arson has been reported at the University of Johannesburg, Wits University, Cape Town University and a host of other small campus around South Africa. End of year exams have been affected and the University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences has suspended its academic year.

An impasse has now developed, with government saying it can’t allow unruly elements to destroy property and stepping up the number of police patrolling these venues.

Students have long led the struggle for change in the country. The most famous example is the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid linked to Afrikaans being used in education. Twenty-two years after democracy, students once again are making themselves heard and are focusing on higher education.

While making up around 80 percent of the population, black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

But the protest movement has gained impetus in recent months and government has been largely unable to cope with the increased violence associated with the uprising. South African police officers have also claimed that criminals have infiltrated the protest movement, with a few to cashing in on the chaos.

‘‘It is evident that criminality has taken advantage of young people in the universities under the disguise of the #FeesMustFall initiative,” said police chief Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane on Oct. 6, although he provided no substantive proof to back up this view.

The state has also hardened its attitude toward the students, and succeeded in having former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamimi denied bail during a court hearing on Oct. 19 in Johannesburg. He’s charged with malicious damage to property and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after footage emerged of Dlamini allegedly assaulting a police officer.

He’s also accused of ignoring a previous court order obtained by Wits University to restrain students from disrupting normal activity.

The protest has turned more violent with a security guard battling for his life after being beaten by youths in Cape Town, while in Johannesburg the head of the local Fees Must Fall organisation, Shaeera Kalla, was rushed to hospital on Oct. 20 after being shot numerous times with rubber bullets.

Soon after, Kalla thanked supporters on her Facebook page and vowed: “Even as we sit in hospital beds and others languish in prisons, I take strength from students across the country who are continuing the fight. Onwards and Upwards. Towards the immediate realisation of free, quality and decolonized education now.”

In a statement earlier in the week, the Wits SRC warned that “as the days go on, the brutality against students and repression at our universities continues to increase. Since Friday night, the levels of violence at Wits University have increased. Students, regardless of their involvement in the protest action, are being violated in ways we thought were unimaginable in a post-apartheid South Africa.”

The students have called on members of the public to denounce “the apartheid tactics that are being used, to speak out against the violations and brutality” while reiterating that their call for “free, quality, equal and decolonized education” was a legitimate one.

Civil society leaders, including the Council of Churches, have been mediating between the two sides and continue to try to solve what is now being called an impasse.

An inter-ministerial committee on university fees was set up by government but it initially only included the Higher Education Minister and leaders of the security cluster managed by President Jacob Zuma.

Finally, on Thursday, following the upsurge in violence, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was added to the list, which is regarded as a crucial step in order for the state to approach international donors of the bond market in order to find cash to cover student demands.

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Making Policy out of Scientific Bricks, not Straw Mon, 03 Oct 2016 20:04:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services]]>

Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 3 2016 (IPS)

Given the enormity of the challenges confronting humanity, the world’s investment in science, technology and innovation is woefully inadequate.

Zakri Abdul Hamid

Zakri Abdul Hamid

That was a key message I helped deliver Sunday September 18 to Ban Ki-moon in a summary report of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board — a group of two dozen scientists from around the world who met with Mr. Ban for one final meeting in New York before he steps down December 31.

In 2014, we had been asked to take stock of global challenges and provide recommendations related to science, technology and innovation (STI) that would enlighten the work and decisions of the United Nations.

And, at the end of our mission, the SAB’s labelled science an essential component – in many cases the bedrock – of an effective strategy for policy and decision-making that deserves to be valued more highly and used effectively at all levels and at three crucial phases: understanding the problems, formulating policies, and ensuring that those policies are implemented effectively. “Science,” the report says, “makes policy out of brick, not straw.”

Science is indeed a “game changer,” a good example being faster-than-expected improvements in the efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines, raising the hope that the world can reduce its dependency on fossil fuels thanks to scientists and engineers. However, to become the game-changer it could be in dealing with nearly all of the most pressing global challenges, science requires more resources.

In fact, all nations must invest more in science technology and innovation. Sadly, today just 12 countries — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America — dedicate the previously recommended benchmark of 2.5% or more of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development (R&D).

This simply is not enough given the literally vital interests at stake. We have called on all countries, even the poorest, to invest at least 1% of their GDP on research. And the most advanced countries should spend at least 3%.

Reinforcing science education, most especially in developing countries, and improving girls’ access to science courses, must also be part of the effort. To ensure a continuing flow of creative scientists, countries should strongly promote education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for all children beginning at an early age.

Meanwhile, science should be accorded greater weight in political decision-making. To quote the report: “Decisions are often taken in response to short-term economic and political interests, rather than the long-term interests of people and the planet.”

Illustrating the point well: almost 25 years passed between the scientific community sounding its first alarm about climate change and the world’s adoption, in December 2015, of the Paris Agreement on that subject.

Enabling fair access to and the effective worldwide use of data has emerged as a new area in which the UN can play an important role.

The burgeoning flow of scientific data – the data revolution – has great potential for good if its availability, management, use, and growth are handled effectively.

The United Nations and its agencies can facilitate the gathering of all types of data while overseeing both quality and access. In its report, the SAB also calls for international collaborative projects in this area.

One other point worth underlining: Science has value beyond issues that are essentially “scientific.” To quote the report: “When tensions arise among nations, their leaders can respond far better if they understand and agree upon the scientific evidence for the root causes of those tensions.”

Our report was presented to Ban Ki-moon by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who chaired the Scientific Advisory Board.

It is hoped that whoever this year earns the trust of UN member nations and assumes the mantle of Secretary-General will promote the messages of this report internationally and help ensure that they’re accorded the importance they deserve.

Link to report:

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Community Conversations in Ethiopia Prevents Exploitative Migration Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:30:44 +0000 UN Women Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.]]>

Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.

By UN Women
Sep 22 2016 (IPS)

Five years ago, when Meliya Gumi’s two daughters, Gifty* and Chaltu,* aged 16 and 18, migrated to Dubai and Qatar respectively, as domestic workers, everyone thought they were moving towards a better future. As a widowed mother of eight with little resources, living in the village of Haro Kunta in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, Gumi had a difficult time making ends meet.

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Gumi’s daughters made it to their destination countries through illegal brokers, but found themselves trapped in poor working conditions with no benefits or protection. They send some money to Gumi every now and then, which supplements her meagre income.

“My wish is to see my daughters come back home safe and I would never want them to leave again, as long as they have some income to survive on,” says Gumi, who is now one of the 22 active participants of the “Community Conversations” initiative in her village, supported by UN Women and International Labour Organization (ILO). The Community Conversations aim to prevent “irregular migration”—exploitative or illegal migration, including smuggling and trafficking of workers, mainly to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries [1]—by providing information and making the community aware of the risks. The initiative also raises awareness about the ILO Convention 189, namely the Domestic Workers Convention, which went into force globally in 2013 and has 22 ratifications to date. Ethiopia has yet to ratify the Convention and raising awareness about protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers is a critical step forward.

Among the nine administrative regional states in Ethiopia, the Oromia region, where Gumi’s village is located, is most prone to migration and a popular source for illegal brokers. Some 161,490 domestic workers from this region have migrated overseas between 2009 and 2014, of which an estimated 155,860—96 per cent—were women [2].

“One of the key interventions of the Project is to also address safe migration for women,” says UN Women Deputy Representative in Ethiopia, Funmi Balogun. “UN Women recognizes the rights of women to safe migration to seek better opportunities and to improve their livelihoods. To enable this, the project strengthens the capacities of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and its affiliates to provide gender-sensitive information as part of pre-departure training for potential migrant women domestic workers, so that they understand their rights, know how to access support and how to save and protect their earnings. This training and support were designed to assist potential female migrants understand their rights, whether in Ethiopia or in their receiving countries, know where support systems for them are located and strengthen their ability to effectively save and protect their earnings. The institutions were also supported to understand the rights of migrant workers as stated in ILO Convention 189, and to institutionalize processes and systems for reintegrating returnee women migrant workers into their communities.”

Coordinated by trained facilitators, the Community Conversations take place twice a month and engage men and women of different age groups, returnee migrant workers, families of migrant workers and prospective migrants, religious leaders and community influencers. The initiative is active in three regions of Ethiopia—Amhara, Oromia and Tigray—and in the Addis Ababa city administration since 2015, and have been successful in changing attitudes and practices of the communities regarding irregular migration. For example, in the Adaba district alone, within four months of implementation, the conversations led to significant reduction of irregular migration. The Government of Ethiopia is now institutionalizing the practice of Community Conversations at the village level throughout the country.

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha, Adaba district’s Head of the Labour and Social Affairs Office, notes that the initiative is not only helping the villagers in making informed decisions about migration, it is also empowering them to identify the root causes of migration and take their ideas for solutions to policy makers. “In past four months, we have prevented 19 individuals—13 women and 6 men— from taking up irregular migration, and enabled 31 school drop outs who were preparing to migrate illegally, to get back to school in this community,” he added.

