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jeudi 30 avril 2015


BBC had an article about Access and Attainment of Education in Developing countries. Every one realizes that access to school has increased dramatically in the past fifty years.
From the BBC
There has been a convergence in the number of pupils enrolling in primary school, with many more young children in developing countries now having access to school.
But when it comes to average levels of attainment - how much children have learnt and how long they have spent in school - there remains a massive gap.
When it's shown as an average number of years in school and levels of achievement, the developing world is about 100 years behind developed countries. These poorer countries still have average levels of education in the 21st Century that were achieved in many western countries by the early decades of the 20th Century.
I just returned from an Art Exhibition with the theme of Ecology and Waste by Nursery school students! An absolute luxury but in terms of the Western Education, it is nothing out of the ordinary.
Then felt so sad thinking about my little friends in the beach town of Chaungtha, who were unable to continue their education and like most of the villagers became functionally illiterate.

Having been in Fort Cochin where it is customary to see oodles of kids scooting their way off to school in the morning, the disparities in education is not only quantitative but also qualitative. Cochin along with the state it is situated in claims to have a high literacy rate. It has many newspapers in the local language, also many TV channels. It has also a steady intellectual climate.
Few days later I was in La Habana, Cuba. Certainly no country, including many of the richer countries in Asia can compare themselves to Cuba where literary rates reach 100 per cent. Why are there no children in the streets, Rigoberto Menchu, the Nobel Laureate asked Fidel, while being driven away from the airport? They are at school, Madame, every single one of them.

I teach at the university in Cuba and I am always surprised at the high levels of curiosity and preparation of the students. The Cuban education is good not only quantitatively, but also it gets high marks in terms of quality.
One of the items of interest is that education is not commercialized in Cuba. If you are smart, regardless of your colour or origin or status, you can study as far as you wish to go. It certainly holds the distinction of the highest proportion of university and tertiary graduates, in all of the Americas. I was not surprised to read that nearly half of the migrant Spanish-speaking women (excluding Cuban migrants) to the USA had less than six years of high school! A situation such as that is impossible to conceive in Cuba.
Quality of education offered in many of the Arab and Asian countries is subpar. The school children in China often score higher than Western children in tests, but to me, it tells of their education in test taking. No wonder that one third of all graduate students at the university of Miami; a private university are from China. The first university degree from secular institutions in India is considered equal to a high school education in Australia.
(Women's education lags behind in many countries and many communities around the world)
The disparity is that not all bright children from India or China can afford to go abroad to study to get an education they deserve. The excellent local universities in China and India are extraordinarily competitive to gain admission.
It would be nice to live in a world where every child receives an education and that deserving children gain access to a quality tertiary education.  Instead of snatching away the best students from schools like Institute of Technology, it would be nice if there is a way that more people got an education similar to that and stayed in their own countries to make living better for all, not migrate and make only your personal life better
This is just a personal opinion. In the list of best universities in the world, not a single university appears from the Arab world or Asia (with the exception of Singapore and `Japan). Even in restricted lists of regional best universities, one sees a dearth of possibilities of higher education of good quality.
I see why BBC saw the hundred-year gap, and strangely enough this gap can only continue. If we spent just a small fraction of the money spent on arms and warfare on education, there would be many more Malala Yusufzai all over the developing world!
At the level of Countries, no other country in the world, educates poor deserving students from the rest of the world, free of charge, at a tertiary level than the little island of Cuba. Instead of keeping the brightest among them in Cuba or bartering them to another country, Cuba requires that they go home. On more than one occasion, fathers and mothers in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Ghana, thanking for the free education provided by the Cuban government for their children, have hugged me. This legacy of Cuba, this universal respect for education, will last forever. It has gained Cuba more respect than any globalization effort by major corporations for their countries of origin.
This trust has translated into a respect among the developing countries for Cuba. Many of the international conflict resolution, usually request a Cuban input, as happened recently signing of the peace treaty between FARC and the Colombian Government in La Habana.

