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Manssour Bin Mussallam, President of the Education Relief Foundation
– By the time of publication, representatives, senior officials, and Heads of State and Government of 120 countries from around the world will have converged on Baku in Azerbaijan for the XVIIIth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
To many, it may seem that the continued existence of the NAM, almost three decades after the end of the Cold War, is nothing more than a mere political formality, reminiscent of a bygone era. But whilst the creation of the NAM cannot be dissociated from its Cold War context, it cannot be reduced to it either. For to focus excessively on its origins in the age of a bipolar world would be to miss the point: the reason behind the collective, perhaps unconscious, reluctance to let it go.
The NAM was not merely created by states seeking independence from having to formally align with one of two power blocs. It was created with the recognition that the (former) Third World was constituted of diverse nations, peoples, and cultures that simultaneously shared systemic challenges and aspirations which the Cold War’s bipolar world order did not serve. And since that order did not serve the aspirations of the Third World, since it did not act in the interest of the majority of the world, then a third, parallel order needed to be built.
The bipolarity may have come to an end with the USSR’s collapse, and a brave, new world order may have emerged since 1961, but the foundational purpose of the NAM, consisting of achieving a world order which better served the development aspirations of its members, has remained unfulfilled. In fact, the premise behind the creation of the NAM has become all the more pertinent. With knowledge of the undisputable role played by our development models in the advent of climate crisis, this foundational premise has become irrefutable: the current world order does not, just as it did not in 1961, serve the interests states belonging to the NAM – with one, non-negligible addition: we now know that it does not serve the interests of the entire world. There is, therefore, a dire need, not too dissimilar from that of 1961, to build a more just and sustainable world order. There is an urgent necessity to construct a third, alternative, inclusive, and sustainable way of development. This time, however, whilst it must be built from and by the (former) Third World, it must inevitably be for the sake of the entirety of Humanity.
But development directed towards achieving social cohesion, justice, equity, prosperity, and sustainability for all cannot emerge from cosmetic alterations to our existing institutions. It can only emerge by fundamentally transforming the unjust, unsustainable dynamics of our societies. And only through the overhaul of our education systems can this be achieved. Education is, after all, both the sculptor of the future and, as it currently stands, an industrial factory which reproduces society’s injustices and inequalities.
Our education systems must be capable of reflecting national and local cultures, whilst unveiling the millennia of inter-influences which have shaped them – the reality that our cultures are already the result of diversity, that: ‘les autres, c’est moi.’ They must be capable of overcoming sectoral segregations and disciplinary silos, integrating academic and non-academic knowledge domains alike, to engage with the world in all its complexity. They must become capable of transforming the dynamics of the classroom, by enabling teachers to become facilitators – rather than the mere custodians of information which may be encountered more accurately and swiftly online – guiding student-protagonists in their dialogue in and with the world. They must become capable of acknowledging context, rather than rejecting it on the false premise of egalitarian standards which, in fact, reproduce inequality. They must adapt to national priorities and local realities, to the aspirations of communities and the individuality of students. For to dismantle the power dynamics which have existed, and still persist, in education, is to do so for society at large.
The task ahead is gargantuan, and the investment will be colossal – of this challenge, however, we are collectively worthy. But to that end, we must articulate a common language, overcoming the deaf monologues and cross-talk which we mistake for constructive dialogue, to not only share experiences and best practices, but also to achieve genuine, efficient, mutually beneficial partnerships amongst equals.
It is in this context that the Education Relief Foundation (ERF) is convening, jointly with the Republic of Djibouti, the Third International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education – III ForumBIE 2030, on 27-29 January 2020. Concluding with the signing of the Universal Declaration of Balanced and Inclusive Education, the III ForumBIE 2030 will operationalise an international, cross-sectoral, solidarity-based framework of technical and financial cooperation in Balanced and Inclusive Education, to forge a future to which we can collectively aspire.
In many respects, the world has changed beyond recognition since the first NAM Summit. Its underlying dynamics, however, have largely remained unaffected. As the XVIIIth NAM Summit concludes, it is now time to revive its original aspirations and truly transform the development models whose undercurrents have led the world to the brink of unmaking itself, giving long-overdue birth to our collective humanity – for the sake of the South and the North alike.