by Monique Kwachou
As per the old English adage, “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth,”, we have been made to believe that questioning the value of something “intended for good” is wrong. Yet, a plethora of critiques of development theories and initiatives in the Global South suggest that, if not properly vetted, the most ideal proposal to improve the human condition can fail to meet its intended good – or worse, can foment other ills. Education – specifically girls’ education – is one of those “gifts” we rarely question. In recent decades, its value has been established by academic scholarship, confirmed by development reports, and popularised by international campaigns. In response to this widespread ideology of girls’ education as a panacea for development in the Global South, Heather Switzer, in her book When the Light is Fire: Maasai Schoolgirls in Contemporary Kenya, encourages us to look this gift horse in the mouth. Not so that we should reject it – she makes it clear that she does not dispute the “life-expanding benefits of education” (Switzer, 2018:25) – but that we can take proper stock of what we are gifted.
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