As Gumi shares the experiences of her daughters as a cautionary tale for others, she stresses, “If enough resources, including land and employment, is provided to the younger ones, there will be no need for them to migrate.” As a result of the discussions and with the support from the government, some parents have started investing in their children’s education and income generating activities, rather than financing irregular migration.

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

The Community Conversations in Adaba District are part of a joint project, ‘Development of a Tripartite Framework for the Support and Protection of Ethiopian and Somali Women Domestic Migrant Workers to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, Lebanon and Sudan’ by ILO and UN Women and funded by the European Union. Over 140,000 women and 85,000 men have participated in the Community Conversation initiative as part of the project.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals

[1] The GCC states include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
[2] UN Women (2015). Unpublished study on the Nature, Trend and Magnitude of Migration of Female Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) from Ethiopia to GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) States, Lebanon and Sudan. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Jobs Are Crucial for Peace, Stem Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kenya Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:22:30 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee Ambassador Amina Mohamed (@AMB_A_Mohammed) is the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Siddharth Chatterjee (@sidchat1) is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. ]]> Under Vision 2030, the agriculture sector is to be made more innovative, commercially oriented and modern. Photo Credit: WikiMedia

Under Vision 2030, the agriculture sector is to be made more innovative, commercially oriented and modern. Photo Credit: WikiMedia

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

Today 21 September 2016 is the International Day of Peace.

Kenya has the largest number of jobless youth in East Africa, putting a strain on the economy’s growth and also threatening peace and security when hopeless youth gravitate towards violent extremist groups.

Today, youth form two-thirds of Kenya’s population, many of them unemployed, with the ratio of youth unemployment to overall adult unemployment standing at 46 percent, according to the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census. At the same time, there are eight dependents for every ten working Kenyans, meaning that the average worker will very often have little left to save or invest for growth.

While this youth bulge may seem like a disaster in the making, investing in the sectors with highest potential can turn it into a gateway to rapid economic growth and development as we have seen among Asian Tigers like Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia.

By all projections, agriculture presents this opportunity.

While the African Union has recognised agriculture as the driving force of social and economic transformation, the youth often feel that agriculture lacks the glamour, sophistication and allure of the professions they seek.

This is regrettable. Africa not only has the largest percentage of arable land in the globe, and untapped potential for irrigated agro-pastoralism on its vast arid and semi-arid lands, but it also has the highest ratio of young people with the necessary knowledge, innovative skills and physical strength.

Of particular interest are youth in hard to reach areas, such as the arid and semi-arid lands, who are increasingly disgruntled by dim prospects of good jobs and increasingly prone to the temptations of extremist groups. These groups sway them with blandishments and exploit their feelings of exclusion and hopelessness.

In northern Kenya, which has borne the brunt of extremism in the country, traditional livestock farming methods can be targeted for transformation into a quality-driven, export-targeting industry. This calls for investment in education, rural transport and electricity, and smart business and trade policies.

In these areas, formal education should provide young people with basic numeracy and literacy, managerial and business skills, and introduce them to agro-pastoralism. It has been shown that education is key to overcoming development challenges in rural areas, and that improved access to education also improves rural children’s food security.

The power of the internet also offers a great opportunity for attracting youth in far-flung areas to agriculture. Packaging and disseminating information on agri-business to the youth through social media platforms like blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook has proven effective in Kenya. Much more can be achieved with increased access to the internet especially in the remote parts of the country.

There is a great potential pay-off for the continent: according to the World Bank, African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth $1 trillion by 2030. Clearly, this is the low hanging fruit that Kenya should aim to invest in to solve the myriad problems associated with youth unemployment.

Agro-pastoralism has great potential to improve livelihoods for youth and women and reduce food insecurity, create incomes and generally help youth to feel engaged and involved with the national development agenda. Those promoting entrepreneurship must therefore include agribusiness as a priority area of focus, particularly at the county level.

Acting on this, President Uhuru Kenyatta during this year’s African Green Revolution Forum held in Nairobi, announced that the government would invest US$200 million to enable 150,000 young agricultural entrepreneurs to gain access to markets, finance and insurance.

With their dynamism, enthusiasm and innovativeness, the youth are our greatest asset and a force for improving the productivity and growth of all sectors in Kenya.

To reap the dividends, Kenya’s priority focus needs to be on growth in sectors that can absorb them, particularly agriculture.

Policies must also ensure that women and girls, who do most of the actual work in farms across Africa, can achieve their potential. Lack of collateral and financial literacy often make them ineligible for financial assistance while cultural norms deny them land inheritance rights and, at times, restrict their movement and access to markets for their produce.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 aims to turn the country into an industrialized, middle-income country and provide a high quality life in a safe and secure environment to all its citizens by 2030.

It is only when the current large group of youth has been given education and skills demanded by the sectors of greatest potential that we will turn the youth bulge into a force for good and transform Kenya into a peaceful and prosperous nation.

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Argentina at Risk of an Educational System Serving the Market Wed, 21 Sep 2016 03:37:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet “Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

“Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In Argentina, teachers, students and trade unionists are protesting against mass redundancies in education, which they say are part of a process of undermining public education and a move towards a new model based on market needs.

“An educational model is emerging that is no longer focused on social rights for the population as a whole but instead focuses on the creation of a socioeconomic model that follows the logic of the entrepreneur, a logic of the self-made person,” Myriam Feldfeber told IPS.

The expert on education from the University of Buenos Aires took part in a “hug” around the Ministry of Education in the Argentine capital on Aug. 31, held to protest a new wave of 200 layoffs, and setbacks with regard to “the construction of free, universal and egalitarian education.”“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education - business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector.” – Myriam Feldfeber

Most of the people laid off now were temporary or contract workers, and the dismissals came on top of another 1,100 who lost their jobs in education since centre-right Mauricio Macri became president on Dec. 10, 2015.

Since then, 10,662 civil servants have been fired from 23 ministries and government agencies.

“I worked in the Teacher Training Institute for over six years, in an area of policy implementation related to research development in teacher training institutes throughout the country,” Laura Pico told IPS.

“On Friday (Aug. 26) I received a call from an unknown number notifying me that I was being dismissed by the ministry and that on Monday I shouldn’t return to work,” she said.

The mass layoffs are part of a broader process of downsizing and the elimination of several education policies, many of them implemented during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015).

The State Employees’ Association (ATE) complains of an underutilization of the budget for education and the dismantling of areas of teachers’ training, human rights, adult education, statistics, children’s and youth choirs, among others.

We note with great concern that our dismissals – besides being a target of protests by our union – undermine educational policies and reflect a withdrawal of the state from the territories,” ATE delegate Lautaro Pedot told IPS.

Fernanda Saforcada, an expert on education and the academic director of the Buenos Aires-based Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), lamented the dismissals, which apart from being a human and social problem, “entail the loss of cumulative experience.”

“We are talking about technical teams that carried out an activity, have ties at work, networks that have been built up. All this represents a major loss. Expertise, history, knowledge and relations are lost,” she said.

This dismantling is more apparent in areas like the National Institute of Teachers’ Training and the National Institute of Technological Education, as well as in programmes on socio-educational matters, digital inclusion, human rights, comprehensive sex education, arts education, and education for young people and adults.

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Other programmes that were reduced or eliminated include university scholarships, promotion of gender equality, and provision of computers to students with special needs or as an incentive to finish high school.

“I think that now the intention is to aim for an education system opposed to one of inclusion and of ensuring the right to education,” said Pico.

According to Feldfeber, who is also the coordinator of Red Estrado (Latin American Network of Studies on the Work of Teachers) and of CLACSO research groups, “what basically disappears is the idea of education as a right, on the public policy horizon.”

As an example of the strategy of inclusion that was being implemented, she mentioned the creation of 14 national universities, “especially in places where segments of the population traditionally excluded from the system are starting to have access to education,” which are now being called into question.

“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education – business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector,” Feldfeber stressed.

“One of the highest-ranking positions is held by a former Philip Morris CEO (Ezequiel Newbery, now assistant secretary for socio-educational programmes) who says he isn’t familiar with education, doesn’t understand what a socio-educational policy is, and that he comes to the ministry to bring order,” she told IPS.

“’Bringing order’ means what we are witnessing now: firing workers and dismantling teams,” she said.

The government argues that it is “modernising” the public administration and restructuring the ministries.

Education Minister Esteban Bulrich advocates an “educational revolution”, which he defines as “giving any Argentine, no matter where he was born, the possibility of having the same quality education.”

According to Bulrich, “inclusion by itself, without quality, is no good, it only goes halfway, inclusion by itself is a fraud, and to improve quality you have to begin with the real agents of change: teachers.”