Some interesting facts
Education expenditures continue to receive high priority, as Cuba spends 10 percent of its central budget on education, compared with 4 percent in the United Kingdom and just 2 percent in the United States, according to UNESCO
   Irrespective of income or place of living, education at every level is free
   School meals and uniforms are free
   There is a strict maximum of 25 children per primary-school class, many of which have as few as 20. As of 2010, secondary schools are striving towards only 15 pupils per class.[6]
   Many schools open at 6.30 am and close 12 hours later, providing free morning and after-school care for working parents with no extended family.[6]
   "Mobile teachers" are deployed to homes if children are unable to come to school.[6]
   A majority of Cuba's 150,000 teachers have a minimum of 5 years of higher education; about half have a master's degree.
There are now 23 medical schools in Cuba, up from only 3 in 1959 before the Cuban Revolution.[

A 1998 study by UNESCO reported that Cuban students showed a high level of educational achievement. Cuban third and fourth graders scored 350 points, 100 points above the regional average in tests of basic language and mathematics skills. The report indicated that the test achievement of the lower half of students in Cuba was significantly higher than the test achievement of the upper half of students in other Central and South American countries in the study group


On entering the Admirals Club at gate 30 at concourse D at Miami International airport, I was greeted by a smile, which I immediately knew to be Cuban! From San Antonio de los Banos, she said, when I asked her where she was from. I remembered a very special day in the past in that city which hosts an annual Comedy Festival. It is outside the city of Havana, she continued. But I am from the city, Vedado, to be precise, I surprised her. I don't believe you, she smiled. We quickly became friends; she was attending the passengers at the Lounge. She had left her hometown at the age of 18, before she could finish her studies, when her parents received the visa to come to the USA. She seemed disappointed that she has not been able to continue her studies, had she stayed in Cuba, she would have already graduated. But immigration is a personal choice and one must never judge people for their actions to leave Cuba. I told her to enter Miami Dade Community College and then Florida International University before pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinarian. She brought me a glass of sauvignon Blanc and it is customary to offer a tip. I looked at my wallet and to my surprise, I did not have a single American dollar, but had Cuban pesos of both kind 9 one chavito is worth a dollar, one peso cubano is worth five cents). I timidly offered the chavito, which she accepted, and I told her to check my blog to see some recent photos from la Habana. She left to attend to others.

In my brief one day stay in Miami, I had three younger Cubans and two older Cubans and they differed so dramatically in their views about Cuba. The younger ones reflected the Cuba as it is today having left in the last few years. The older ones, who had left half a century ago, carry their bags of venom in their breaths when they talk about Cuba.
(so close yet so divided, hopefully we will be united soon)
(time taken to fly from Havana to Miami from take off to touch down!)
At a store an older Cuban woman overheard me buying things to take back to Cuba. She remarked that she has not been back in 46 years and she blamed the recent American influx into Cuba as people gawking at misery! There is no freedom there, she talked as if she had discovered a truth, and became silent when I had to point out the lack of certain freedoms in Miami, such as the ability to walk when you want and where you want. People like here and other older people are going to suffer psychologically as the truth about Cuba brought back by neutral American visitors triumph over the work of half a century old anti Cuban propaganda machinery in Miami.
Another older Cuban man, running his own business, an electrician, said he will not invest in Cuba as long as the Castros are alive but he didn't mind Americans visiting there. He was also very negative about Cuban politics. I gently pointed out that the Cuban American politicians are some of the most reactionaries in the scene and that their uneducated ill pronouncements make any and every American cringe with fear and distrust.
I am afraid that these older Cuban Americans will suffer psychologically as days go by and Cuba and its people get better and fairer and truthful coverage in the press and TV, thus making their own lives as if they had lived a lie, concocted by the selfish Cuban American politicians and businessmen. (PS: Miami is considered to be the most fraudulent place to be a politician or a businessman in the USA)
But the younger Cubans who had come here for various reasons are very different. They do not have the venomous breath of the older ones and they are realistic about what they left behind and also wish to do something about improving the lives of the relatives left behind. One was an IT engineer who came six years ago; the other was a personal trainer who left 12 years ago. The latters wife left when she was 15 and very anxious to return to her native island as soon as it is feasible. When can see my country again, she had asked her husband.

