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I RUINED myself on Facebook

Rattana Lao

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BANGKOK – It was sometimes ago that the New Yorker featured a cartoon that went something like this: “you can be a dog behind a computer and no one knows.”

That’s my thought on the internet in general and social media in particular. Behind the masks of perfectly menicured life or perfect make up, there lie multiple truth, multiple reality, flaws and imperfection. Reality.

I joined Facebook when I was doing my Masters at the London School of Economics and Political Science – far away from my hometown glory of Bangkok, Thailand. Although I have known about Facebook from my highschool roommate when it was only accessible for IVY League students, I was not quite excited about it. I thought to myself “who in their right mind published their lives to the public?”

During the same time, the One Laptop Per Child policy was popular. I remember attending several public forums whereby this tech savvy professionals tried to convince low-tech Development experts that the internet is powerful and through it poverty would be uplifted.

UT1Being an outgoing and outspoken introvert, if that makes sense, I signed up for FB with an ambivalent feeling. On the one hand, I wanted to keep in touch with my friends and family from afar – to let them know how I am, what I eat, where I visit. On the other hand, I was scared and anxious of the unintended consequences. Well, my BFF called me “the most intense meaning making machine.” She is right.

As a writer, I travelled a lot and carried multiple devices: cellphone, iPads and computers. I changed 4 countries in 10 years and attended several schools and worked in several interesting projects.

FB had become the essential tool for me to store my pictures, poems and proses. I posted some on public, mostly I kept them private. In another word, FB is my cloud.

My posts had rarely been LIVE. I posted multiple things: narcassist selfie, obnoxious jokes, sentimental poems and love songs. Sometimes I rapped, some other time I put my stream of consciousness out there as if I was meditating. A lot of time, I created a dialogue as if I was writing an Opera. I was thinking of Pavarotti.

You see, I am a messed: Fifty Cent x Evita, Phantom x Avenue Q.

If that was not enough, I was very naive about FB. I thought to myelf “technology can empower lives, internet can end poverty.” Believe me, if you read those books in undergrads, you ended relatively empty headed rather than critical.

For the past five years, I have been fundraising for art projects in Thailand called “UNITE Thailand.” We created 15 projects for children around the country to play and have fun. Everything was for free and for freedom. Philosophically, it is populism x art, equality x freedom.

It is the best of what LSE has taught me.

Given that I have been to so many schools globally, I thought if I hosted a “Global Auction” on FB – I might be able to make more kids smile. Good try. Not quite. Only one highschool friend from Nepal, Salina Giri, bought my mother’s Prada bag for 500 USD. Despite being the only act of kindness, that meant the world to me and 300 other children in Loei.

The ramification of “sharing my ideas” online was worst. Day after day, I woke up and saw the quotes I put on to promote the projects being hijacked for political, personal and private purposes. Again, being buddhist, forgiveness.

I had hated FB for quite sometime for that it interrupted my peace. It allowed strangers to send me hate speech and there was a point, I got several messages that could have put me behind bar. Not British bars. Jail to be exact. Some people have mistood my Coco necklace with Communism and they misunderstood my initial R with Radical.

Perhaps my political sarcasm had gone too far, perhaps my English vocabulary has confused many. I have gone through the misteps again and again in my head and finally I had the epiphany. It was me who was stupid.

No one in their right mind would type Chekov “The Story of Nobody” right after “Anna K” story – Nobody – would put “Evita” right next to “Alicia.”

Well, I did.

If all the degrees I hold did not prevent me from self-destruction and public humiliation, I would like to dedicate this piece to all the children out there to“DO NOT BE LIKE ME,” who think they can SHARE their works, who believe that FB LIKES are REAL and who wait for INBOX from somebody to take them to the Empire State.

No one knows that behind the happy hello kitty profile picture of a go-getter oversized cheerleader, I had just survived the worst Asthma attack and breathing in tears, in the depth of the Thai forest.

If Development is Freedom and if Sen was right, allow me to free myself from the chained cruelty of Facebook. I didn’t deactivate it, I threw my phone in the river and said final goodbye.  

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

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New Social Compact

Modernizing Higher Education for Economic Growth

MD Staff

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Malawi has fewer affordable universities than it has students who want to go to them, leaving college out of reach for many. Enrollment in tertiary education is low, but more and more Malawians hunger for it. With IDA financing from the World Bank, Malawian citizens now have more options.

The five-year, $51 million Skills Development Project is helping public universities to strengthen and increase public access to programs that cater to sectors critical to Malawi’s economic growth. These include engineering, natural resources extraction, agriculture, construction, health services, tourism, and hospitality.

Beyond the establishment of the National Council for Higher Education, project funding supports a range of activities at institutions, including improving course offerings and staff skills, renovating infrastructure, and setting up satellite facilities.

