The Republic of Mali is a central battleground in the conflict between Western democracy and Islamic law. The dangerous and shifting atmosphere of the developing country prevents the execution of any educational policy. The purpose of this essay is to understand and articulate the challenges the Republic of Mali faces in educational quality and attainment in order to propose a change in policy which would improve the educational quality and attainment. Primo, we must agree on the premises of the argument, namely: the definition of education, definition of educational quality, definition of educational attainment and definition of challenges. Secondo, we must relate all of these ideas to the past, present and future geopolitical, religious and societal constructs of the Republic of Mali. Finally, we must conclude with the specific needs of the Republic of Mali and suggest the implementation of policy in order to achieve the goals of that conclusion.
The definition of education is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university, or, an enlightening experience” (Google). This definition is extremely critical to understand with respect to the Republic of Mali because, as we will see, the Republic of Mali has the opportunity to shine in some areas of “education” while it fails miserably in other areas (notably those areas defined by SABER and UNESCO). As we move forward with the argument we must agree that education includes and entails all systematic instruction and enlightening experiences. Education, by definition, is not obligated to include any government (local, national or global) nor is it obligated to occur within any structure either physical or nonphysical.
Educational quality, then, is rated based on the ability of the educators to offer students systematic instruction or enlightening experiences. Please notice the quality of the education does not depend on GDP, global intervention, number of “professional” teachers, number of schools, funding of education policies, or number of students. In addition, we must agree that the systematic instruction must be directed toward the goal of directly improving the lives of students. In short, we must agree that if one teaches a fish the rules of golf, one has not provided an education of high quality no matter how excellently the fish performs on a golf examination. Educational attainment is simply the percentage of students in a population who have achieved a high quality education. Attainment is purely a numbers game.
To close part one of this essay, we must agree on what constitutes a challenge to achieving education with high quality and high attainment. There are obvious challenges such as physical handicaps, noise (the general noise of war, for instance), or danger that would prevent an education. There are also dozens of challenges that would prevent a Western education such as lack of buildings, lack of books, lack of funding, lack of community, lack of permanent schedule, lack of political stability, lack of the internet or lack of writing equipment. None of these things, however, are challenges to the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction or an enlightening experience and thus, they must be thrown out as challenges that stand in the way of educational quality and attainment. In essence, the only challenge to education is the inability of a teacher and pupil to physically communicate. Notice, the definition of challenge here does not mandate the teacher be professional nor does it mandate the pupils be numerous.
A complaint to begin part two of this essay: The parameters of this essay arbitrarily require that information necessary to achieve the goals of the essay come from the reports and data of the World Bank’s Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The overwhelming problem with these sources lies in the fact that neither SABER nor UNESCO are able to operate in the midst of a war encompassing power both physical and political. Further, requiring these sources implies that the UN and World Bank are the most effective resources in stabilizing the educational quality and attainment in the Republic of Mali, which is highly arguable.
Both organizations focus on the implementation of Western education. SABER’s official answer to the question, “What is SABER’s Focus?” is: “Education outcomes—such as enrollment, completion, and student learning—depend on many factors. An important one is the quality of the policies and institutions governing the system, but until now there has been too little systematic, detailed information on them. SABER’s main focus is to collect data on these policies and institutions and to analyze their quality” (The World Bank). SABER cannot possibly operate in the Republic of Mali if there are no policies or institutions to collect data from. Nonetheless, SABER has published ratings of either Emerging or Latent, a “D” or “F” effectively, in every single unit in which the Republic of Mali receives grades (The World Bank). Here, we can clearly see that SABER cares very little about our agreed upon definitions in part one of this essay. SABER is focusing on enrollment, completion and student learning; none of these factors are important outside of a first world, elitist driven institution. The uselessness of UNESCO in the Republic of Mali, on the other hand, is mercifully absent due to the operation of another United Nations coalition, the militarily oriented Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA).