“The idea is to provide (teachers) with more tools, in order for them to have a modern, 21st century perspective of the skills and abilities that the children in our educational system need to become autonomous beings,” he said in a ceremony in June.

Fernanda Saforcada said the private sector is being strengthened “in the context of a process of transforming the role of the state.”

“The state is taking on a new role in search of alliances with NGOs (non-governmental organisations), foundations and business sectors,” she said.

“Many of these NGOs are connected to business sectors, which shows how the public sphere has been undermined, giving a new content to educational management,” she told IPS.

“And when we refer to the private sector, beyond the public-private dichotomy, we’re talking about the interests of some sectors prevailing over the common good.”

ATE complained about an attempt to “privatise” programmes such as Connect Equality, aimed at promoting digital inclusion, inherited from the previous government, which this year “experienced the influx of international companies such as Microsoft and Google.”

The intention, ATE said, is to replace locally-produced open-source software, such as Huayra, with these commercial operational programmes in the laptops distributed free to students.

The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2000-2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) highlighted progress made in the Argentine educational system in the last decade, following the goals established in the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000.

The report pointed out that public expenditure on education in this South American country was among the highest in Latin America, representing 6.26 per cent of GDP.

Moreover, 99.1 percent of Argentine children are in primary school, which makes it the country with the highest coverage in the region, along with Uruguay.

With regard to secondary school, the net enrolment ratio is one of the highest in Latin America: 89.06 per cent in 2012, although drop-out rates remain a cause for concern.

Argentina, with a population of 43 million, has also reduced the illiteracy rates from 2.6 to 1.9 percent of people older than 15.

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Muslims in Europe: Can There Be Social Harmony ? Mon, 19 Sep 2016 18:46:15 +0000 Rose Delaney2 The Geneva Centre held a panel discussion on the theme “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony” today, 19 September.

The Geneva Centre held a panel discussion on the theme “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony” today, 19 September.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Although 20 million Muslims reside in Western Europe, establishing social harmony between the Muslim community and their European counterparts has proved exceedingly challenging.Much to the dismay of international humanitarian agencies and anti-racism activists,the language of exclusion and prejudice persists.

Since the turn of the century, Muslims, the world over, have been subjected to harsh discrimination and harassment. This was triggered by the 2001 terror attacks which rapidly spread anti-Islamic sentiments across the US.The fear surrounding Muslims and the “brute terror” they are widely thought to inflict, has now resulted in the widespread diffusion of religious racism across Europe.

According to Dr.Zidane Meriboute, author of the book “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”, prior to the extremist-led terror attacks, there was a relative lack of concern for minority groups in Europe. Now, the growth in animosity directed at the Muslim community is increasing at a robust rate.

The modern phenomenon of Islamophobia can be related to leading literary critic, Edward Said’s, theory of “orientalism” wherein Arabs and other Muslims were traditionally labeled as the “other.” In other words, what Dr.Zidane describes as being “the scapegoat for Western society’s ills”. This also draws back to the 19th-century theorist, Arthur de Gobineau’s, description of an age-old “reciprocal repulsion” between Muslims and Europeans.Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination.

Nowadays, we can see these “archaic” racist doctrines emerge and re-establish themselves in a modern context ,through sustained racism against Arabs and Muslims which may be characterized as Dr.Zidane explains, none other than “Contemporary European Phobic Discourse”.

In France, the 20th-century writings of political theorist Charles Maurras are still prevalent today. Maurras was instrumental in setting up the movement “Action Française”, whose primary objective was the restoration of the French nation through the presence of a strong monarchy powered by Catholicism.

Maurras xenophobic rhetoric targeted Jews and Mediterranean foreigners amongst a host of other minorities. His writings have acted as a major “intellectual” influence of contemporary Far-right movements including the French “National Front.”

The rise of Far-right movements in France is particularly perilous to the Muslim community, whose numbers now exceed 4 million. Muslims become the targets of these political movements, subjected to discrimination, assumed to be affiliated with extremist groups due to media manipulation and fear-mongering.

The anti-Islamic prejudice, accentuated by a series of terror attacks, was brought to light this August when the French State Council attempted to ban the wearing of the “burkini”. Although the ban has been suspended, Dr.Zidane believes that the mindset that created an environment conducive to such an extreme measure indicates a deep societal divide between Muslims and Westerners.

According to Dr.Zidane’s study on “Muslims in Europe”, in Italy, the Muslim population now surpasses 1.5 million. In spite of this vast number and a wider acceptance of secularism , both the Italian state and society remain committed to Catholicism and thus far, a move towards the recognition of Islam has not been made. In addition, there is a range of far-right political parties which are deeply opposed to Islam.

In both France and Italy, racism is commonplace. Discriminatory acts against Muslims are encouraged by the phobic discourse of Far-right parties. In France, for example, 756 anti-Muslim aggressions were enumerated in 2014. There has also been an increase in anti-Muslim violence perpetrated by police in both countries.

Even in Germany, which Dr.Zidane describes as a “model of tolerance”, there are now stirrings of extreme right-wing movements which run counter to the mainstream. The UK, home to some 3 million Muslims, remains the European country where Muslims are best protected by the law and the activities of the police. In spite of this, there has been a rise in Islamophobia triggered by right-wing movements such as the British National Party.

Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination. Today, 19 of September, The Geneva Centre for Human Rights and Global Dialogue Advancement and Global Dialogue hosted the conference “Muslims in Europe: the road to social harmony” which aims to establish the illegality of racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance against Muslims. The Geneva Centre advocates for a prohibition on the incitement of religious hatred and violence and the recognition that Islamophobia should specifically be the object of sanctions under international law.

In the opening of today’s “Muslims in Europe” conference , Chairman of the Geneva Centre, Dr. Hanif Al Qassim, remarked that the meeting was called as an expression of solidarity with all victims of blind terrorism which targets Muslims and Westerners alike.

Dr. Al Qassim emphasised that all world religions encourage peace and harmony, but distorting their message in order to use them as instruments of conflict is a sham. Muslim communities are today being caught between a hammer of the imminent danger of terrorist groups and the anvil of growing Islamophobia and the emergence of xenophobic populism in some European countries.

He concluded by stating that the meeting should act as an opportunity to discuss the path towards social harmony in Europe for Muslims, whilst keeping with the Geneva Centre’s key objective of fostering interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

According to the former head of a United Nations agency, Algerian diplomat and Secretary General of the Geneva Centre, Idriss Jazairy, “social harmony begins at school.”Jazairy emphasised that teaching our children about the benefits of social harmony lies at the heart of the European Enlightenment.

The French philosopher Voltaire once said that while you may not necessarily agree with what someone has to say, you must “fight to the death” for them to have the right to say it. Jazairy encourages us to apply Voltaire’s philosophy in the context of rising Islamophobia.

In this way, future generations will practice the belief that, in spite of religious or ethnic differences, everyone has the right to live in a globalised world free from the setbacks of racism and prejudice.

Source: Dr.Zidane Meriboute, “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”. The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue & Z.Meriboute, 2015.

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Global Citizenship Education Aims to Break Down Artificial Barriers Wed, 14 Sep 2016 14:22:01 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite 0 Smart Technologies Key to Youth Involvement in Agriculture Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:50:48 +0000 Friday Phiri A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

By Friday Phiri
BONN, Germany, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

She is only 24 and already running her father’s farm with 110 milking cows. Cornelia Flatten sees herself as a farmer for the rest of her life.

“It’s my passion,” says the young German. “It is not just about the money but a way of life. My dream is to grow this farm and transform it to improve efficiency by acquiring at least two milking robots.”

A graduate with a degree in dairy farming, Cornelia believes agriculture is an important profession to humanity, because “everyone needs something to eat, drink, and this requires every one of us to do something to make it a reality.”

Simply put, this is a clarion call for increased food production in a world looking for answers to the global food problem where millions of people go hungry. And with the world population set to increase to over nine billion by 2050, production is expected to increase by at least 60 percent to meet the global food requirements—and must do so sustainably.

While it is unanimously agreed that sustainability is about economic viability, socially just and environmentally friendly principles, it is also about the next generation taking over. But according to statistics by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), agriculture has an image problem amongst youth, with most of them viewing it as older people’s profession.

For example, YPARD says half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older while in South Africa, the average age of farmers is around 62 years old.

This is a looming problem, because according to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), over 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, for many regions of the world, gross domestic product (GDP) and agriculture are closely aligned and young farmers make considerable contributions to the GDP from this sector. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of rural youth who work in agriculture are believed to contribute one-quarter to one-third of Africa’s GDP.

Apart from increasing productivity, leaders are tasked to find ways of enticing young people into agriculture, especially now that the world’s buzzword is sustainability.

