Musings on Education and its Transformative Power
The underlying link to most of the world’s problems lies in education- or rather- lack there of. Since the dawn of knowledge proliferation, education was a means to achieve a better status in life, and in time, status gave way to gaining knowledge available to a select few. It made man a thinker and a designer of his/her destiny. And education, like progeny, obtained immortality of society and its people by being preserved in books, tales, teachings and traditions.
There is no wonder that education is a powerful instrument. And wherever power is feared and there is a desire for it to be suppressed, elimination of education is always at the forefront. In this day and age, most patriarchal societies suppress education for women because an educated woman has more influence on her community than a man. A woman not only has the power to earn her income, but she has suddenly the power over her fertility (community’s future members), her children’s futures and she is almost solely responsible for family savings. Close family structures and the community’s kinship additionally call on women’s participation in the affairs of the community and its well-being. There is a common proverb that permeates the sustainable development field and one that ironically originates in Ghanna, Africa:
If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation).
Given the role of the Catholic Church in the West of preserving patriarchal suppression of human equality over the last millennia- most avertedly apparent in the suppression of women’s autonomy, education and financial independence- it is no surprise that such suppression still exists in dictatorial Africa where corruption and wars over resources are ubiquitous. This norm of barring girls and women from any aspect of life but the reproductive is also widespread in the Middle-East where most people live in rural communities and illiteracy is high. If a high percentage of a population cannot read, then of course, it will believe to be true what a seemingly educated and respectable man claims is written in the Quran. This is the curse of the uneducated- to be ignorant of the world and susceptible to manipulation and deception. Like money in the West, education is becoming the ticket to the upper classes of power in most of the developing world. And like the 1% on our side of the tracks, the lid is sealed tight in the access to the club through suppression of more than the basic schooling for the majority. So, yes, one is permitted to know enough to bring about at most some level of social prosperity but no more than what can keep one from challenging the status quo of the powers that be. Suppressing education, in fact, is the true “weapon of destruction” for communities, nations and the world.
The fear of an educated woman is a phenomenon as old as the onset of the first civilizations. Naturally, the woman had control over reproduction and that took away not only time and energy on her part, but also mostly the sole responsibility for the well-being of offspring. It naturally gave way for her partner to have freedom to peruse his destiny. This division of family organization played out more-so out of reproductive imperatives than outright suppression of women, and it worked well, since it enabled men to have families and to likewise pursue their roles in the society. It was a convenient deal for the male sex that enabled them to use their social access to write history, laws and books. By being denied the opportunity to engage in their society from the get-go through child-rearing responsibilities, women were denied the opportunity to write history along with men.
No doubt that lack of medical advancement, technology and innovation inevitably brought about lack of choices in reproduction, modern gender roles, health and prolonging of human life. The scarcity of these advancements was a major setback for women’s involvement, which brought about the opportunity for men to set the stage for establishing cultural norms to define their communities. In the 21st century, the West has advanced beyond these circumstantial set-backs, and I do feel that Western women, for the most part, currently have the autonomy to dictate their own lives and succeed in vast areas of life. Yes, history and legacy of male-dominated ideas and institutions have forestalled progress of welcoming women with open arms in the STEM fields, politics and business, but given that women were granted the vote less than hundred years ago in most Western countries is a testament to rapid progress towards equality that has taken millennia to question, correct and implement. To be born a woman in the later part of the 20th century and especially in the 21st is a rare and a privileged opportunity for women’s achievements.
But this is not so in most of the world. The story of Malala- the teenage girl from Pakistan who advocated for girl’s empowerment and was shot blank-range by Taliban- as are the stories of most women in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and even Latin America are that of misfortune due to lack of life opportunities. The most common denominator to having life opportunities is being educated. From education stem some of the side-effects- status, power and money. If women were educated in all walks of life, they would not be left powerless over their bodies, minds and rights. They would be aware of family planning, disease reduction, methods to protect themselves against variety of environmental risks, and would not have to depend on a man (especially if he is abusive) for income and livelihood. They would also not seek out prostitution as the last-resort means of survival that bounds them and their children to exploitation, disease and slavery. To educate girls and women is to propel societies towards social and economic prosperity. From the reduction in HIV infections (through women’s insistence on condoms) to lower birth rates and poverty levels to higher GDP levels, educating the whole population equally is the only sustainable, self-generating policy model on which a society can prosper. No aid, resource, new sector or technology combined can match the impact of what education can achieve.
It seems that most nations have missed the mark when panning out ways in which to advance the progress of their societies. Instead of focusing on the source, they usually focus on the side-effects (ex. more programs for victims of social inequality than for schools and education initiatives). What policy makers need to advocate for is higher and quality education for all. They have to go to the rural areas and educate the village elders that education of their whole community will lead to prosperity. There, they need to build schools. Villagers who want further education and who may not afford university should be able to go for free. Literacy campaigns calling for over 90% literacy of the whole nation should be in place. Culture of education needs to permeate poverty, class and gender. Once these agendas are initiated, most of the social qualms and their side-effects would be profoundly reduced and society would prosper faster and more efficiently than all the other initiatives for prosperity combined. The whole world benefits from equal education for all. And those that fear this scenario and its consequences are those that want all the money, power and resources for themselves. Education is corruption’s kryptonite.
World Literacy Map
Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be maintained.
James A. Garfield
When asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated, Aristotle answered, 'As much as the living are to the dead.'
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