The factor that mitigates the effectiveness of these organizations is Islam. Specifically, a fresh alliance that brings together the most active terrorist groups in the Republic of Mali, including the Saudi funded Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has destabilized efforts to mend a civil war that has lasted over a decade (UN News Centre). President Alpha Konare, Mali’s first democratic president from 1992-2002, stepped down and was succeeded by Amadou Toumani Toure, a “free and fair” leader who was overthrown by Tuareg ethic militias in early 2012. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) “returned power to a civilian administration” but the “post-coup chaos led to rebels expelling the Malian military from the country’s three northern regions and allowed Islamic militants to set up strongholds. Hundreds of thousands of northern Malians fled the violence to southern Mali and neighboring countries, exacerbating regional food shortages in host communities” (CIA World Factbook). The struggle has prevented stable lifestyles in the region. The reason the Islamic militias are so difficult to overthrow in the region is due to the support the groups receive from the Islamic citizens of the Republic of Mali, a 94.8% majority (CIA World Factbook).
When we consider solutions to the deteriorating state of education in the Republic of Mali, we must consider the implications of Islam and radical Islam. “’Today, too many girls do not complete school due to teenage pregnancy and early and forced marriage,’ said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA. ‘Providing girls and young people with comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health information and services protects the right to education and health, and advances gender equality and the achievement of internationally agreed goals’” (UNESCO). UNESCO is simply citing Sharia law as the reason more than half of the population in the Republic of Mali is uneducated. Sharia law does not see men and women as equal beings, nor does the Islamic community value the education of women as much as the education of men. This would qualify as one of the challenges presented in part one of this essay: the community physically prevents the education of women due to oppressive religious law. Clearly, UNESCO is of the opinion that the primary obstacle to education in the Republic of Mali is the prevention of female education, but is unwilling to name Islam as the reason for teenage pregnancy and early and forced marriage. The extreme views of Islam are then, of course, made more extreme by the “extremist” factions such as ISIL and Al Qaeda leading to further challenges to education in the Republic of Mali.
To conclude, we must identify the specific needs of the Republic of Mali and suggest the implementation of policy in order to achieve the goals of that conclusion. First, conflict must end in the Republic of Mali. Then, the citizens must be given the opportunity to educate themselves. Finally, for the subjective portion, a neoliberal policy of Western values must be forced upon the Republic of Mali in order to implement long term change and increase the quality and attainment of education.
The goal of this essay is not to determine how to end conflict in the Republic of Mali, although the author has a few ideas. War is, however, an excellent forum in which to have “enlightening experiences” which are half of education. A country at war can experience resiliency and dictate change with more power and efficiency than any system. However, the war must not be so long, overwhelming and terrifying that the citizens lose the ability to communicate the enlightenment to one another. In short, an increase in the quality and attainment of education in the Republic of Mali cannot be achieved while the country is a warzone.
Once the country is free from the grips of war, a culture of education can spring forth. This will not come through the elimination of Islam, as UNESCO so clearly desires, but through the empowerment of the people to educate themselves. The global community, in her attempt to help the great people of the Republic of Mali, must allow an educational environment to grow naturally and from within. UNESCO and SABER, in their attempts to build “schoolhouses” and teach the Christian values of Dr. Seuss with white and white trained teachers will only spark another, more debilitating conflict. We must recall what we agreed upon in part one, education is not defined by the Western infrastructure and “data” attached to it by organizations like these but by the person to person influence and enlightenment of a community.
If the United Nations (read: United States) wants to help the Republic of Mali, the only option is to allow the country to save herself. The literacy rate in the Republic of Mali is 33.4% (UNICEF). One in every three people is more than enough for an idea to grow. The global community should not embarrass itself with ribbon cutting ceremonies, interventionist policies or expensive bleeding heart missionary work. The Republic of Mali is much more likely to succeed if the global community simply opens the door: instead of forcing policy down the throats of citizens and spending billions maintaining it, we would be better off paying for airfare which would allow the Malian people to bear witness to great western cultures, bring the powerful ideas back to Mali and build the Republic to build itself.
CIA World Factbook. Africa: Mali. 12 January 2017. 1 April 2017.
Google. Google Dictionary. 1 April 2017.
The World Bank. Ratings & Data. 1 April 2017. 2017. 1 April 2017.
—. SABER: Frequently Asked Questions. 1 April 2017. 1 April 2017.
UN News Centre. At Security Council, new UN peacekeeping chief urges faster implementation of Mali peace deal. 2017 April 6. 6 April 2017.
UNESCO. Closing gender gap in education. 3 November 2015. 01 April 2017.
UNICEF. Mali Statistics. 2012 January 30. 1 April 2017.