“It’s time to start imagining what we could say to young farmers because their concern is to have a future in the next ten years. The future is smart agriculture, from manual agriculture, it’s about producing competitively by not only looking at your own farm but the larger environment—both at production and markets,” said Ignace Coussement, Managing Director of Agricord, an International Alliance of Agri-Agencies based in Belgium.

Speaking during the recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress discussion on sustainable solutions for global agriculture in Bonn, Germany, Coussement emphasised the importance of communication to achieve this transformation.

“Global transformation is required and I believe communication of agricultural information would be key to this transformation to help farmers transform their attitude, and secondly push for policy changes especially at government level,” he said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), creating new opportunities and incentives for youth to engage in both farm and non-farm rural activities in their own communities and countries is just but one of the important steps to be taken, and promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Justice Tambo, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonn (ZEF), thinks innovation is key to transforming youth involvement and help the world tackle the food challenge.

With climate change in mind, Tambo believes innovation would help in “creating a balance between production and emission of Green House Gases from Agriculture (GHGs) and avoid the path taken by the ‘Green Revolution’ which was not so green.”

It is for this reason that sustainability is also linked to good governance for there has to be political will to tackle such issues. According to Robert Kloos, Under Secretary of State of the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, “It is true that people are leaving their countries due to climate change but it is not the only problem; it is also about hunger…these people are starving. They live in rural underdeveloped areas of their countries.”

“Good governance is a precondition to achieving sustainability,” he adds, saying his government is working closely with countries in regions still struggling with hunger to support sustainable production of food.

Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, believes leadership has become a key ingredient more than ever to deal with the global food challenge.

“Business, policy and technology should interact to provide solutions to the global food challenge of feeding the growing population while at the same time keeping the world safe from a possible climate catastrophe,” said Alltech Vice President, Patrick Charlton.

Addressing the IFAJ 2016 Master class and Young Leaders programme, Charlton added that “If the world is to feed an increased population with the same available land requires not only improved technology, but serious leadership to link policy, business and technology.”

But for Bernd Flatten, father to the 24-year-old Cornelia, his daughter’s choice could be more about up-bringing. “I did not pressure her into this decision. I just introduced her to our family’s way of life—farming. And due to age I asked whether I could sell the farm as is tradition here in Germany, but she said no and took over the cow milking business. She has since become an ambassador for the milk company which we supply to,” said the calm Flatten, who is more of spectator nowadays on his 130-hectare farm.

It is a model farm engaged in production of corn for animal feed, while manure is used in biogas production, a key element of the country’s renewable energy revolution. With the services of on-farm crop management analysis offered by Dupont Pioneer, the farm practices crop rationing for a balanced biodiversity.

But when all is said and done, the Flattens do not only owe their farm’s viability to their daughter’s brave decision to embrace rural life, but also her desire to mechanise the farm with smart equipment and technology for efficiency—an overarching theme identified on how to entice youths into agriculture.

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Youth Key to the Success of the SDGs in Kenya Fri, 12 Aug 2016 13:52:23 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee and Werner Schultink Siddharth Chatterjee (@sidchat1) is the United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i for Kenya and the UNFPA Representative. Werner Schultink (@janwerners) is the UNICEF Representative to Kenya.]]> Elected national Children’s Government of Kenya for 2016. Photo credit: UNICEF Kenya\2016\Gakuo.

Elected national Children’s Government of Kenya for 2016. Photo credit: UNICEF Kenya\2016\Gakuo.

By Siddharth Chatterjee and Werner Schultink
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 12 2016 (IPS)

Consider this: in 1956 Sweden and Kenya’s population was roughly at 7 million. Today Sweden has about 9.8 million, while there are about 44 million Kenyans.

Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. It is estimated that there will be 85 million people in Kenya by 2050, with three quarters of these being below 35 years. While Kenya’s median age is 19, Sweden’s is 42.

Kenya’s mushrooming population presents an extraordinary opportunity and several challenges. The opportunity lies in the potential for a so-called demographic dividend of sustained rapid economic growth in the coming decades. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 percent by year 2050, potentially bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment. (NCPD Policy Brief: Demographic dividend opportunities for Kenya, July 2014.)

But Kenya’s demographic dividend is not guaranteed by its changing demographics alone. Key actions are required if children of today – who will be entering the labor force a decade’s time – are skilled, dynamic and entrepreneurial.

Unemployment among Kenya’s youth is now estimated to stand at 17.3 per cent compared to six per cent for both Uganda and Tanzania. A World Bank report says mass unemployment continues to deny Kenya the opportunity to put its growing labour force to productive use, thereby “denying the economy the demographic dividend from majority young population”.

Investment in children is Kenya’s best hope to set the right pre-conditions for this potentially transformative demographic dividend. Properly harnessed, the potential of the youth could propel the country forward as a dynamic and productive engine of growth in all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out last September.

At the beginning of this year, UN member states started the long journey to implement the SDGs and they all have 169 targets to achieve by end of December 2030. Some countries have already made good progress on the localization and mainstreaming of the SDGs in their development plans and budgeting processes. In fact, 22 of the 193 Member States that endorsed the SDGs voluntarily reported on their progress at the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) held last month in New York.

The Government Kenya played a very important role in the design of the global development agenda. About 20,000 Kenyans participated in the MyWorld Survey, in which they voted on the kind of world they wanted after the MDGs. Kenya was also one of many countries that commissioned consultations at national, regional and community levels to discuss the Post-2015 development agenda, and these culminated into a position paper that was presented for inclusion into the post-2015 development agenda.

The global development agenda dovetails with Kenya’s Vision 2030 in terms of timeline and key strategic focus and seeks as well to make Kenya globally competitive and prosperous for all citizens. Kenya Vision 2030 does capture the three dimensions of sustainable development including economic, social and environment. This makes it much easier to align the national development plan of Kenya to the SDGs.

However, as was evident with the millennium development goals (MDGs), the work of translating SDGs into results requires strategic actions. It requires that countries exploit fully the resources within in order to make the giant leaps needed to meet the targets.

Experts agree that for Kenya and the rest of Africa, these giant leaps will come through the youthful human resource, but only when the working age population becomes larger than people of non-working age.

In Kenya, there are about eight dependents for every working person, meaning that the state faces very high costs associated with economically unproductive populations. It means that Kenya must invest to create jobs, and invest in the young people with the skills to fill those jobs.

A society that wants to diversify its economy, achieve industrialization and socio-economic transformation and the SDGs must invest heavily in a strong, dynamic and empowered youth and women to drive this agenda. Kenya’s children will need quality learning that leads to educational attainment that is relevant to their lives, and gives them with the skills needed for the country’s changing labor market. Protection from ill health, malnutrition, violence, conflict, abuse and exploitation are also crucial for children – and their nation – to prosper.

In Kenya, the youth constitute an important segment of the country’s population, accounting for 35.4% of the total population and 66.7% of the adult population in 2009. The proportion of the youth category is expected to remain relatively high at 35.4% of the population in 2015, 34.8% in 2020, 34.6% in 2025 and 35.2% by 2030. This means that at least one in every three Kenyans will continue to be young.

Therefore, if Kenya and all other developing countries must successfully implement the SDGs, it is very important that young people, both boys and girls, no longer remain passive beneficiaries of development but must become equal and effective partners for development. This means that the problem of youth must be addressed as a policy and development issue, which must be mainstreamed in all planning and budgeting processes.

In addition, strong political commitment and leadership must be demonstrated at both national and local levels to address the problems of youth in Kenya. High growth rates must be translated into skills and jobs for the increasing young population and workforce in Kenya. Such actions will indeed help to keep young people away from being targets of youth radicalization and violent extremism.

Investing in youth is not only an investment in the future but also fundamental for the successful implementation of the SDGs.

Today 12 August 2016 is International Youth Day. Let’s commit to investing in youth. It is not only an investment in the future but also fundamental for the successful implementation of the SDGs.

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Youth Employment: Turning Workplace Partnerships into Opportunity Fri, 12 Aug 2016 09:53:45 +0000 Sofia Garcia Sofía García García is the SOS Children’s Villages Representative to the United Nations in New York.]]> Sofía García García is the SOS Children’s Villages Representative to the United Nations in New York.]]> 0 The UN Steps up Efforts to End Child Marriage Wed, 10 Aug 2016 13:02:17 +0000 Babatunde Osotimehin Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations]]>

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations

By Babatunde Osotimehin
NEW YORK, Aug 10 2016 (IPS)

Barely 17 years old and from the Gajapati district in Odisha, India, Susmita has never gone to school. She rears the few animals her family owns, and this is her primary duty besides attending to household chores.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

“I have to work in the field, and take the cows out to graze to support my family. When I see other girls from the village going to school, I wish I could experience school for at least a day,” she said when interviewed, “Is anyone out there even thinking of improving our lives?”

