The Role of Teachers and Textbooks in a Democracy

Screenshot from video about school opening for girls in Sudan, Jan. 14, 2011. [USAID Image]

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“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
— James Madison, 1788

This month’s historic referendum will determine southern Sudan’s future, either as an independent country of part of a unified Sudan. Voting ends on Saturday, January 15, and enormous efforts have been launched by U.S., Sudanese, and international agencies to support a credible process — that voters know how and where to vote, that the Sudanese referendum commission is equipped to carry out referendum logistics, that sufficient ballots and voting materials are available, and that poll workers and election observers are properly trained.

At the same time, the United States has continued to provide development assistance that strengthens democracy as well as demonstrates the benefits of peace. These efforts include improving health care and access to clean water, building roads and transportation infrastructure, providing microcredit loans to spur economic growth, and — of particular importance — increasing access to and the quality of education.

Formal education is not a prerequisite for wisdom, but it is a critical part of active participation in the democratic process. Literacy is crucial for making informed voting decisions and lobbying representatives for change. The public’s ability to effectively organize and work in groups provides protection against political abuses and dictatorships. Research supports the intuition that investments in education pay returns in peace and democracy. (See a related interactive graph.)

In 2005, when Sudan ended its 22-year civil war, only 37% of southern Sudanese men and 12% of women were literate. Primary school enrollment was low, and girls in particular faced many obstacles to attending school. These obstacles included high direct and indirect costs, discriminatory attitudes and school policies, and poor access to feminine hygiene products and lack of sanitation facilities.

Note: This entry first appeared on USAID’s Impact Blog. You can learn more about the Granville-Abbas School and view two videos about the school’s opening here on the Impact Blog.

My Note: The title of this article is unfortunate. Although I agree with the sentiments, it’s another overt message that the only path to education is through textbooks. That is absolutely NOT the case. Real education means people being able to make discerning choices about their own future and that of their community and country.