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Religion and ignorance killed those kids, not faith.

Matthew Syed wrote eloquently in the Times:
"The problem in the Middle East is not with Sunnis, Shias or even Isis. It's with religion itself. The Bible like the Koran, has elements that can be interpreted as authorising violence; if Christianity in the West has caused less bloodshed in recent centuries, it's only because it has become less religious. The more "revealed truth" gives way to Enlightenment ideals of evidence and reason, the less followers of a given creed kill those who take a different view."
Today we heard the disgusting and tragic news that yet another school has been bombed by Boko Haram. 47 children were killed and countless severely injured at a science and technology school in Nigeria. This is the most recent in a series of vile horrors committed by these madmen in the name of their deranged version of Islam. As Syed says, it's not the books they believe in that are the problem. It's the mad interpretation they put on their contents for the sole purpose of perpetuating that interpretation.

I have often written about the importance of education to help and encourage young people to ask questions. By thinking for themselves and not blindly accepting the religions of their parents and tribal leaders, we might just be able to encourage enough young men to question whether they will definitely be martyred in heaven to take the wind out of the sails of Boko Haram, Isis et al.

So where ignorance is the engine that sustains these organisations, its fuel is poverty. Hopelessness and despair drive people into the hands of religions. It's their ultimate hope to protect their children and to better their lives. Because nothing else they can do will help them. They can't work any longer or harder. All they've got to look forward to is a hand-to-mouth existence, if they're lucky, and most likely an early death from a preventable disease. No wonder it's so easy to sell them eternal salvation and other ancient fairy stories believed by the only people they've ever trusted. And without any evidence that their religious leaders don't have all the answers to the world's mysteries, why question them? Indeed how do you question them? And why would the religious leaders themselves question what they have been taught as Truth. They simply do not have the ability to question ancient guesswork. In highly educated parts of the world like Europe, many religious leaders do healthily question their faiths. Faith must always be questioned. It's why it's called 'faith' and not 'fact'.

Charitable provision of food and health services to redress poverty won't change anything long term. It's vital, of course, but it's not going to stop the rise of extreme religions. Education is the only way to fight back - and in a way that most parents will understand is good for their children - not withstanding that the children themselves want it. They know it holds the key for their futures, but it can also be fun and lets them play with other kids. Good teachers and good teaching provides the only proven way out of poverty.

The challenge is how to provide high quality education, safely and in a way that suits every child living in disparate parts of the world. I believe the answer lies in harnessing technology. By leap-frogging traditional education practices of gathering children around a teacher of questionable ability, technology today could be harnessed to deliver high quality teaching into challenging environments, especially refugee camps and remote villages. Wifi linked to the fast expanding availability of wireless telecom networks can combine with low cost, durable, solar-powered tablets to access a wide range of customisable lessons and other teaching resources already available on the net which pupils can select and progress in their own time either collectively or individually. Combine this, perhaps, with external teachers and other personal support specialists who can be located anywhere in the world, and we might be able to create a low-cost, high quality, accredited education service for the world’s most disadvantaged. 

And by avoiding having to cluster children in education centres, perhaps we can also help prevent atrocities like those in Nigeria and the Middle East.

Fight poverty by defeating ignorance. Nothing else works in the long term.


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