Can education be used as a counter-terrorism tool?

As the dust settles down on the terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, analysis on various aspects and persons concerned have taken centre stage.
Sam Kebongo
Sam Kebongo

As the dust settles down on the terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, analysis on various aspects and persons concerned have taken centre stage.

News channels such as Kenya’s Citizen TV (which most of us in Rwanda have access to) and other channels, both regional and international have feedback and analysis session. After all, it was an international event. This postmortem is good and quite necessary.

For neighbouring and brother countries such as Rwanda, it is a learning period. The Swahili saying; ukiona mwenzio ananyolewa wewe yako tia maji (if your colleague has been shaved, wet your hair and get ready) comes to mind.

It has emerged that the Al Shabaab is recruiting (mostly young people and teenagers) from all over the world.

That the Westgate attackers were multinational with Britons, Americans, Kenyans, etc lends credence to this claim.  Indeed, the fact that one of the terrorism suspects was nabbed as he changed his ticket to come to Kigali when he noticed he had been detected is very telling.

The reality in the case of the few captured terrorists (nabbed with bombs, guns, grenades and all) points that somehow it is possible to turn normal kids into deadly terrorists.

The question we must ask is; how does an average intelligent, middle class, well raised and educated kid turn a terrorist against the very society in which they were raised? Are we raising our kids right? Is our education serving its purpose? In fact what is the purpose of our education?

We are compelled to go back to the drawing board, re-analyse, and re-evaluate our systems. Are they taking us where we need to go or they could get us where we would rather not go?

Some wise fellow summed it up nicely, that the purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one. It should make a human that cannot think to be able to think all round, 3600.

We’ve been told and in turn tell our children that education is the key to one’s success in life. Soma (study hard)! Get good grades! Go to college! We have strived to make education freely available to all children; we’re giving everyone an equal opportunity to succeed in life.

But the path to success and even middle-class existence is no longer so straightforward, if indeed it ever was.

The famous scholar, Nicholas Negroponte stated, “No matter what global problem you are dreading, whether it’s the elimination of poverty, whether it’s the creation of peace, whether its solving environmental energy problems, the solution- whatever it is- multiple solutions, the solutions always include education, never is it without an education component and sometimes cannot be done without education….the children should be making things, writing computer programmes… learning by doing.

The thing is not to learn excel or such programmes, it is to learn to learn.”

`Over the decades, education purpose has been to prepare children for citizenship, cultivate a skilled workforce, teach cultural literacy, help students become critical thinkers and help students compete in a global marketplace.

Related as the goals are, they also demonstrate the diversity of expectations and prioritisation that society and its educators must manage. Education serves multiple objectives.

If we consider our dynamic and diverse economic, social, spiritual, cultural, and political realities it becomes clear that we have to watch how we instruct and measure success in school as a predictive indicator of future success of the individual in society and, indeed, the society’s success as a whole.

In this age of shifting sands, educators and the society cannot adopt a business as usual approach. We must constantly seek to determine the purpose of education and ensure that as education prepares students for specific careers it also instills in them students lifelong values, discipline that reflect who we are as a people. In addition, the ability to explore new ideas and to think independently would be critical.

Education is a front in fighting oddities such as terrorism among others. Religious education (on all religions) should be in the curriculum. This, if done in a comparative format that encourages critical thinking and  coupled with exposure, is key to ensuring that we leave no part of the mind empty for terrorists to fill with disguised hate.

Religion is powerful; you only have to look at the proportion of the world population that belongs to one faith or another, especially during solemn occasions like funerals and weddings.

We must expose our children to our values and the world religions for their own good. A spin so that terrorists do not find empty heads to fill with disguised hate.

Sam Kebongo is an entrepreneurship Development Consultant based in Kigali.