It’s hard not to be moved by Susmita’s earnest and important question. This year, more than 60 million 10 year-old girls worldwide will have started their journey through adolescence. Sadly, millions of them will be forced into adult responsibilities.

Puberty brings a whole host of risks to girls’ lives and their bodies, including child marriage and all its consequences. In fact, each day, more than 47,000 girls are married before they turn 18 – a third of them before they turn 15.

Thousands of girls are led away from school and the prospects of decent employment every day. They are often forced to lead a life of domestic servitude and isolation from their family and friends.

In many cases, they are also often subjected to unintended and unsafe pregnancies. The complications from these early pregnancies are among the leading causes of death for adolescent girls aged 15 to 19. In short, they are forced into this life, robbing them of their right to independence, to work and in turn, drive development.

In Odisha, India, where more than one in three girls will be married before 18, it takes serious commitment and investment to ensure that adolescent girls are not condemned to such a life.

Globally, there are significant hurdles to overcome, and we must address the systematic exclusion faced by girls from before birth via gender-biased sex selection, through adolescence with lower rates of transition to secondary school, denial of their sexual and reproductive health and rights (the right to access contraception without parental or spousal consent or the right to quality maternal health care or the recognition of marital rape as a crime, etc.), and loopholes between customary and statutory laws that permit child marriage.

At UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, we estimate that child marriage is a reality faced by 17.4 million girls each year. But if we speak up and act, there is a possibility for millions of girls to lead a different life, one of their own choosing.

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which includes a target on eliminating child marriage, presents us with an historic opportunity to help girls rewrite their futures.

This March, UNFPA and UNICEF launched the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, which –working together with many girls themselves – will bring us that much closer to delivering on the world’s commitment to ending this practice.

In five years, the programme will support more than 2.5 million adolescent girls at risk of, and affected by child marriage, helping them to express and exercise their choices.

It will empower girls in South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal), the Middle East (Yemen), West and Central Africa (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Niger), Eastern and Southern Africa (Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia) with protective health, social and economic independence, and ensure that they can develop their abilities, so as to realize their full potential.

It will also contribute to a demographic dividend, which is the economic growth you can achieve by empowering, educating and employing a country’s youth. Recognizing that girls’ households and communities are of the utmost importance, we will work with them to ensure they invest in their daughters.

As the United Nations, we continue to partner with national governments to improve health, education, and other systems, and to ensure the law protects and promotes girls’ rights, including their sexual and reproductive health.

With the support of UNFPA and countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Canada, Susmita’s own government, and local partners, she now has the opportunity to participate in a programme designed to help her and her family delay marriage.

Giving her knowledge about her health and rights, the confidence to express herself, a mentor, friends, and the opportunity to enroll in an appropriate school. With this support she can set her life on a different path. We must deliver better for more girls like Susmita, despite the many needs, challenges and crises facing us today, girls’ and women’s rights must remain a priority.

We now know about the kinds of investments needed to uphold these rights. Indeed, this is the foundation for a safer, more equitable and just world, not only for girls, but for all.

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Education: An Elusive Dream for Cameroon’s Indigenous Peoples Tue, 09 Aug 2016 13:56:22 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom 0 Indigenous Communities Risk Lives in Struggle for Self-determination in Education Mon, 08 Aug 2016 06:31:59 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite 0 Right to Education Still Elusive for Native People in Latin America Thu, 04 Aug 2016 23:40:34 +0000 Orlando Milesi Indigenous schoolchildren standing in front of the Miskhamayu school in an isolated part of Bolivia’s Andes highlands. Many students walk 12 km or more every day, along steep roads and trails from their remote villages, to get to school. Credit: Marisabel Bellido/IPS

Indigenous schoolchildren standing in front of the Miskhamayu school in an isolated part of Bolivia’s Andes highlands. Many students walk 12 km or more every day, along steep roads and trails from their remote villages, to get to school. Credit: Marisabel Bellido/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Education, the most powerful instrument in the struggle against exclusion and discrimination, is still elusive for indigenous people in Latin America who remain the most disadvantaged segment of the population despite their wide presence in the region.

Recognition of the growing need to provide greater access to quality education for indigenous people, which respects cultural differences and local native traditions, is still far from translating into real, long-term public policies, the mayor of the Chilean municipality of Tirúa, Adolfo Millabur, told IPS.

In Chile, for example, “everyone expresses a willingness, but this isn’t put into practice,” said Millabur, whose municipality, 685 km south of Santiago, is located in the region of La Araucanía, home to nearly half of the Mapuche population, the country’s largest indigenous community.

Millabur grew up in the town of El Malo, 35 km from Tirúa. He and his eight siblings would get up every weekday at 5:00 AM and walk 30 km to school, in the town of Antiquina. After a couple of hours in class, they would all set out on the long trek back home.

He doesn’t remember how he learned to read and says he had no idea how to sign a check when he became Chile’s first Mapuche mayor in 1996, at the age of 28.

The right to education is the theme of this year’s Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated Aug. 9.

Access to culturally appropriate education that recognises diversity and indigenous values and specific needs, including the necessity for native people to learn their mother tongue, is considered key to combating their vulnerability and exclusion.

According to figures from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 8.3 percent of the population of Latin America – 45 million of a total of 605 million people – is indigenous.

Of Bolivia’s population of 10.6 million people, 62 percent identify themselves as belonging to an indigenous community, making it the Latin American country with the largest proportion of native people, followed by Guatemala, where 41 percent of the population of 16 million identify themselves as indigenous.

Next in line is Peru, where 24 percent of the population is indigenous, and Mexico, where the proportion is 15 percent.

These are the official statistics, based on the way people self-identify in the census.

According to the 2014 study “Indigenous Peoples of Latin America”, published in Spanish by ECLAC, there are 826 distinct native groups in the region.

Two Juruna children at the school in the indigenous villaje of Paquiçamba, on the banks of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two Juruna children at the school in the indigenous villaje of Paquiçamba, on the banks of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

At one extreme is Brazil, with indigenous people making up just 0.5 percent (900,000 people) of the population of 200 million, divided in 305 different groups, followed by Colombia (102 groups), Peru (85) and Mexico (78). At the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama (nine indigenous peoples each), El Salvador (three) and Uruguay (two).

The Quechua, Nahua, Aymara, Maya Yucateco, Maya K’iche’ and Mapuche are the largest native groups in the region, according to the study.

Despite their large presence and strong influence in the region, the native peoples of Latin America still represent one of the most disadvantaged population groups, the ECLAC report says.

Indigenous people have not only suffered the systematic loss of their territory, with severe consequences for their well-being and way of life, but they are also the population group facing the highest poverty levels and the most marked inequality.

In this scenario, the right to education is essential to the full enjoyment of human and collective rights, and is a powerful tool in the battle to eradicate exclusion and discrimination.

“Indigenous peoples are among the big absentees from educational policies and curriculums,” said Loreto Jara, a researcher on educational policy with the Chile NGO Educación 2020.

“They are absent as historical subjects in the curriculums themselves, but also as social actors in the participatory processes involved in designing the curriculums,” she told IPS.

While progress has been made in recent years with regard to education for Latin America’s indigenous peoples, it is a mistake to see all of the processes as similar ”just because it is easier to work in a scenario of similarity than to address diversity,” she said.

She said education for any native group “has a different dynamic than that of our school system,” which means it is necessary to incorporate, for example, intercultural teachers in schools.

Jara cited the experience of Colombia, where there are “many different ethnic groups, which vary greatly among themselves, smaller groups, which speak specific dialects and are involved in a struggle to recuperate their territory and keep their cultures alive.”

She said that in Colombia, “indigenous cultures are gaining more recognition and understanding in rural areas…and rural schools are doing a great deal to revitalise indigenous languages.”

These efforts, also aimed at stemming the migration of young people from rural areas to large cities, are seen in some parts of Mexico as well, she added.

In the Chilean region of La Araucanía, there are 845 schools that teach Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche people, up to fourth grade of primary school.

Of these, 300 receive direct support from the Education Ministry and the rest rely on private funding, said María Díaz Coliñir, supervisor of the government’s Bilingual Intercultural Education programme.

Under Chilean law, all schools with more than 20 percent indigenous students must have bilingual intercultural education programmes that teach Mapudungun, Quechua, Aymara or Rapa Nui, depending on the region.

Although the programme does not guarantee that children learn their native languages, it does bolster their sense of identity. “A great deal of progress has been made in helping Mapuche children have a stronger sense of who they are, and strengthening their self-esteem,” Díaz Coliñir told IPS.

Jara concurred that efforts like these would have positive results for all indigenous groups in the region. “The assertion of their rights is based on language, because it represents their world view. Beneath indigenous languages lies the cultural wealth of each native group,” she said.

She said addressing the need to bring greater visibility to native peoples as social actors, teaching their history and their link to the broader history of this country, is one of the pending tasks in the area of education.

