Sunday, October 14, 2012

Malala Yousafzai and the Suppression of Education

My heart is breaking today, as I have just read about Malala Yousafzai's shooting on Tuesday.

Malala is a 14 year old activist who has spent the last 3+ years fighting for education for women in Swat valley, Pakistan. The Taliban have attacked her school, her classmates, her teachers, and on Tuesday she was shot in the head and neck by a member of the Taliban, who boarded her schoolbus. She had been published when she wrote a diary under a pseudonym, aged 11. She was filmed in multiple documentaries, held press conferences, hosted dignitaries and received awards, while continuing to attend school despite a Taliban edict forbidding education for girls.

Here is one such documentary.

As far as I can tell from press releases, right now she is still in a critical condition but showing improvement. Whether this brilliant girl will suffer permanent brain damage remains to be seen.

But Malala's story highlights not only the crisis in girls' education in Pakistan and the Middle East, but also crises in education around the world, and the responsibility of us, as adults, to provide that education for our children. And this responsibility seems to be ignored by so many people, which makes me want to defenestrate them.

On the one hand, people say 'I don't really want to teach, but EPIK is such a great way to make some money while travelling'. These people clearly don't realise that it's a full time job, and you're working with human beings. Living minds. When I get up in the morning and walk into the first class of the day, I'm a mess of barely concealed nerves. Nervous not because I think I'll embarrass myself, but because of the pressure I'm under to lift these children to the next level of understanding. The responsibility of having the words you say to them taken pretty much as gospel - they're children, they haven't had 3 years of university to teach them critical thought. Nervous because these are real minds that I'm fiddling with, and what if I snip the wrong wire here, or rip something there, or add something that shouldn't be there?

Students spend at least 6 hours a day (in South Africa - often a lot more time in Asia) with you as their leader, their guidance counselor, their role model, their source of knowledge or their facilitator in the journey towards knowledge. They respect you, they bow to your whims and churn out tasks that you have set. And you're using them for the money, and the opportunity to travel? Friend, you have not thought this through. And you're bloody irresponsible.

But that's the small scale stuff. One selfish 'teacher' using kids to fuel his adventure or nest egg. This kind of attitude only escalates from here: we go from teachers who are in it for the wrong reasons to the teachers who think it's all right not to show up at school at all. Teachers who use strikes as a way to extend their holidays, and avoid doing work. Schools in South Africa that have not had a disrupted term once this year. To the point where their students actually march to the Department of Education to beg for teachers who will teach them.

You get politicians who are so desperate for that next BMW or mansion that the funding for schooling is funneled away into their pockets. And people who deliberately prevent their children from going to school in order to further their own political agenda, such as the man in Olifantshoek who refuses to allow his kids to go to school until the municipality addresses issues of infrastructure in his town.

Yes, let me repeat that: people are using the withholdment of education as a tool for protesting against the government not doing its job properly.

Doesn't that seem ridiculous? Especially when the people running the unions, and the people who are running the government, are the people who took part in the Soweto Uprising:

Hector Pieterson, shot during the student protest against the socially limiting Bantu education

A UCT student protests on behalf of those who are not given a political voice
under the Apartheid regime
This is making me incredibly angry, so I'm going to sum it up here. HOW DARE YOU limit the education of a child? HOW DARE YOU put your selfish desires ahead of the education of a generation? HOW DARE YOU think that these kids don't matter, that they won't be running the world when you're reliant on them for medical care and pensions, and other such things. HOW DARE YOU use your children as a political or religious tool?

When the representatives of SADTU and NAPTOSA came to speak to our class, I posed these questions to them. They didn't really have an answer; they scoffed and sniggered patronisingly and said that strikes are the only tool for industrial action that actually work. Ok, sure, you might get your smidgen of a raise, or a pledge that the department will appoint the posts it promised to (although 6 months later they have done bugger all). But is it worth the cost of trashing a generation's education?

Is this the future you want for education?

Thankfully there are some amazing people fighting against this global movement of anti-education.

People like Mamphela Ramphele:

 People like Malala's father, who kept her in school, and ran a school for girls. People like the teachers who do go to school, who do teach despite the absence of textbooks. Principals who make a plan despite the obstacles being placed in front of them by higher-ups. People who actually give a crap about the future condition of our society, rather than the present condition of their bank account or political reputation. People like Jonathan Jansen and Malala Yousafzai who speak out. Hopefully people like you, a young teacher or teacher-to-be who actually takes this job as seriously as it should be taken.

These children are real people, with real minds. They should be handled with care.

1 comment:

  1. See, the problem is that in the anti-education department, the ruling party is being kinda smart (albeit in a stupid way). They know that an educated society is generally an unhappy society (as opposed to ignorant and happy).

    If children were to be given examples of past mistakes and how they changed the world for the worse and see those same mistakes being made by those in charge in their own time/space, when they are of voting age they may not be casting those votes for the ruling party.

    As you say, just another political tool that will ultimately do the country more harm than good, but damn-it, until then a lot of pockets are going to be filled!