I saw this in 2008 shortly after walking across the border into Bolivia from Argentina. It was my first time in South America and after a week plus of comfort being hosted in central Argentina by friends, henceforth was proper backpacking.
The walk from La Quiaca (Argentina) to Villazon (Bolivia) was not long and I made friends en route. Argentina is (on of) the only country that went from First World to Third, economically speaking. Bolivia on the other hand is the poorest in the continent. Economically speaking.
We had a five hour wait at Villazon before the 15 hour bus ride to the capital La Paz. That’s when we saw these kids and others, with more flowers and family. I suspect they just completed from graduating primarily school and it was lovely to see them and family celebrating.
‘Wow. They really celebrate. It’s quite a big deal,’ I said.
To which my company responded, ‘yes. For most of them, this may be as far as they go for schooling.’
That was enough to hit me. At the same time reflecting it now, there are some things to consider. Firstly, is it unfortunate that primary school is as far as a portion of them may go, I say yes and no. The yes part is obvious, so I’ll expand on why it’s also a no.
If education is largely understood, designed and practiced from a school sense – with admission according to age, over a set period and fully systemized, then this will be the case. Where those who adopt this system of educating people – for a poor country, will be at a disadvantage.
This understanding and application of education, serves those with certain resources.
In some traditional Islamic environments, and perhaps elsewhere too like the Buddhists, learning can happen with only a book, a teacher and a student. No buildings, no registration, no fees. The best of (knowledge and manners) of Maliki fiqh scholars come from an environment when they study under tents in the desert. (See Comment box, 8th minute).
I’m not saying the world needs to adopt this but such an understanding towards learning gives a whole lot more than what it takes.
And when we lose this understanding, and choose to adopt modern so-called advanced methods, we create a system to denies some people to learn that can later be of benefit to others. As oppose to having a system that we do now, where the best who succeed – that we praise highly, only to see them later abusing their skills to selfishly benefit themselves, in sometimes corrupt ways.
To give a clear example, the same people responsible for the economic meltdown worked in top companies coming from top schools. They are among the best students in the learning system we celebrate so much nowadays. The people who study hard for a big job, and work hard for a big pay cheque. The general premise is always to serve themselves.
But when we’re clear that’s not the purpose of learning that we’ll be clear with what’s required for learning. With that it opens up a massive door defining of who among us are learners – whether or not there’s a school, or the big amount of money to pay for it, or the elaborate formal structures that distract us from the actual knowledge.