“Today people are demanding to participate in decision-making in many areas, and indigenous people are among the social actors who must be given the most attention,” Díaz Coliñir said.

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Climate-Smart Agriculture for Drought-Stricken Madagascar Thu, 04 Aug 2016 22:55:45 +0000 Miriam Gathigah As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
AMBOASARY, Madagascar, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Mirantsoa Faniry Rakotomalala is different from most farmers in the Greater South of Madagascar, who are devastated after losing an estimated 80 percent of their crops during the recent May/June harvesting season to the ongoing drought here, said to be the most severe in 35 years.

She lives in Tsarampioke village in Berenty, Amboasary district in the Anosy region, which is one of the three most affected regions, the other two being Androy and Atsimo Andrefana.FAO estimates that a quarter of the population - five million people - live in high risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

“Most farms are dry, but ours has remained green and alive because we dug boreholes which are providing us with water to irrigate,” she told IPS.

Timely interventions have changed her story from that of despair to expectation as she continues harvesting a variety of crops that she is currently growing at her father’s farms.

Some of her sweet potatoes are already on the market.

Rakotomalala was approached by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as one of the most vulnerable people in highly affected districts in the South where at least 80 percent of the villagers are farmers. They were then taken through training and encouraged to diversify their crops since most farmers here tend to favour maize.

“We are 16 in my group, all of us relatives because we all jointly own the land. It is a big land, more than two acres,” she told IPS.

Although their form of irrigation is not sophisticated and involves drip irrigation using containers that hold five to 10 liters of water, it works – and her carrots, onions and cornflowers are flourishing.

“We were focusing on the challenges that have made it difficult for the farmers to withstand the ongoing drought and through simple but effective strategies, the farmers will have enough to eat and sell,” says Patrice Talla, the FAO representative for the four Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius.

Experts such as Philippison Lee, an agronomist monitor working in Androy and Anosy regions, told IPS that the South faces three main challenges – “drought, insecurity as livestock raids grow increasingly common, and locusts.”

FAO estimates that a quarter of the population – five million people – live in high-risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

As an agronomist, Lee studies the numerous ways plants can be cultivated, genetically altered, and utilized even in the face of drastic and devastating weather patterns.

Talla explains that the end goal is for farmers to embrace climate-smart agriculture by diversifying their crops, planting more drought-resistant crops, including cassava and sweet potatoes, and looking for alternative livelihoods such as fishing.

“Madagascar is an island but Malagasy people do not have a fish-eating culture. We are working with other humanitarian agencies who are training villagers on fishing methods as well as supplying them with fishing equipment,” Talla told IPS.

“Madagascar is facing great calamity and in order to boost the agricultural sector, farming must be approached as a broader development agenda,” he added.

He said that the national budgetary allocation – which is less than five percent, way below the recommended 15 percent – needs to be reviewed. The South of Madagascar isalso  characterized by poor infrastructure and market accessibility remains a problem.

According to Talla, the inability of framers to adapt to the changing weather patterns is more of a development issue “because there is a lack of a national vision to drive the agriculture agenda in the South.”

Lee says that farmers lack cooperative structures, “and this denies the farmers bargaining power and they are unable to access credit or subsidies inputs. This has largely been left to humanitarian agencies and it is not sustainable.”

Though FAO is currently working with farmers to form cooperatives and there are pockets of them in various districts in the South including Rakotomalala and her relatives, he says that distance remains an issue.

“You would have to cover so many kilometers before you can encounter a village. Most of the population is scattered across the vast lands and when you find a group, it is often relatives,” he says.

Lee noted that farmers across Africa have grown through cooperatives and this is an issue that needs to be embraced by Malagasy farmers.

Talla says that some strides are being made in the right direction since FAO is working with the government to draft the County Programming Framework which is a five-year programme from 2014 to 2019.

The framework focuses on three components, which are to intensify, diversify and to make the agricultural sector more resilient.

“Only 10 percent of the agricultural potential in the South is being exploited so the target is to diversify by bringing in more crops because most people in the North eat rice and those in the South eat maize,” Talla explained.

The framework will also push for good governance of natural resources through practical laws and policies since most of the existing ones have been overtaken by events.

Talla says that the third and overriding component is resilience, which focuses on building the capacity of communities – not just to climate change but other natural hazards such as the cyclone season common in the South.

“FAO is currently working with the government in formulating a resilience strategy but we are also reaching out to other stakeholders,” he says.

Since irrigation-fed agriculture is almost non-existent and maize requires a lot of water to grow, various stakeholders continue to call for the building of wells to meet the water deficit, although others have dismissed the exercise as expensive and unfeasible.

“We require 25,000 dollars to build one well and chances of finding water are often 50 percent because one in every two wells are not useful,” says Lee.

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Jihadism: The Radicalisation of Youth Tue, 02 Aug 2016 15:03:13 +0000 Rose Delaney2 In light of ongoing terror attacks and the relentless recruitment of young fighters, "Jihadism" must be viewed as a critical global problem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

In light of ongoing terror attacks and the relentless recruitment of young fighters, "Jihadism" must be viewed as a critical global problem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 2 2016 (IPS)

To 13-year-old Gauher Aftab, the path to eternal bliss never seemed more enticing than in the pivotal moment a pious man with a flowing beard entered his 9th-grade Islamic studies classroom.

For a young influential student like Gauher, the professor’s pristine shalwar kameez (a traditional outfit originating in South Asia) , coupled with his regal demeanor, and further accentuated by exhilarating recounts of battle as a Mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan, is exactly what set the mark for Gauher’s future aspirations.

According to the influential professor, the boys in Gauher’s class all had one fundamental duty, that being; to fight all enemies of Islam. His energetic lectures focused more on the condemnation of non-Muslim religious denominations than on the academic syllabus.

Alarmingly, during these “academic” sermons, the professors call for violence was deafening. He legitimised it in the name of honour, otherwise known as “Jihad” which is defined as being a religious struggle against yourself or in society.

The message was clear, if Gauher and his companions did not comply with this age-old “code of violence” they would be deemed as unworthy of “Jihadism”.

Gauher recalls his professor stating that those who did not believe in forceful violence against “heretics” were no better than men who “wear mehendi on their feet and bangles on their wrists”.

“Mehendi” the art of applying temporary henna tattoos is believed to have been used by the prophet Muhammad to dye his beard, therefore, henna cannot be used on feet as a mark of respect to him.

Traditionally, “mehendi” is practiced in the Middle East and in South and South Asia by women for cosmetic purposes.

Given this background, these calculated verbal attacks on a young boys masculinity are what first ignites the fire to prove their manliness and fight in the name of religious “honour”.

Gauher claims that as a young boy the very thought of “Jihadism” was self-actualizing and granted him with a feeling of self-fulfilment.

What started off first as meagre donations to the Jihadi movement, “10 Rupees for Allah” (the equivalent to 15 US cents) that the professor claimed could purchase a bullet that would rip through an infidels chest, subsequently led to a fixation with the idea of martyrdom.

Due to the professor’s subtle forms of indoctrination, Gauher yearned for the opportunity to fight and wage war on the Islamic “enemy”.
Gauher’s story represents one of thousands of cases of young men being led astray by religious leaders.

Thankfully, divine intervention played its part and Gauher still lives to tell the tale of his dip into the world of “Jihadism”.

Now, he advocates for the widespread protection of youth against these indoctrinating “religious” forces.

Gauher lectures on extremism and the process of radicalization. In this sense, his life-changing experience can be viewed as a blessing in disguise. He has used it to inform others and to contribute to the reversal of the growing trend of “Jihadism”.

The key message he strives to disseminate is that the process of radicalization can happen to anyone and at any given moment.
As someone who led a privileged lifestyle, Gauher is fully aware that extremism knows no bounds.

Whether one is underprivileged and illiterate or affluent and worldly, religious Jihadi recruiters know where to strike a chord, leave you unnerved, and willing to succumb to their “pious” demands.

Ironically, the core meaning of “Jihad” has been distorted in recent years, particularly post 9/11 and the consequential war on terror. In reality, The Arabic word “jihad” is often translated as “holy war,” however, in purely linguistic terms, the word ” jihad” actually means struggling or striving.

In a religious sense, as described by the Quran “jihad” has many meanings. It can refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a devout believer, as well as a strong strive to inform people about the faith of Islam.

As a direct consequence of ongoing terror attacks, sensationalism, and anti-Islamic fear-mongering, the term “Jihad” has exploded across global media outlets.

For this reason, misunderstandings of what “Jihad” actually signifies have arisen. It has become associated with violence, brutality, and martyrdom.

It’s fundamental to note that military action only represents one form of “Jihad” which in itself is very rare. Religious extremists have corrupted the meaning of the term “Jihad”. Unfortunately, the media has fed off their distortion of religion.

