The Week Ahead: An educational opportunity

Each year, Danish teens are given a day off from school to take part in a charity drive for education. This year, the giving goes both ways.

This year the Danish charity drive Operation Dagsværk will benefit education in Greenland. (Operation Dagsværk)

Since it was introduced in 1985, Operation Dagsværk, a Danish charity drive in which teens perform a day’s work in exchange for donations, has raised over 160 million kroner ($20 million) for educational programs in some of the world’s most underdeveloped countries.

The philosophy behind the program is that students give up a day of their own schooling so that someone else can finish theirs. Asking students to perform some sort of task, rather than going door to door for donations, gives them a sense of accomplishment, and teaches them the value of a day’s work.

The first country to benefit from the program was Tanzania. Last year, the choice fell to Bangladesh. This year, the money will go to Greenland.

Were the development status of the recipient country the only criterion for selection, Greenland would hardly make the grade; the situation there is closer to Denmark than it is to Palestine, Niger or South Sudan, some of the other previous recipients. Still, there is considerable room for improvement when it comes to education. One example: 70 percent of students fail at least one class in primary school.

[For Greenlandic students in Denmark, making it easier to make the grade]

Choosing Greenland makes good sense for reasons beyond the academic, though. First, as with previous years, before students take part in this year’s Operation Dagsværk, on November 7, they will be thoroughly briefed about the people they are being asked to help; once the organization’s steering council, made up of students, chooses a country, a year-long process begins that involves sending volunteers to the country in question, drawing up educational material and then six months of lessons that integrate aspects of the country into various subjects. For Greenland, this included social studies, history, science and Danish language.

Although this aspect has been secondary in years past, this year it played a primary role. In drawing up the educational material, Operation Dagsværk asked 500 young people in Greenland what they thought young Danes ought to know about the lives of people who are not just their contemporaries but also citizens of the same country.

Also different this year: The donations, rather than going to purely educationally related programs, will fund social initiatives that help young people build the self-esteem that will carry them through the educational system.

[An ambitious exchange program aims to link students across the 4 Arctic and North Atlantic nations]

Greenland, Operation Dagsværk admits, has its fair share of problems with its educational system, but it is more likely they are tied to social problems than the shortcomings of the system itself. Some 75 percent of young people in Greenland say they, at some point, have lacked self-esteem, for example, which is a factor in achievement levels. Other problems, like loneliness, problems at home and thoughts of suicide, also affect educational performance.

The assignment this year, then, is not to prevent students from failing but to prevent society from failing them.

Did we really do that?
Also in Greenland, on November 6, members of Inatsisartut, the national assembly, will consider rolling back stipulations of a controversial law that, since May, has placed considerable restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

The rules limit when and how alcohol can be sold, including a requirement that products be placed out of sight of minors, typically done by placing them behind a curtain. The law also prevents all forms of advertising in domestic outlets.

Backers recognise the rules are a nuisance to retailers and an inconvenience for consumers. This, though, was precisely the point, and according to the argument at the time the bill was debated, it is a small price to pay if it prevents kids from getting their hands on alcohol, or their parents from drinking too much.

[Legislation aims at making alcohol more expensive in Greenland]

Unsurprisingly, opposition is loudest from bars, restaurants and others who make a living from the sale of alcohol. Their sales have indeed gone down, but this, they argue, is not because people have suddenly lost their taste for booze. As proof, they point to retail figures showing an increase in year-on-year sales at supermarkets. Likewise, they say a proliferation of people selling bootleg alcohol underscores the futility of restricting legal sales hours.

Another complaint is that the rules harm Greenlandic businesses that buy and sell advertisements but do nothing to prevent people from being exposed to alcohol ads in foreign-based outlets.

There is widespread support for changing the law, even amongst those parties that voted in favor when it was passed in 2017. Their hangover, it seems, is worse than the intended cure.

State of consensus
Alaska, America’s most rural state, is its hardest to poll. But even if predicting who will move into the governor’s mansion after the November 6 election is a pollster’s ultimate challenge, a few things can be said with certainty.

First, the two candidates, Mark Begich, a Democrat, and Mike Dunleavy, the Republican — currently running neck-and-neck — remain committed to expanding oil and gas exploration in the state. The two, however, disagree about who is responsible for the carbon pollution it generates. Begich believes Alaskans should bear some of the costs, and that there may be an economic benefit in reducing carbon emissions. Dunleavy argues, on the other hand, that it is up to the “smokestack states” where fossil fuels are burned to decide if they want to do anything about it.

Second, to the relief of voters, the state will continue to pay the PFD, an annual payment that is tied to the the state’s income from oil and gas. Saying anything different would amount to political suicide, but there is still room for disagreement: The candidates disagree on the way the amount paid each year should get calculated, as well as on the extent to which state lawmakers can use money from the fund that generates the payment to cover budget deficits.

Similarly, both candidates say they would like to see a gas pipeline built from the state’s Arctic coast to an export terminal in Southcentral Alaska. The pipeline is expected to cost $44 billion, some of which may come from state-controlled Chinese firms.

If elected, Begich would continue the work of the incumbent governor, Bill Walker, an independent who withdrew from the race, rather than hand Dunleavy the win by splitting opposition against him. Walker, and now Begich would have the state build the pipeline, at the request of the state’s oil producers. Dunleavy, on the other hand, believes that if businesses want it badly enough, they will be willing to pay for it.

America may be a divided country, but Alaska’s candidates for governor seem at least to have chosen to disagree on the issues they can agree on.

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please email [email protected].