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Sunday 15 September 2019
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Commentary

Education for democracy

TTUTA

THE DEMOCRATIC way of life we currently enjoy was never graciously conferred upon us, but won through hard struggles against oppressive colonising forces.

Following the abolition of slavery, the end of two world wars, the fall of the iron curtain and the demise of many dictatorships, the world would have lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that significant strides may have been made and the world over now essentially can be considered a place where democratic rights and freedoms can prevail once and for all.

Many would have thought never again would these things happen.

But how wrong the world could have been? The complacent slumber that caused many societies to leave the guard doors open to power-grab threats has caused many in the free world to awaken in astonishment and shock to see the emergence of rulers who have been supposedly filtered by the democratic process, only to use their democratically conferred powers to undermine democracy and instead replace it with authoritarian rule.

The due diligence process has been seriously compromised by the emergence of the new weapon of authoritarian rule called social media.

Eternal vigilance, we would have been told, is the price of democracy. Unfortunately, while we revelled in our freedoms without stopping to understand how we came to enjoy them, powerful forces seized upon an opportunity to pounce on this ignorance and pedal untruths, lies, fabrications and misinformation on a scale that the world has never seen before.

The social media platforms, having become the instant sensation but without any concurrent system of regulation and accountability, bombard unsuspecting minds with information to the point where people cannot discern between fact and fiction.

From the US to Brazil, Philippines and Turkey, ignorance provided ample opportunity for the re-emergence of fascism, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, hate and social injustice; darkness and ignorance being the fuel of fear; the basis for the acceptance of totalitarian rule by people. Human nature is such that it is easy to be afraid of the unknown.

While communication technologies and in particular social media have connected people like never before, the potential to magnify misinformation also grew exponentially. This power was too tempting to resist by the wealthy few, whose greed subscribes to no limits of moral decency.

As educators charged with the responsibility of shaping the future generations, this development must trouble us deeply. In responding to this quagmire, we must first ask what did we do in the past, knowingly or unknowingly, that landed us in this situation where untruths and falsehoods can be so easily accepted by our current tech generation.

If education is touted to be the liberator of enlightenment, how do we redefine our mandate to defend against the onslaught of misinformation that deliberately targets the large numbers of uninformed?

Democracy as we know it is being threatened and attacked like never before. Our democratic institutions like the media, judiciary and trade unions have become the target for demonisation by those threatened by the emergence of enlightenment. Maximum rulers, emboldened by their power to evoke instant responses from like-minded followers, easily prevail over masses that are unable/unwilling to think, challenge or question.

Our lesson from history must not be lost as we chart the way forward. Fear and hatred can be easily planted on the dark soils of ignorance. Teaching our children what democracy looks, feels and sounds like has now become an imperative; not an option given the global developments.

Our mandate to preserve and protect democracy has never been any clearer. As teachers we accepted a social contract when we made that all-important decision to become teachers. Our mandate is not only defined by the prescribed curriculum, but also by the external task environment – the societies we serve.

When enlightened souls choose inaction or indifference when injustice prevails next door, the consequences can be catastrophic as history would have demonstrated. It is therefore our duty and moral obligation to defend and protect democracy, our democratic institutions and our democratic way of life before it is too late. History can and does repeat itself if allowed to do so.

As part of a global family, we must pay close attention to what is taking place in other jurisdictions. We must be alert to the global trends and understand the impact they can have on us. This can begin in the classroom by simply teaching children the responsible use of social media.

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