Indeed, corruption and misinterpretation seem to be at the heart of the extremist movement. In a recent Ted Talk in Lahore, Pakistan, Gauher Aftab analysed the process of radicalization and how extremists target those most vulnerable and susceptible to indoctrination, in other words, children.

Gauher emphasises the fact that in many cases, children are open to radicalization even before they are approached by extremists. In a field study conducted in rural villages in Pakistan by the Paasban Project, 50% of both children and adults believed that violence was a justified means of enforcing one’s opinion. An additional 66% agreed that religious leaders could not lie or do harm.

In this sense, this radical belief system is ingrained into the collective psyche from a young age and the extremist’s work is already partly done.

Undoubtedly, the rise of “Jihadism” must not be seen as a uniquely “Islamic” problem. Non-Muslims are both equally accountable and responsible for the critical global crisis. In fact, 1 in 6 ISIS recruits are Western converts to Islam.

In many cases, Western citizens who feel disenfranchised, isolated and failed by society view extremist groups as their “call for revolution”.

In this way, the media’s scapegoating of the Muslim population in light of ongoing terror attacks is nothing short of a form of Islamophobic sensationalism.

However, in spite of the ongoing rise of terror attacks, there is a strong belief by activists that the growth of Jihadism is not irreversible.

Through a change of heart and mind and a strong advocacy for peace, we can put a stop the “kill and be killed” philosophy sweeping across our radicalised world.

With Open dialogue and a cry for the reform of radicalised education systems, we can steer thousands of young vulnerable men away from violent extremist groups.

Gauher and global peace activists encourage us all, as a united community, to stand our ground in the face of terror.

We must not view the eradication of extremist violence as an impossible task. It is now time to put an end to terror in the name of an “honour” that has led to nothing more than the corruption of youth and the mass killings of countless.

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There Is No Substitute Mon, 01 Aug 2016 17:24:08 +0000 Sadrul Hasan Mazumder By Sadrul Hasan Mazumder
Aug 1 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

To observe the World Breastfeeding Week, which is marked around the world from August 1-7 since 1992, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has declared this year’s theme to be “Breastfeeding: a key to sustainable development” August 1-7.

Breastfeeding is in many ways linked with nutrition and food security, health, development, survival, and the achievement of full educational potential and economic productivity. Breastfeeding is an environmentally sustainable method of feeding compared to other substitutes. Linking breastfeeding with sustainable development is relevant and inclusive, as it enables the breastfeeding movement to connect with many other development issues over the next fifteen years to create greater impact globally.

This year, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Institute of Public Health and Nutrition (IPHN) and Bangladesh Breastfeeding Foundation (BBF) have organised a series of events at the national and local level, involving a wide range of stakeholders. This includes but is not limited to influencing policy stakes and creating awareness involving government and non-government agencies, which will be inaugurated on August 02, 2016 by the Honourable Minister of the MoHFW as the chief guest.


Let’s refresh our memories by looking through the legislative journey which promotes, protects and supports breastfeeding across the globe including Bangladesh. On May 21, 1981, the thirty-fourth world health assembly recalled that breast-feeding is the only natural method of infant feeding and that it must be actively protected and promoted in all countries which had adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which aimed to contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by the protection and promotion of breast-feeding, and by ensuring proper use of breast-milk substitutes, when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through ideal approach of marketing and distribution.

Following the international commitment, the Government of Bangladesh has been the first of the countries to ratify the code and promulgated the Breast-Milk Substitutes (regulation of marketing) Ordinance, 1984, aimed at promoting breast-feeding by regulating marketing of breast-milk substitutes. In continuation, the Ordinance got amended in 1989 with provision of mandatory registration of breast-milk substitute including formation of an advisory committee to oversee compliance issues of International Code of Marketing of breast milk substitutes. Abolishing the said Ordinance, Breast Milk Substitutes, Baby Foods, Commercially Manufactured Complementary Baby Foods and its usable Accessories (regulation of marketing) Law 2013 was enacted which aimed at protecting children between zero to five years of age with full embargo on advertisement of breast milk substitutes, baby foods, children’s food supplements and its equipment.

Given the legislative history, if we look at the breastfeeding practice, where the 2014 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Statistics (BDHS) shows that 55 percent of infants under age 6 months are exclusively breastfed, which is proportionately lower than the 2011 BDHS reported 64 percent and much lower than the WHO recommended target of 90 percent.

A BRAC study, on the implementation of BMS Law 2013, shows that most important stakeholders such as the doctors, nurses and other health professionals are not aware enough to ensure exclusive breastfeeding. In addition, there is insufficient information about the benefits of breast milk, which has been mountained by social myths, traditional, cultural and superstitious beliefs. The BRAC study also shows that benefits of colostrum feeding were commonly perceived by mothers as the “first vaccination of child” but in practice, mothers often cannot manage to feed colostrum to the newborn baby because of misconception and lack of knowledge. It has been proven that around 95 percent of the caesarean babies are excluded from exclusive breastfeeding as their mothers remain in post-operative care after birth. In addition, many mothers who return to work abandon breastfeeding partially or completely, because they do not have sufficient time, or a place to breastfeed, express (pump) and store their milk. Mothers need a safe, clean and private place in or near their workplace to continue breastfeeding. Enabling conditions at work, such as six months paid maternity leave, part-time work arrangements, on-site crèches, facilities for expressing and storing breast milk, and breastfeeding breaks, can help in this regard.

Breast milk contains all the nutrients needed by children in the first six months of life. Supplementing breast milk before six months is discouraged because it increases the likelihood of contamination, and hence risk of diarrohea. Beyond the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are less likely to have type-II diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests. Not only children, breastfeeding had also benefited mothers. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control (98 percent protection in the first six months after birth). It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression. Let’s echo with and promote breast milk – the first food the first right on earth.

The writer is Programme Coordinator – Advocacy for Social Change, BRAC and can be reached at

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Feed the Children Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:39:25 +0000 Isabel Ongpin By MA. Isabel Ongpin
Jul 29 2016 (Manila Times)

Hunger still stalks many of our countrymen. It is particularly destructive with our children who, because of poverty, do not get enough to eat, become vulnerable to disease and exploitation and end up unhealthy, uneducated and unhappy. Uneducated because the need to eat superimposes itself over everything, so that all their waking hours are spent looking to satisfy hunger, eschewing going to school. Unhappy because in the long run, without education, there will be a long, hard climb to get a job; most of all, a job that will provide a decent livelihood.

MA. Isabel Ongpin

MA. Isabel Ongpin

Thank goodness to recent-past and present administrations that they have recognized this sad reality and come up with the Conditional Cash Transfer Program that—from reports—is being managed competently and honestly, and is really helping the poorest of the poor.

But there are still many poor children who are hungry, and because of the circumstances of their lives where hunger is a leading factor, do not go to school.

Senator Grace Poe, a presidential candidate in the last elections, had on her campaign platform the establishment of a feeding program for children in the initial and early years of going to school. Recently, Sen. Miguel Zubiri has declared that he will file a bill for a nationwide feeding program in grade schools.

This idea should come to be passed in a law, with a budget so that it will become an established reality in our society.

A feeding program that can provide at least one healthy meal a day for children who go to school will be a boon both for the child and his family as well as for the schools. The feeding program could be a learning experience for the parents (who should be drafted to help prepare it) by giving them a pragmatic example of how to prepare the right ingredients taken from our plant and animal resources that will provide the sustenance, which children need to grow and to study. Providing a meal will keep the children in school and, thus, promote universal education among them.

Some private schools, foundations and other charities are already engaged in feeding programs for children. They provide healthy meals using local ingredients like monggo (mung bean), winged beans, some fish and meat in modest proportions together with rice. And at times fruits like bananas and other available and affordable kinds that are in season.

These meals make a world of difference. They stimulate the children to go to school, keep them from feeling hungry, make them alert to the lessons and activities at hand in the school. They also relieve parents for one meal so they can lessen some stress in their lives.

A nationwide feeding program would be a tremendous leap forward toward millennium goals of education and health. It will be a huge undertaking requiring a large budget, relatively speaking. But it can be done modestly and effectively if managed well. So far, the DSWD, which is handling the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, has been doing a creditable job. Anecdotal evidence shows poverty-stricken families in cities and rural areas getting the monthly subsidy that keeps them alive in health and hope. With its current experience, DSWD can tackle a feeding program in coordination with the Department of Education. Or, the Department of Education with the advice and experience of DSWD on the Conditional Cash Transfer Program can manage the feeding program in the schools. Local government units can be part of this.

If there’s need to be an introduction of a nationwide feeding program by stages, perhaps the first stage should be in Mindanao, where poverty rates and school dropout rates are higher. The evacuation centers should be targeted. The uplands, the coasts and the river deltas, wherever people live, should have feeding programs via the schools. Eventually, the program should expand to the Visayas and Luzon, where they, too, have high poverty rates as in the Cordilleras, the Bicol Region and Eastern Visayas, especially in areas where typhoon Yolanda created death and destruction.

