Indigenous Calendar August, 2017: Cheating Education

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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

When the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai their primary intention was not to kill her: It was, instead, to cheat her, and all girls in Pakistan, of education. Death was to be merely the price she would have to pay. Instead, she cheated death. Last month, having just turned 20, she graduated high school. In so doing she passed a major milestone in her ongoing education. I have no doubt that passing this milestone will be an inspiration to the millions of indigenous girls who are cheated of their education. Before starting her university education, Malala will spend the summer of 2017 on a Girl Power Trip campaigning for education.

In northeastern Cambodia a Chray village was just a few days away from inaugurating a new school. I hadn't planned to stop in the village and my guide drove by it as if it weren't even there. (According to my map, it wasn't.) If I hadn't noticed the school we wouldn't have stopped and this photo wouldn't exist.

Usually, when I visit indigenous communities, I have to ask to see the local school. Even then I'm often greeted with suspicion until I explain my interest in indigenous education. This time it was different: the first thing I was invited to see was this new school. It was as if the community was saying: "Look, we now have education. We're on the map!"

A year ago, plagiarism was prominent in the mainstream media. What was significant about that case was not that it was caught or that it involved a high-profile event or a famous person. Instead it was significant because teachers finally had an example of plagiarism that their students could relate to. Some, of course, will ignore the lesson. There have been dozens of cases of plagiarism over the past year and there will be many more.

In Cambodia those who are privileged enough to have access to education are subject to political corruption: they are likely to have to pay bribes whether they cheat or not. This applies to indigenous peoples like the Chray even more so because of racial discrimination against them.

Contrary to popular opinion, racism is not the belief that merit and ability derive from skin pigmentation. But racism is a belief. It is the belief that the term 'race' separates humans into different species. Nothing could be further from the scientific truth. But only those educated in evolutionary biology and genetics know beyond doubt that all modern humans belong to the same species.

We are trending toward a dangerous world where truth and facts no longer matter. We can learn an important lesson from these Chray villagers: We cannot cheat our way into education, but only education can prevent us from cheating ourselves. Malala herself perhaps expressed it most succinctly: "I will continue this fight until I see every child, every child, in school."

The Chray are featured in our documentary, Indigenous Peoples of Southeast Asia.

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