My words to all of them were similar. Please think nice thoughts about our isla rica, our Cuba. The people of Cuba need your support now, moral and financial. This is not the time for discussions about political parties and dissidents. This is not the time for divisions or hatred. Help your family in the island in any way you can, best is to establish a little business they can carry on, however small, to show them the value of financial freedom and control. And I told them all about the lady from Ayesterran in Havana who with her ice cream machine was making a nice living, because of her good business plan and long ago paid back the investment her Miami relatives had made in her.
I felt good once again, being an unofficial ambassador for the people of Cuba and looked forward to my return to my beloved island. Cuba

mercredi 29 avril 2015


For curious reasons, Fort Cochin, the  little peninsula jetting into the Backwaters, facing the Arabian sea in southwestern state of Kerala is the only city I know and visit in India.
During the last visit  just a month ago, the religiosity of the people were apparent to me, in my dealings with people of various faiths. Whether they belong to the three major religions here: Hinduism, Christianity or Islam , or minor one like the Jains or the handful of Jews in Jewtown, they were all deeply religious.
It gives the inhabitants of Cochin a respect for the sacred space. I cannot imagine burning of churches as happens in Pakistan or forbidding of new churches as in Malaysia or desecration of Jewish cemeteries as in France happening here in Cochin.
This harmony of relationships has a history which stretches back a millennia or two. Hinduism is the native religion, even though a pre-Hindu aboriginal religion may have existed. ( there are dolmens and other archeological sites thought to be from that period not too far from Cochin). Some of the oldest mosques and churches extant are to found in this region. St Thomas seemed to have travelled through here, the Portuguese priests who arrived with Vasco da Gama may have been surprised to see active churches along Malabar Coast. There may have been trade between Arabian shores and Cochin coast long before Islam, this trade possibly accelerated the spread of Islam along this coast. Notably, India may be the only country where Jews were not stained with the poisons of anti-Semitism.
I am writing this in Brussels in Belgium. As I look out of my window I see a row of hijab clad school girls, teenagers. It seems like an anomaly, a misfit into this environment, and certainly an added construction of recent years.  In Cochin, it looked quite natural, as it has been for centuries. Hindu children with pastes on their forehead, Christian children with crosses dangling from their necks and in school uniforms from their convent schools and Muslim children in their hijabs or caps and loose fitting tunics, all walk together towards their schools in the morning. It is a very common sight. It looks natural because it has been like this for centuries.
This harmony among religions has been mentioned ever since written records have been kept by Arab, Jewish, Christian European travellers to this part of the world. Before the arrival of the Portuguese there was a thriving Buddhist community of Chinese were present along the  Kalvathy River, who traded peacefully. The natives of this part of Cochin are indistinguishable from one another in their physiognomy, bearing countenances of their Arab, Jewish, Portuguese and Dutch ancestors rather than the Dravidian faces one encounters inland.

The people here are deeply religious. I was surprised to see the church service full of congregants at 7 am on a weekday, something you will not witness in the West. The Muslims are observant and Fort Cochin is dotted with mosques, the older ones are discreet. The newer ones built with money from Saudi Arabia have minarets or cupolas which seem unworldly amidst the palm trees and papaya and banana plants.
I work with Native people of the American continent and for them the religious observances are about spirituality. There are no churches, no religious leaders nor any texts. In Cochin, it is about piety, observance and ritual.
When we talk about Spirituality in the West it has different context and this has to be made clear in conversations with the inhabitants of Cochin.  Piety among Cochinis of all faiths and Spirituality among the American Native Indians both has a common mythic world. The Cochinis particularize and connect with this mythical world through their religious observances and the American Indians connect it through spirituality. For the American Indians, connection with the universe is more important than connection to any deity.  In the company of the Christian lady in Cochin, who apologized for not being at church during the weekend, despite the fact that she attends church twice a day, I could feel the same sense of an universal sentiment that I feel with my American Indian friends who talk to me of their observances of natural phenomenon such as thunder, trees and flowers.

