July 14, 2010

Free your mind and the rest will follow...

I don’t think that I ever fully grasped the importance of education until now. That is not to say that I didn’t think it was very important. On the contrary, I was always of the principle that education contributes a lot to one’s personal development. But probably I was taking it for granted, even in Romania, where the education system still has a lot of room for improvement.
Being here, made me realize that the divide that has been created between the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world, could only be bridged by education. I think education is essential for the development of a nation. Culture is important too, that is for sure, and it can definitely shape development. However, only through education, people begin thinking on their own, can open their minds, and take initiative. In the same time, education can be a tool of keeping minds ‘closed’, and manipulating them…
Education in Cambodia does not seem to concentrate on the development of analytical thinking, and creativity. However, it is focused on repetition of basic information.
People here like to be told what to do (this can also be part of their culture), they act in set parameters and they NEVER cross the lines. Very rare are the ones who do, and those usually do so because they have been educated in a different system.
It is not necessary the lack of education, but the wrong type of education (by my standards). It is an education that does not encourage the free spirit, that does not enhance one’s ability to think on their own.
It is also a lack of good teachers; it is also the fact that class size is 60 kids. It is also that the salaries are extra low and the teacher makes the children pay a fee when in class. The poor cannot afford it so they don’t even get the basic education.

Even with the educated ones, you have a different kind of communication than you are used to. The older ones cannot be questioned and the younger ones have to listen (I believe this is very much to do with the culture). With expats, communication is different because the ‘barang’ is always the superior one, the expert, even though you can be an inexperienced teenager who begins to learn about life. In my world we QUESTION things. Here, you only ask one question and you take for granted whatever the answer is.
People here are very good with numbers (i.e. accounting), however when it comes to more creative work they just stick to a specific set of instructions they are given.
For instance, an outreach worker educating entertainment workers (prostitutes to be more blunt) on health matters, should engage with these on a more psychological level. The discussions should be adapted and fitted to the situation, so that the message gets to them. However, here an outreach worker does his/her job in the following way: hands out some prospects on health, disregarding the fact that most girls can’t read and tells them that they have to do this and that. Maybe for them it’s enough, because the girls are taught to listen and to act accordingly, but will they understand why they have to do this and that? Will they be empowered to say no to a man who forces them to have sex with no condom? Will they know they CAN say NO to him?? not really…This is not to say that all are like that, and I hope that is not the case. However, this is to emphasize that the way in which one is brought about and educated matters in the way he will later on perform his/her job…
Probably I will need more time to understand how to connect with people here, and how to make myself understood (don’t know if I ever will). But sometimes I feel discouraged by this very different approach on life, and I don’t know how to help and if I can help at all. Telling someone all the time what to do and how to do it is not the way. And applying this on a higher level: the West telling developing countries what to do and how to do it, is not the way. Yes they have to be shown how maybe, but they have to do it by themselves.
I am not saying that our way is THE way, maybe there is another way. But I think that in order for them (I hate using these terms: us and them…) to be able to take the lead, education is key. Maybe this is an obvious observation to you all, but being here made me realize this much more.

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