A few years ago, I came to know about ‘a girl who was shot by the Taliban for wanting education’. Last week, I was better acquainted with ‘the girl who stood up for education’ when I finally got my hands on her book — I am Malala. What an education that was!
Brené Brown, an acclaimed author and life coach, said, “The difference between privilege and entitlement is gratitude.” I have known that I am privileged but Malala showed me just how much!
I am extremely privileged to be educated. I can read and speak English. I’ve received a primary, secondary and higher education and graduated in a course of my choice. Though I liked school and studying, I did not like exams. I did not like the system of rating students. I did not like the way students who didn’t fare as well as others were treated as less than or less intelligent. I am privileged to have grown up in a family of educators and readers. I was brought up in an atmosphere completely different from many others and it has shaped whom I am today. Even so, I did not consider book smarts as good as street smarts because of the way the world usually works.
Malala said, “Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow”. But, not everyone gets that choice.
Malala Yousafzai grew up in a conflict area. She grew up in a land where girls are considered lesser than. “I was a girl in a land where rifles are fired in celebration of a son, while daughters are hidden away behind a curtain, their role in life simply to prepare food and give birth to children.” Blessed with parents who were encouraging, she yearned to learn. She studied hard. She maintained a healthy competition with her fellow students. She took part in extra-curricular activities. She was an ordinary girl except that she chose to be more.
Having a father like hers, who encouraged her to keep studying and did not ‘clip her wings’ (as was the norm), Malala was more privileged than others in their living situation. She was conscious of her privilege and did not wish for education to be a privilege but a basic right for all. From the age of eleven, she began speaking up about education well aware that she could lose her life for it and she almost did.
Malala says, “I raise up my voice — not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back”.
Today, more than ever, owing to the pandemic, climate crisis and the political situation in different countries, there are so many more children out of school. The pandemic has presented new problems to the existing education-related issues we were battling with.
Access to online education: While some families might have electronic devices to continue learning online there are a far greater number that do not have such an option. In certain parts of developing countries, where having access to books and pens itself is a big deal, how do we ensure these children continue learning? As the educational gap keeps growing, the gap between the opportunities they will have access to grows wider. These children might have a tougher time landing good jobs.
Social skills: Fundamental life and social skills that children learn in a school environment — sharing, teamwork, sportsmanship, empathy, helpfulness, etc. are all at risk as children are now learning in isolation. If schools are open, social distancing teaches them to stay away from each other. Imagine the confusion in their minds — taught to help but also taught to distance!
“Though we loved school, we hadn’t realized how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us. Going to school, reading and doing our homework wasn’t just a way of passing time, it was our future,” said Malala. Though many students are happy right now not to answer exams and go to school, we need more doctors, lawyers, artists, politicians, architects, teachers, scientists and innovators and other disciplines to continue building the world. We need more people to be educated. We need more people to stand up for education. We need more people to raise each other.
Thank you for fighting for so many of us. Happy birthday, Malala!