This week marks the beginning of the school year for many Queensland children, with other states to follow next week. Some children will be stepping into the classroom for their very first day of school, while others are preparing for their final year of secondary education. While I am glad that both my children received a good education (Bec is still continuing hers at university), I am also relieved that their school days are over. I used to quite enjoy the school holidays – no lunches to pack, no stressful mornings, and no homework. It’s not that I don’t value education – nothing could be further from the truth, but getting children through twelve years of primary and secondary education is a marathon effort. And I don’t know whether you have noticed, but when they are giving out the awards at the end of the year, the ones for the parents always seem to be mysteriously missing. Truth is, though, we wouldn’t put ourselves through all of that organising, nagging and stress, if we didn’t think that a good education was worth it.
Dan and Bec had opposite attitudes towards school. Dan loved every minute, especially laughing cheekily at the teachers when he was supposed to be sitting on the time-out chair. He was quite smart in his own way. He knew how to get out of doing his work. Bec, on the other hand, loved to learn but hated the school environment. I can’t confess to actually loving school either. It was a place of torture, where I had to go day after day to endure the teasing and bullying from those who didn’t want to be there and couldn’t care less about learning anything. Quite honestly, school was a whole lot more tolerable once they had left at the end of year 10. But I do wonder what those students would say now. I’ve lost count of the number of people I have met who wish they had stayed at school longer, or paid attention in class, or even, heaven forbid, done their homework and studied for exams.
We take education far too much for granted in the West. Even before our children start pre-school we are making decisions about which primary and secondary school our children should attend. There is no question about whether our children can or will attend school. It’s just a question of which and where. And while not all of us will go on to university, for those of us who do, access is pretty well assumed, even if we are racking up a debt for the privilege. Now this is definitely not the case for every community in Australia. We still have significant issues in delivering a high quality and equitable education for many vulnerable children and the current cost of living crisis is putting considerable pressure on many families. However, by and large, access to education and training is such a normal part of our lives that we hardly think about it. In fact, increasing numbers of us are returning to education or retraining again and again and again throughout our working life. In other parts of the world, though, it is a different story.
According to the United Nations
- 244 million children and adolescents are currently not attending school
- 617 million children and adolescents cannot read or do basic maths
- And more than 60% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are unlikely to complete lower secondary school
Yet we know that education is one of the single most important factors for escaping a life of poverty. Access to education also goes hand in hand with ensuring peace and economic development. Lack of educational opportunities is condemning millions of children and adolescents to a life of abject poverty and it creates a vicious cycle, trapping whole nations in a perpetual state of poverty, poor health, a struggling economy and limited opportunities for positive change. We can probably think of many poor nations affected by war or natural disaster for whom this is true. There are also those who deliberately deny their own people, especially women and girls, the basic human right of access to education.
Since the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban has topped the headlines for its deliberate restriction of women and girls from education and employment, described by some as a “cancelling of women.” Girls and women have been banned from any education above the level of about year 6. Women have been restricted from most areas of employment. They have also been banned from parks, gyms and from travelling anywhere without a male relative. And they must also be covered from head to toe whenever they are in public, which is likely to be quite rare since they have been banned from just about everywhere. Throughout history women have fought for so long for basic human rights, such as education, employment, the right to own property or even custody of their own children, let alone the right to vote. Given the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, this obsession with denying women any part in society is quite unfathomable. According to recent reporting by the ABC,
- 97% of Afghans live in poverty
- 2/3 of the population need humanitarian aid just to survive
- 20 million face acute hunger
- 14 million children are at risk of severe malnutrition and life-threatening disease
Just recently the Taliban have also forbidden Non Government Organisations, such as humanitarian organisations, from employing women which has crippled their ability to deliver aid to those who most need it. Some have even been forced to withdraw from Afghanistan completely. In the short term it is difficult to see anything more than just sheer misery for millions of people. But what of the long term? Denying women full participation in education and employment not only restricts women and girls individually, but hampers any future development and better prospects for Afghanistan as a whole. As a representative of the UN has said:
“It’s difficult to imagine how the country can develop, deal with all the challenges that it has, without active participation of women and the education of women”
And from the British ambassador to the UN:
“It is also another step by the Taliban away from a self-reliant and prosperous Afghanistan”
Every year on this day, January 24, the International Day of Education, the United Nations highlights the importance of education not only as a basic human right for all people regardless of race, religion, disability or gender, but also as a public good and a public responsibility. Without a commitment to “inclusive and equitable education, countries will not be able to achieve gender equality and break the cycle of poverty.” Countries can be rich in a wide variety of natural resources, but their true wealth actually lies in their people and this is reinforced in the theme for this year: to invest in people – prioritise education. Social and economic development cannot happen without people working together and being given the opportunity to develop to their full potential – all for the common good.
My heart grieves for the girls and women of Afghanistan. All we can do, I suppose, is to continue advocating for the full participation of all girls and women throughout all facets of life and hope for change. We can also appreciate the educational opportunities we have and be supportive of those working in the education sector.
4 thoughts on “International Day of Education: To Invest in People – Prioritise Education”
We really do take a lot for granted.
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Yes, we certainly do.
I have a saying, “first you learn to read, and then you read to learn.” While our personal opportunities to effectively change what is happening to women’s education in Afghanistan is limited, we can be proactive closer to home, according to our ability. My early high school was funded by a bursary. Unfortunately, I was unable to go past Year 10, but there is a story there. Now I am proud to be able to give back by sponsoring a student through the Smith Family Learning for Life programme. Our local View club also sponsors several.
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So true Gwen. And we never know the impact of those we support closer to home. We each can contribute to the global goal of education wherever we live.
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