This photo of Kochi (Cochin) is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Cochin Jews experienced no anti-Semitism because they lived in Cochin, not because they lived amidst Christians and Muslims. Such sentiments were rare in the centuries old amity between the faiths, except for a short period under the Portuguese when they burned down the synagogue in 1662 and persecuted the  Jews.

This photo of Kochi (Cochin) is courtesy of TripAdvisor
I wish to bring to your attention two good examples of this interdenominational amity. One is the shrine of Kappiri Muthappan and the other is the tomb of Nehami Mutta.
In both these sites, now considered sacred by all, people of all faiths come to pray, light candls, offer flowers and in case of Kappiri muthappan, offer toddy (arrack) or cigarettes.
Kappiri, a corrupt version of Portuguese, caffre, meaning a black African male, has entered vividly into the imagination of Cochinis. Many people would swear by the existence of this spirit,a  benevolent one. The story goes back to the retreat of the Portuguese when they were thought to have buried their African slaves when they hid their treasures, so that it would be guarded when they return.

Kappiri loves to live in mango trees and is fond of arrack and cigars and there are places in Mattancherry called kappiri mathil, places thought to be where kappiris rest. The shrine has no deification, just a platform and has become a sacred space now, for all faiths.
Just a short walk away from the Jew street which gets the most attention from  the tourists, there is a residential area where a tomb of a Jew has become a sacred space and one could see Christians, Muslims or Hindus offering their prayers  It is the tomb of rav nehamia ben avaraham , a Yemeni scholar who migrated to Cochin and died in 1616

Translation provided by Late Itzhak Hallegua of Cochin.

Here rests the Kabblist and famous old man of sanctity
Who emanated the light of his knowledge
And shines every where in the Jewish dispersion
(He is) the perfect wise man
(and) the righteous person of divinity
(he is) the rav and teacher.
Nehemia son of the rav and teacher, the wise and beloved
Abraham Muta (old person) of blessed and saintly memory
And he passed on his life to the (late) rabbanim ( e xpired)
On Sunday 28th of the month of Kislev
In the year of creation 5376 (1616AD)

The tomb is an area which used to be Black Jewish cemetery but when the black Jews left for Israel in 1955, owner of the house donated the house and the tomb to a local Christian family on condition that the tomb will be kept whitewashed and clean.
I lit the Shabbat candles and said prayers for my friends scattered around the world. and considered it a privilege to do so.
The fact that the original  Kappiri were Christian and that Nehemiah Mutta was Jewish, is of no concern to the devotees. They offer their prayers and seek the help from Kappiri Muthappan or Nehemi Mutta.

This interdenominational amity is documented over and over again. In a recently published book, The mosques of Cochin, Patricia Fels gives details of the Kerala architecture of many of the mosques of Cochin. One of the mosques detailed in the book is the Chembitta Palli. When I passed this architectural gem in the company of my friend, Mr N, he mentioned this story to me about the founding of the Kochangadi Juma Masjid, Chembitta Palli, in Mattancherry, near Kochi. A local Jewish merchant was so impressed with the knowledge of Sayyid Fakhr Bukhari, its spiritual leader, that he donated all the timber for the construction of the mosque.

This ancient friendship is not frayed in face of Arab propaganda against Israel. Many of the young cochin Muslims work in Arabia (I have met them in Salalah, Muscat in Oman and in Doha) and know Arabs from many countries who work there, but the ancient friendship towards other religion continue to triumph among the Cochinis.
I found this video in the  internet, hope i am not infringing on any ones copyright, but it is about faces of Cochin and you can see typical dravidian faces as well as faces of arab, european admixtures..