Market-relevant course offerings

To expand the range of scientific skills and mid-level technicians needed to fuel Malawi’s economy, 39 new programs have been developed by universities, with the participation of the private sector ensuring their relevance to the economy. By 2017, these programs contributed 44 percent of the new student intake to public universities.

Diploma programs at universities have also been bolstered to increase the training of mid-level career personnel needed by various trades. For example, the University of Malawi’s Polytechnic now offers 10 technician-level engineering diploma programs in subjects like mining, telecommunications, and health. By 2019, these programs are expected to have enrolled 750 diploma students.

Modernized facilities

One of the major constraints to increasing student enrollment at public universities has been space. At Chancellor College, where most of Malawi’s secondary school science teachers are trained, more and better infrastructure is expected to make it possible to boost student intake by 65 percent. This includes modernized laboratories and four new lecture halls seating 350 students each.

This will go a long way toward meeting an increase in the demand for science teachers, following the introduction of physics and chemistry as separate subjects in the secondary school curriculum.

Mzuzu University is heading to be the country’s center of excellence in tourism training. It is constructing a purpose-built tourism and hospitality facility that will produce graduates who are industry-ready.

Online and distance learning

The Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and Mzuzu have introduced online and distance learning (ODL), resulting in increased enrollment at both. At LUANAR, online students make up 10 percent of the total student population. Between 2014 and 2016, Mzuzu increased its intake of online students tenfold. With more affordable fees and flexible options, the ODL system has helped to open access to higher education for many people nationwide.

“I enrolled through ODL because of its flexibility. I continue with my everyday life and yet I am studying at the same time. This is wonderful,” says 45-year-old Joe Mwenye, a father of five and a teacher in Ngabu in Chikwawa district. He is studying at LUANAR for a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Extension.

LUANAR has three ODL centers: one in the town of Mzuzu, another in Lilongwe, and another in Blantyre. Mzuzu University is opening satellite centers in Balaka, Karonga, Mulanje, and Lilongwe.

World Bank

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New Social Compact

The Depth of Taboo: Social Issues in South Asia

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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Rarely does a geopolitical handbook also make such large and important contributions to uncomfortably critical social issues. This handbook is that rare example. The author Aryal takes our MD readers deep into some disturbing discussions – caste systems, systematic violence against women, rape, honor killings, gender stigmatizing, and societal sexism – not to just anecdotally expose people to some of the continued living horrors afflicting important regions of the world but to systematically analyze such atrocities so that their long-term political, economic, social, and diplomatic consequences are revealed.

What many around the world do not realize is how crippling these gross abuses of human decency can be for a nation and region writ large: these are not just individual crimes to be noted and then forgotten. The failure of societies, the failure of GLOBAL society, to make more effective progress and take a more rigid stand against injustice is a black mark on all countries, on all of us. This handbook in its own small way strives to be a light within that darkness and as such it is both informative and courageous. While the readers of MD will not find the content of this particular handbook for the faint of heart, the importance of acquiring this knowledge, of becoming more aware of the world that we live in as it truly is in so many places, should be considered a duty of all those fortunate enough to not be born into states where such systemic violence still exists and largely goes unchallenged.

The title of this work is no accident and no shameless marketing attempt to attract more readers. Rather, it is exposing in a single word the reason why overcoming systemic violence based on gender is so difficult. Social taboos run deep in every region, state, city, town, village. We will likely not succeed in eliminating them from the social conscience of people. But the attempt to ameliorate the power of taboo, its power to push rationality out and pull insanity in, is a noble one that all of us at the editorial staff at MD recognize as silently essential for the cause of future peace on so many different levels. The battle against taboo is the secret front end of the war against gender violence and oppression. Ultimately, the criminal justice systems of societies must improve to remedy those actions not prevented from occurring. But the real long-term comprehensive solution will be the effort to eliminate the fear of social taboos, to eliminate the stigma that drives many to commit ignorant violence in the first place.

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New Social Compact

Women and girls with autism must be empowered to overcome discrimination they face

MD Staff

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On World Autism Awareness Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has joined the global call to empower women and girls with autism and involve them and their advocates in policy and decision-making to address the discrimination and other challenges they face.

“They face […] barriers to accessing education and employment on an equal footing with others, denial of their reproductive rights and the freedom to make their own choices, and a lack of involvement in policy making on matters that concern them,” said the Secretary-General in his message on the Day.

Emphasizing that “our work for gender equality and women’s empowerment must reach all the world’s women and girls,” he stressed that the international community’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must uphold the 2030 Agenda’s core promise to leave no one behind.

The Goals and the landmark framework from which they emerged were adopted by UN Member States three years ago. Together they aim to wipe out poverty and boost equality by putting the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path by 2030.

“On World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms,” concluded the Mr. Guterres.

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics.

Autism is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.

The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.

The World Day is marked annually on 2 April, and this year’s official UN commemoration will be on Thursday, 5 April, with a half-day programme in New York entitled Empowering Women and Girls with Autism, that will feature a keynote address from Julia Bascom, Executive Director, Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

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