I was thrilled to read a recent news item on the BBC website about a ninety-year old Kenyan great-grandmother, Priscilla Sitienei, who enrolled for classes in her local primary school five years ago, and is still learning today.
Gogo, as Priscilla is affectionately known, speaks of the plethora of challenges regarding inclusive education in countries such as Kenya, where incidentally, I am also from. Gender disparity in education, in particular, is still rife in rural areas, despite strong drives towards the ‘Achieve Universal Primary Education’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG).
The MDGs are eight international development goals or “collective priorities” that were officially established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations (UN) in 2000. All UN member states agreed to achieve the following by the year 2015:
- eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
- achieving universal primary education,
- promoting gender equality and empowering women
- reducing child mortality rates,
- improving maternal health,
- combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,
- ensuring environmental sustainability, and
- developing a global partnership for development.
Various countries were at differing stages in terms of achievement of each respective goal as detailed at a review meeting of the UN General Assembly in 2010, and summarised in this interactive map. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to find more recent information. Suffice to say, now that we have entered 2015, none of the goals have been met on a global scale. At the Rio+20 Conference, held in Brazil in 2012, in view of this impending non-achievement, world leaders, and other organisational representatives developed a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which build upon the MDGs and converge with the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The final MDG report is expected in July 2015, and later in September 2015, a MDG Gap Task Force Report will be published at the same time as the ‘Special Summit on Sustainable Development’, where world leaders will adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda. It is hoped that consultations coordinated by the UN Development Group will focus on financing and other means of implementation at the national, regional and global level. This is particularly significant for countries such as Kenya, where there are a plethora of socio-cultural and economic issues that impact the most well-intentioned development initiatives.
Nonetheless, stories, such as Gogo’s serve as hopeful examples of the potential for the goals to be achieved, and indeed, for inclusion – in all its forms – to become regular practice in schools around the world. For Gogo, ‘Age ain’t nothing but a number’, as crooned by Aaliyah, albeit in a different context. Anyone who wants to learn, should be given the opportunity to do so. I am certain that Gogo’s school peers must be learning invaluable life lessons from her, just as she learns through them.
I think it significant to point out therefore, that inclusion must be purposeful. Pupils – no matter what age they are – should spend time in school not just for the sake of ticking a ‘Development Goal achieved’ box, but with the objective of the holistic development and qualitative expansion of their skills, to empower them as self-sufficient citizens, not just on a national, but also on a global basis. Verily, as Gogo says, “Education will be your wealth.”
Saneeya Qureshi © 2015