IN NORWAY, a missionary organisation recently made a film that broke the usual stereotype of Bangladesh. Mothers and fathers worked, children went to school. There were no famines and no despair. The schoolchildren who saw the film didn’t believe it. How could it be in Bangladesh, they demanded? ‘There all the children are starving,’
In the Swiss Parliament, a right-wing MP lashed out viciously at an excellent government-subsidized publication on the coffee trade because it dares to quote Colombian guerilla leader Camillo Torres. Government-sponsored ’development education’, says the MP, must tell the Swiss public only what little Switzerland is doing to help the poor downtrodden Third World. (He cautiously avoids adding that Swiss multinational corporations are doing a lot of this treading down.)
In Holland an organization called IKVOS is shaking the complacency of its middle-class Church backers by building links between workers in the Third World and in Holland. And by helping Dutch workers understand the mechanisms of international capital movements and trade.
In Quebec, a news agency devoted solely to broadcasting little-known news about El Salvador is financed in great part by religious orders. And another Church-financed organization, Project North, supports Canada’s Third World — the Indians and Inuits.
In Holland, ‘Third World’ shops now are mainly concerned with national and local issues and have practically dropped all concern for the Third World. And in Sweden. a leading educator stresses that development education should deal more with the method of teaching than the content.
These are only a sample of the broad gamut of opinions, practices and attitudes one finds in the tremendously fuzzy. rapidly-changing field that’s been labelled development education.
Although the history of ’dev-ed’ is brief, it is essential to understand the profound changes it is undergoing today.
The church origin of many of the most important dev-ed groups no doubt explains their initial charity- orientation.
At first, towards the end of the 1950s, dev-ed was much more strongly linked to fund-raising than today. This link is partly responsible for the standard view of the Third World: starving children with big bellies and supplicating mothers. Over the years this kind of condescending and mythical image has become one of the greatest obstacles to our understanding the Third World. Norwegian development educator, Sissel Volan, neatly sums up this approach with the expression ‘prostitution of poverty.
Towards the end of the 1960s a small number of those concerned with Third World poverty began to see that underdevelopment did not exist in a vacuum. Poverty had to be seen as part of the structure of society — and as such the product of economic and political processes. There was also a growing awareness of the increasing gap in real incomes between the Third World and the West As a result many agencies traditionally concerned with relief and aid began centering their message’ more on social justice.
This shift from a gut-level but essentially self-serving emotional reaction to a growing focus on economic issues was the first major turning point in the evolution of development education.
There was a gradual but obvious change in many development agencies. In Belgium, for example, Oxfam Third World shops evolved into book stores and study centers.
The worldwide furore over the New International Economic Order and the post-1973 ‘energy crisis’ ushered in the second major turning point in development education: a growing critique of lopsided ‘maldevelopment’ in the West Consumption for the sake of growth and damn - the - consequences seemed neither acceptable nor just.
This turning point was essential because with it came three important realizations.
• Unbalanced material prosperity and the attendant shrinking of spiritual and human values creates more problems than it solves— whatever the type of political and economic system.
• A critique of structural underdevelopment in the Third World could no longer be divorced from that of maldevelopment in the industrialized countries.
• All problems are interrelated. There are no more private paradises. Our neighbour is everyone. Our only haven is the world.
So it is not surprising that in most Western countries development education has burst the narrow corset of guilt about the poor. It is more and more concerned with a widening range of issues like disarmament, ecology, human rights and alternative lifestyles. And these are just as likely to focus on Western as Third World countries.
It seems that development education is becoming a new way of looking at the world— a sort of 20th century survival and fulfilment skill ‘Survival’ because that seems to be the crucial world problem today, given the nuclear and ecological menaces. And ‘fulfilment because of the immense hopes for a new and better world.
But if development educators are stalking off in new directions, are the troops following? Well, a few soldiers seem to be. But certainly not the whole regiment The great majority of the public still seems to relate to the Third World with a mixture of guilt and charity. And what support does exist seems to be waning during the current economic recession.
In Switzerland, for example, the West’s richest country, the government recently reneged on its commitment to reach .35 per cent of GNP in official aid by 1984. Barely a squeak of protest was heard in response.
If the general results of development education are disappointing after 25 years development educators in many ways have only themselves to blame. We have so often encouraged guilt and still do.
However, I think two fundamental errors have been made over the past decades:
First we believed people had a moral obligation to be concerned with the Third World.
Second, we have behaved as if development education were going on in a sort of mental vacuum, neglecting the tremendous pressures forcing people to be detached and uninvolved.
Never in world history have so many things been changing at the same time at such speed. Many of these changes are world-wide, related to each other, and often have a totally unexpected impact. Such an accumulation of change is close to shattering for most people.
This ultra-rapid change is one reason why authority itself is being challenged. The authority of ideologies, churches, parents, school, political parties and even modern science is beginning to crumble.
In addition, for the first time in human history, humanity is faced with the possibility of total catastrophe by either nuclear warfare or ecological neglect
All this is going on in an unsettling atmosphere of world economic crisis coupled with an unbelievable ‘information overload’ (the world’s five largest press agencies alone spew out something like 170-180 million words daily). Paradoxically, through this process of ‘selective disinformation’ people are becoming less and less informed on many key issues.
For the average person, the world is becoming more unpredictable and less comprehensible. The result is a feeling of powerlessness and fatalism, a disturbing trait in both capitalist and socialist countries.
Most people feel manipulated by huge impersonal forces they do not understand and believe they cannot influence. In a world he or she can’t make head or tail of, why should the average person be concerned with the impact of pesticides on Guatemalan peasants? Or union repression in South Korea?
The onus is really on development educators to put together an interpretation of events so convincing and hope-filled that people will stop being passive consumers. Instead they will become active agents of ecologically and humanly healthy development in the global village we all inhabit
A little over a decade ago, Garrett Harding expounded a now famous parable about a lifeboat (Western nations) to which the hungry masses of the Third World were clinging, hoping to climb in. Harding (and many others) said we had to stave them off, otherwise we would all sink.
Fortunately, Harding’s ‘lifeboat ethics’ sprung rather a large leak. We now all realize that the lifeboat is the world. We will sink it together or save it together. That is the key message we need to get across. Development education is the skill which will enable us to do just that Not only survive in the global village but — why not? — prosper.