Education critical to save man from self-destruction

Fifty years ago, on Sunday, July 20, 1969, the world experienced pure magic. Man landed on the moon. We were curious youth, opening up our minds to the marvels of science. For four days, we had waited keenly for news about the Apollo 11 spacecraft. It had been launched into outer space on July 16. We gaped about the reality of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. We were a part of this New World. We were flying beyond science fiction. With our Apollo 11, we were defying the rules of gravity. Armstrong was our man.

Growing up then around mushrooming public libraries – variously under the Macmillan and Kenya National Libraries aegis – we knew about Jules Verne well in primary school. By the time the Americans were realising their dream of the moon, we had sampled such mouth-watering offerings as Around the World in Eighty Days, A Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Centre of the Earth – all by Verne. H G Wells of The Invisible Man and Time Machine made equally fascinating reading. Later, you would encounter John Whyndam with The Kraken Wakes, Mary Shelley with Frankenstein, Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four and a whole whale of scientific literary mind-bogglers.

Today there is nothing spectacular about man on the moon. Mars seems a little more exciting. Since the 19th century, the human mind has fantasised about Mars. Man dreams of living on Mars someday. Yet, even here, we have now gone beyond fiction. Mars is being explored. Communication technology has placed the world in our pockets. You carry the entire knowledge in the universe, all through the ages, in the little capsule that is your smartphone.

The human mind has achieved so much that we can say with Dr Martin Luther King: “You have dwarfed distance and placed time in chains. You have made it possible to eat lunch in Paris and dinner in New York.” You can leave Japan on Saturday morning and arrive in America on Friday evening, the same week. They may ask you: “When did you leave Tokyo?” You could answer, “Tomorrow!” For it is not yet Saturday here.

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Yet, King observes, we have made the world a neigbourhood without making it a brotherhood – or a sorority. The age of fascinating scientific advancement is also attended by some of the worst savagery in history. While international wars are on the decline, internal wars are on the rise. Scholar Mary Caldor calls them New Wars. These are wars within countries rather than between countries. They are fought around ethnic competitions for resources. For all our scientific genius, we have not learned how to live together. Caldor calls it “the exclusionary logic of the politics of identity.”

King again, “The atomic bomb (we) have to fear today is not merely the deadly weapon that can be dropped on the heads of millions, but the atomic bomb that lies in the hearts of men.” It is a bomb that explodes into staggering hate and selfishness. The bomb in the human soul makes our scientific genius – in the words of the poet Henry Thoreau, “an improved means to an unimproved end.”

Throughout the world, the moral and spiritual genius lags terribly behind the scientific genius. You read of destruction of whole cities, with civilian massacres in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Mali, and Yemen. The Boko Haram are in their element in Nigeria and in the neighborhood. The Somali civil war has been on for three decades. South Sudan is in turmoil. India and Pakistan have been at it for 72 years; Arabs and Israelis for 71 years. The war in Darfur goes on quietly as do many other conflicts.

Even nations that seem to be at peace live under constant fear of something going wrong. In Kenya, we fight with every General Election.

Our biggest challenge is not about hardware and infrastructure. It is about the software within us. Which returns me to my pet subject on education, now that we must willy-nilly roll out our so-called Competence Based Curriculum (CBC). “The train has already left the station and there is no turning back,” the professor in charge has said. He does not want to listen when they tell him, “Yes, the train has left but the big bridge across the valley is broken.”

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Even in basic things in our most learned forums, we have not yet learned how to tame our wild passions. It seems to me that the education that the world needs most is a humanising education. If Europe went around the world in a past age claiming to take there civilisation, it was right in the thought that the world needed to be civilised. Yet it was wrong in the sense that Europe was not itself civilised. Social and cultural advancement remains the greatest challenge to humankind. 

Just how do you make people less greedy, less hostile and hateful, more willing to listen and dialogue and more willing to live together? This education must take primacy. If it doesn’t, humankind is hurtling towards self-destruction. Alfred Nobel eventually came to terms with just what a terrible monster he had placed in human hands. In 1888 he set up the Nobel Peace Prize, not just for his commemoration but also mostly for pursuit of civilised societies. Before and after 20 July 1969, the foremost competence that the world has needed remains one of a social order – a moral, ethical and spiritual competence.

- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser.  www.barrackmuluka.co.ke

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EducationCS George Magoha