Money is not the only currency

NamibIn a museum in the coastal town of Swakopmund in Namibia is a display about the country’s Himba people. It is headed with a quotation, “We lose our children by sending them to school”.

It is alarming. It seems to challenge every assumption upon which the great effort for Education for All has been founded. At the Steve Sinnott Foundation we repeatedly proclaim education as a fundamental right of every child. But what if it is a right that parents and their children and their children’s children choose not to exercise, a choice made because their lives, though tough in our terms, are happy and full of joy under African skies or in the beautiful remote lands of South Asia and South America. Is our effort to secure Education for All in part perhaps a new benevolent imperialism of the wealthy “west” or, even more darkly, an all too cynical investment in a future pool of cheap skilled labour ?

They’re questions that almost cannot be asked. So much depends on avoiding them.

At the Steve Sinnott Foundation we do not fear the answers, because they are the answers that teachers the world over articulate every day in the work they do and in the commitments they make. That is why the Steve Sinnott Foundation was established to make a special contribution to Education for All.

On the next display in the museum at Swakopmund, the alarming quotation is explained a little more and it takes on a different tone. “Modern Himba children go to school where they are taught according to Western knowledge systems, with little respect for or attention to indigenous knowledge and values”.  The complaint is not that parents do not want education for their children, it is rather that what they are taught and the way they are taught cuts them off from their history and their culture.

It does not have to be, nor should it be.  We in the so-called developed world must stop assuming that our wealth gives us authority to dominate.  The Steve Sinnott Foundation advocates the use of a different currency, one that does not use material wealth as the means of exchange. We can use instead the riches of the best features of history and culture respecting and valuing all equally.

We must also stop misrepresenting countries in the developing world just as places where children sit forlorn, doe-eyed and tearful, tugging at
our heartstrings and our pockets against a background of soft music. Steve himself would tell stories of children so eager for education that
they could not comprehend the idea of truancy. His experiences were proof that there is in these countries an eagerness for knowledge and
understanding that we have a duty to satisfy. It is not a duty of charity and compassion. It is an obligation to share – and we are guaranteed a rich
return. That we believe is the right way to secure educational development – as Steve said “Working together, winning together”.