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I am 148th

May 19, 2015
Country/Region:  Global
Category:  Culture

April 3rd, 2015, Garissa, Kenya. 15 hours long siege at Garissa University ends when four masked attackers detonated their suicide vests. They left behind a trail of 147 dead people, non-Muslim students being killed in gruesome ways. The attack was linked to al Shabab Islamists and described as a part of retribution against Kenya for sending its troops to Somalia.


We all heard or said 'Je suis Charlie' after the earlier attack in Paris. How many shouted 'I am 148th' or something similar?

We study to know more, to be a better fit to our societies. What happens, though, when the society is divided? Should we try to fit in? Should education be divided as well?

Africa birthed one more hideous example of how vicious circle of intolerance can influence minds and communities, and its name is Boko Haram which translates literally to "Western education is forbidden". This groups by its very existence proves that teaching is often treated as something local or regional, connected to culture and by culture – separated. The group, Nigerian Islamists, is responsible for bombings, assassinations and abductions all over the most populous country of African continent. One of their actions, the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls, has sparked an outrage all over the world and an online campaign: Bring Back Our Girls. It has happened a year ago, in April 2014, and now there are still more than 200 missing. Even if found they will never be the same. The time will be forever gone. The knowledge they are gaining is of the darkest corners of human soul.

It shouldn't be like that. Education is supposed to be light. Learning is a process accompanying us from the moment we are born, and we are all born equal. Only with days passing by, only because of exposure to information and environment we start to see differences. Those divide us into races, cultures, into West and the rest, into Global North and South. Few have power to move around that, to fit into transnational unity and solidarity rather than boxed views of 'local', of 'us and the other'.

Boko Haram and similar movements are only proving how needed is a reform of the whole system, is proving how postcolonial hangover is still a burden of the so much hated West and the Western approach. We live in a castle of standardized reality of XIXth century factories and mass-production. Walls of this construction were built during times of European expansionism, when common was thinking that what was born in the West is better. Those times disappeared after the Second World War. Echoes remained and are here to stay as well as the castle. Its walls though need to be put down as those 147 people in Kenya, those kidnapped girls, Syrian refugees, so many Ukrainian children and other people from all over the world, are victims of divided civilization. We are all victims of shadows brought by those walls.

Education is supposed to be light in the darkness. It should close gaps between contemporary generations being born in different corners of our global village. Technology brought us to each other closer than ever before in the history of mankind, but we still do not know how to behave. We create virtual walls instead of bridges of dialogue... Einstein has said that "wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it". Let's then try to create an environment where our youth can try to get all the knolwedge easily and without a threat of being kidnapped or killed at school. Where one can be creative and discover who he really is, and what he can do to live a happy life. Finally, where borders are lines on papers and not in our hearts.

It might happen but needs a closer entwining with multicultural approach, with trying to understand 'the other' so that 'the other' is no more. So that we are no longer judged by race, by value of our goods, but rather by the value of our humanity.

No standardization. No universality. Freedom of choice and self-directed learning with limits put on creating experts in particular fields on the third level of formal education (medicine, engineering, etc.), non-formal education, vocational trainings and life-long learning being part of our reality and constant development in the constantly developing world. Such a simple dream.

April 16th, 2015, Zagreb, Croatia. Students from Zagreb University paid tribute to colleagues from Garissa by lying on the ground, each with number representing one of 147 victims of the horrific attack. They stayed like that in silence, for 147 seconds. 147 seconds of silence can be a stronger bridge between continents than diplomatic missions. How many of us find those moments for looking outside the boxes of our lives? Do we have time to try and understand the other? To learn?

I am 148th, are you?

About the Author

Łukasz Kosowski

Łukasz Kosowski

Author is an educator, a PhD candidate in the Department of History of Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland). He is a freelance, non-formal education trainer focused on Human Rights, creativity and intercultural dialogue.