If one observes the few feeding programs that are established in some schools and see the effect on their beneficiaries, one will be convinced that under current poverty and hunger conditions, this is one good, effective and compassionate way to go.

Legislators, please work to achieve what is desperately needed by our hungry children.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Global List of Smart Cities Gives MM Kulelat Status Wed, 20 Jul 2016 19:30:01 +0000 Marlen Ronquillo By Marlen V. Ronquillo
Jul 20 2016 (Manila Times)

IESE, the graduate school of business of the University of Navarra, recently released a ranking of the “smart cities” of the world. This is a yearly ritual for the Opus Dei-founded school, which has a solid reputation as one of the best graduate schools of business in Europe.

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

There was some predictability to the “Smartest Ten” list drawn up by IESE, in Pamplona, Spain. American and European cities dominated. What list would take off New York, or San Francisco—or Chicago and Boston, for that matter—from the roll call of smart cities? London’s place is a given: it was No.1 last year; it placed second this year. Paris seems to have locked third place.

The only Asian country on top of that list is Seoul. Sydney, also in the top 10, would not consider itself an Asian city. The notable absence was Tokyo, now ranked 12th. It used to be very high on that list. Singapore was relatively high in the list, too.

Where was Metro Manila? It was given a kulelat status—145th out of 181 cities surveyed. In contrast, the Vietnamese city named after Uncle Ho—Ho Chi Minh—was in the middle of the list, with Canton and Shenzhen.

Why was Metro Manila among the kulelats? It was viewed as failing the 10 distinct benchmarks used by the IESE study: economy, technology, human capital, social cohesion, international outreach, environment, mobility and transportation, urban planning, public management, and governance. While some foreigners revel in the chaos of Metro Manila, the serious students on what makes a city “smart” were not impressed.

The list just validated the earlier report that the Philippines ranked low in the general area of “competitiveness.” One cannot be “smart” by being laid-back, complacent, indolent and incurious.

On top of the benchmarks was “economy.” Why MM was ranked low, we do not know. MM, according to data, accounts for more than 30 percent of the country’s GDP. The rest just account for the more than 60 percent. Was that not impressive enough, given MM’s disproportionate share of the country’s total GDP? And given the Aquino government’s boast of impressive GDP growth? Why were the IESE people not impressed?

The failure of MM’s economy to impress, despite its outsize role in the country’s economy, may be related to the next two criteria—technology and human capital.

The output of Metro Manila may not be impressive enough to those looking for elements of smartness. There are no serious technology hubs, no world-class innovation facilities, no venture capitalists that exist to fund the would-be Twitters, Ubers or Airbnbs. We have small-scale versions of all that, but they are not even impressive from an Asian context. The IESE people found nothing that could change the world with the kind of technology and innovation work being done in MM.

Our technology workers are BPO workers, doing routine voice and tech support work. And the elite technology workers are in security, firewall, network engineering and some programming. If we go down below the work chain, we will find service industry workers, from fast-food crew to restaurant staff, who mostly serve the BPO staffers.

Growth is driven by consumer spending, mostly the OFW income that is being spent in Metro Manila, and the BPO income. With the human capital engaged in dreary, boring, underpaid jobs, those looking for elements of smartness will not really be impressed. No Sundar, no Satya will emerge from the human-capital pool.

The government allocates very little for research and development. The top research university in the country has the physical space required to host and nurture great technology hubs. But it does not have the funding. It does host squatter colonies.

The P1.4 trillion PPP spending does not even allocate a peso for technology hubs.

We can’t even talk about “environment.” Look at the Pasig River, the grand old river that is dying if not yet dead, with almost zero BOD. Look at the air pollution index. Our air pollution trackers conk out after some use due to the gravity of the air pollution. Just look at Manila Bay after days of rain. You can easily net 10 tons of garbage along the seawall alone. Look at the blight and overall grimness of the urban slums.

Transportation and mobility is our Waterloo. Waze, the traffic-monitoring app, just ranked Metro Manila traffic as the worst in the world. The endless gridlock has been exacting a grievous economic and psychological toll on the nation. Yet, traffic management is about neglecting the urban rail system and discriminating against the de facto mode of mass transport—buses. Private vehicles, which each carries one-and-a-half passengers on the average, are king. What kind of transport policy holds cars sacrosanct except in our stupid, and science- and math-ignoring country?

Governance? MM’s grand cities are governed by ex-felons, comedians, and sons and daughters of dynastic families.

Urban planning? The so-called “urban planners,” who bloviate on primetime TV, are mostly poseurs.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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The Importance of Soft Power Tue, 19 Jul 2016 15:02:07 +0000 Syed Mansur Hashim By Syed Mansur Hashim
Jul 19 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The world is at war with extremists. Developed and developing nations, whether it is France, the United States, Russia or China, the Middle East or countries in the sub-continent, we are all battling one form of Muslim militancy or another. And while alliances are being forged on a regional or trans-continental basis to fight outfits like the Boko Haram, Al Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS), and battles are being fought out on land in Iraq Syria, Libya or Yemen, on the streets of Paris or in Dhaka, every nation that has faced the onslaught of extremists who are connected to a global network of jihadists that is increasingly sophisticated, the realisation that they are now battling for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the populace is emerging.

soft_power_The extremists’ distortion of religion and their success in disseminating information has policymakers the world over going back to the drawing board and reassessing the threat – not just in military terms, but also incorporating a new strategy that makes use of media activity, to new school curricula, to effectively counter jihadist propaganda. It is the realisation that this is an ideological battle and the war must be fought on two fronts, both militarily and undermining extremist ideology that will put a dent in their recruitment efforts.

Taking the actual message of Islam to the schooling system is one approach being tried out in some countries. It is now obvious that if young Muslims are to be stopped being turned by jihadists, something has to be done about teachings and preaching in mosques, seminaries and educational institutions. The use of religious text that prove that arguments put forth by extremists that mass killings are condoned by the Qur’an is false, that Islamists are toying with young impressionable minds – is essentially at the forefront of this new effort. Unless hard-line teachings can be countered, the “war on terror” will be a losing battle.

Adam Garfinkle of the Foreign Policy Research Institute put all this into context: “we face not an esoteric intellectual but a full-fledged sociological problem in the greater Middle East…The larger and deeper social context, which feeds off collective emotion rather than the tracts of Sayiid Qutb or the tape-recorded rants of Osama bin-Laden, explains why newly vogue US counter-messaging efforts are a waste of time and money. Those efforts are bound to fail because those messages are…disembodied from the social networks in which ideas are embedded and give life. The notion that a bunch of people on the fifth floor of the State Department are one fine day going to discover the perfect set of words placed in perfect order and translated perfectly into Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto and so on – and that set before fanatics these words are going to suddenly change their entire point of view – is a rationalist fantasy.”

One approach that has worked to counter gang violence in developed countries is now being tailor made to go counterterrorism in developing countries. Tailor-made in the sense that experts take into account local conditions, but the success of such approaches largely depend on the willingness of local stakeholders that include the respective governments to cooperate to change their corrupt and abusive behaviour. The idea that criminal gangs and terrorist outfits possess similarities in outlooks based on socioeconomic conditions is giving criminologists ideas to come up with programmes that may be implemented in various countries to counter the philosophies espoused by militants. Some basic elements are the same. The feeling of hopelessness in the face of police brutality, the need to belong to a club or a congregation of people who face similar identity crisis, the overwhelming hatred for the ‘establishment’, the need to feel powerful, proactive and invincible, etc. The counter-messaging efforts that are emerging differ from region to region.

For any effort to succeed, the respective governments must be open to ideas. The United States State Department has tried to find common ground with Bangladesh police to introduce ‘community policing’ that would help devise a strategy based on police-civilian partnerships. That initiative never went anywhere because local conditions and culture were not factored in. A country where the larger populace is in fact alienated from the police due to a myriad of reasons, and also corruption amongst certain elements of the citizenry provided the grounds for failure. No solution can be imposed from the outside. What works in El Salvador will probably not work in Bangladesh and vice versa.

What will work of course is bringing on board the religious leadership of the country who control the mosques and religious schools and the Islamic scholars to work with authorities. This will only work if the vast majority of the religious opinion leaders are convinced that it is time to forge a partnership with the State to counter a force that threatens their way of life too and not just that of the State’s. The State for its part has to step back from wholesale suppression of any dissent which is giving rise to much of the anger that is being utilised by jihadists to reach their own end goals. At the end of the day, we have to realise that ideas must be fought with ideas. No amount of policing and counterterrorism will root out militancy. Only when the State takes into confidence the people can there be any meaningful resistance to the spread of ideals (no matter how distorted) amongst the youth – illiterate or otherwise.

The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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