“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation.” Wise words conferred from the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, titled the “Long Walk to Freedom”, where the importance and indispensability of education, is underlined.
Nowadays, the overall trend for literacy rates are positive in many parts of our world, as governments and civil societies are investing more in the education sector, providing thus opportunities and facilitating access to educational institutions. According to UNICEF, youth literacy rates (from 15 years of age to 24) have increased from 83% to 91% over two decades, while the rate for illiterate youth declined from 170 million to 115 million¹. With this impressive data, and we can optimistically deduce that illiteracy could be eradicated in the near future meeting the number four SDGs of “Quality Education” by 2030. However, could we allow ourselves to be this optimist? There are about 115 million illiterate youth in our world, in addition according to UNESCO Institute for statistics², 750 million adults are illiterate of which two-thirds are women. Therefore, even if we have come a long way, gender disparities still persist as women lag behind men, in addition to regional disparities between developed and developing countries and inside both of each, additional subsets of dipartites still exists.
Consequently, how often do we consider the value of education? Often times we are irritated to wake up early to go to school or university, we are constantly complaining on the amount of materials we have to study or the numbers of exams we have to sit, we scribble on our desks and chat with our classmates during lessons, the words of the professor are lost when our attention is elsewhere. The journey of education, is often viewed as something we have to undertake to make our parents happy or as something we must endure if we want a successful career and even if we are exemplary students who are praised for our academic achievements, it escapes our understanding, the power we possess thanks to education and what we could do with it, as Nelson Mandela puts it, “….It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.” To the initial question of how we fail to realize the value of education, it can be summarized with the following: Because access to education was never a problem to being with in many countries.
The reason? Because of governments who have established and provided free education to all without gender nor disability discrimination, the availability of financial resources of our parents or care givers to send us to school, having educational institutions close by and easily accessible, the availability of funds, materials and teachers. Having security and stability in our household and most importantly in our countries, to relieve us from the burden of worry and additional responsibilities other than being students and focusing on our education. Overall, because of the general socio-economic and political conditions of countries, that are favorable for successful educational processes and solid institutions that remove barriers to education. Unfortunately, in other parts of our world the situations is not likewise. In fact, the key component to fight illiteracy is access to education, and for this purpose, I will set some examples, among many, of the hardship that many youths face on the quest for education.
PAKISTAN: on the 9th of October 2012, Taliban gunmen boarded a school’s bus and shoot Malala Yousafzai in the head, neck and shoulder, injuring also two other girls. Why? Because for her activism for girl education, when in 2008 the Taliban that had occupied the Swat Valley in Pakistan, banned girls from going to school. Despite having faced death, today she is a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
SYRIA: a 7-year civil conflict dragged this country into a bloody turmoil, according to Aljazeera with more than 465’000 Syrians that have been killed and over a million injured, with over 12 million displaced, and 6.1 million that are displaced within Syria. According to UNICEF, 1.75 million children remain out of school and 2.6 million are living as refugees or are on the run for safety. “Half of Syria’s school children aren’t in school…some of them have never been in school; others have missed up to five years.” stated the communication chief for UNICEF, Juliette Touma.
CHINA: in the Xinjiang region, where the remote village of Pili is found, students are forced to climb down cliffs and cross freezing rivers to reach their schools and are escorted by village officials and teachers for an over 200 km journey, each term. In the Gulu Village, located in the canyons of Hanyuan County of Ya’an in Sichuan Province, students have to walk on a one foot wide path in the mountains to reach their school, as it is located high up in the mountains and pupils have to face up to 5 hours journey. Moreover, in the Atuler village of China’s Sichuan province students must tackle a 800 meter cliff to reach their school.
NEPAL: to cross the Trishuli River in the Benighat district, daily commuters especially students, use cables to drag themselves to reach the other side and go to school. This is considered one of the “dangerous school routes”, as it counted for several lives lost and daily unnecessary risks. Currently, work is underway to secure these passages.
The list is long, the hardships are countless. Situations differ from conflict stricken places, or conditions where reaching schools is a daily risk, to places where not enough is being done to invest in education, meaning securing infrastructures, materials, teachers and access to school facilities for the disabled or girls. When we are aware of these conditions, then we can fully comprehend the value of having an education and appreciate the opportunities we have at our disposal, when many don’t have it as easy and yet they cope with commendable endurance. Despite the adversities, a smile is always present on their faces, solidarity is a solid trait among them as they travel hand in hand through the obstacles, complaint is a thin line because once they have reached their destination, the goal is clear: to change the realty they face, through the power of education. They are the ones that have fully imprinted in their minds that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” N.M.