Towards Society Empowered Education: A Very Brief Introduction to Sona Jobarteh’s Work

Towards Society Empowered Education: A Very Brief Introduction to Sona Jobarteh’s Work

Recently I came across an acceptance speech made by Sona Jobarteh of Gambia, the first female exponent of the kora, an ancient and highly refined stringed instrument of Western Africa, as she received the Honorary PhD from Berklee College of Music, Boston, Massachusetts. This itself is significant as she had mastered an instrument which was hitherto in an exclusively male domain. However, what caught my attention was her HUMONGOUS work which is to reform education in Africa.

Africa, like Bhārata, was colonized and the western education system was imposed on the natives there. Having taken its toll on the systems, traditions, society and individuals, and having enabled the colonisers to cheat, divide, plunder and loot, Africa is today abysmally impoverished in every sense. Sona Jobarteh is from Gambia, the smallest country in mainland Africa, yet holds the ocean-like ambition of transforming and taking the entire continent of Africa to its state of pride and glory by this transformation.

The following details are extracted from parts of her speech:

She founded the Gambia Academy in 2015 to pioneer a new education model. A model that is liberated from the legacy of the education systems that were implemented in Africa during the colonial era, enabling to bring culture, languages, history and the traditions of the African people to the very center and core of the academic education. She expresses that though she is proud of what she has been able to achieve, she is ashamed that the legacy of colonialism continues to live on in Africa and in the education systems despite political independence having been achieved several decades ago. She does not see a need to fix what is already present, as she sees a very broken education system that was implemented to undermine and to disempower Africans but rather she intends to uproot this broken system altogether and to replace it one that brings culture, identity and the values of the people to its very core.

What she said next pertaining to music was illuminating. Obviously, being a musician herself, her emphasis on this area appears obvious but she states otherwise, insisting that music carries the very essence of the cultural identity of the people. Historically, music has been a part of the daily existence of the people of Africa and cannot be separated from the functioning of society as an isolated practice. In many societies, music as an isolated concept or a term does not even exist!

If we expose students to the right education that empowers and supports them on a daily basis from within their own viewpoint, they will find the confidence to be who they are, be proud of that and understand that to be educated is synonymous with being a proud and centered African.

"I teach that to be successful and educated is also synonymous with being a proud African."

– Sona Jobarteh

In intent and ambition, there is much that can be compared to the work of the many great thinkers on education who have been advocating Bhāratiya Education starting from Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Subramanya Bharati and several others along with M. K. Gandhi – whose political significance of questioning the imposition of western education on Bhārat is well noted – which is being taken forward today by Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal.

Several phrases from our Saṅgaṭhan Gīt are echoed by Jobarteh in her speech and I am reproducing some of them here:

स्वाभिमान से भर दे मन को (filling the mind with self-worth and pride)

शासन से हो पूर्ण मुक्त यह, समाजपोषित शिक्षा नीति (Fully liberated from government, with education laws nurtured by society)

राष्ट्रभाव से पाठ भरे हो (Soaked with sentiments of national pride)

रसमय होवे सारी शिक्षा वातावरण हो खुला प्रसन्ना (let education be enjoyable in an open and joyful environment)

By strange coincidence, she uses the term ‘uprooting’ in the context of doing away with the colonial education system and replacing it with native knowledge systems. In contrast, M. K. Gandhi (rightly) accused the British of having uprooted our Beautiful Tree (of education)!

There are bound to be some bigger contrasts between the Bhāratīya view of education and as viewed by eminent people like Jobarteh in other parts of the world but, without doubt, the world would feel completely different if nations embarked on re-defining their true selves through the medium of education. In all probability, the lop-sided and destructive effects of the current “mainstream” education, which was enforced on people of different cultures by western colonial powers, would diminish if such becomes the state of the world. The deeply felt aspirations of the people as a society would prevail and would empower them in every way, making life a lot more meaningful and, thereby, joyous.

On this note, let us recall the first lines of our Saṅgaṭhan Gīt –

भारतीयशिक्षा से हो भारत माँका पुनरुत्थान

विश्वगुरु के पद पर बैठे माता पाएं गौरवस्थान ||

And when Bhārat Māta becomes Viśwa Guru, the world would unquestioningly turn towards dharma. This would usher in an era of harmony, sustenance and prosperity for all.

Jai Hind!

Watch Sona Jobarteh’s acceptance speech here: