Will Education Alone Suffice?

In a not-so-small village in India, where people earn their livelihood by farming, education is booming. In the last decade, this village has seen the birth and development of a government school and several private schools. A couple of these are even elite ‘English medium’ schools.

The village has also seen the opening of a pre-university college. But to pursue any vocational or professional course afterwards, an individual must travel to the next town. With no frequent bus connectivity, this higher education remains a distant dream for many. But the people of the village are still ecstatic.

Their children can now say a few words in English. They can identify the English alphabet. They can – sometimes stutteringly – say a sentence in English too. Their children are educated – a word whose purpose and worth many of us fail to comprehend.

In a real-life scenario, each family enrolls their child/children in school dutifully. Fees are low, midday meals are provided and children are taken care of while the parents work in the fields as daily wage labourers. By the time the children are back, parents are back at home too.

When boys reach 5th or 6th standard, they drop out of school to work alongside their parents. Another breadwinner for the family is more important than learning English – which ‘they will never use anyway’.

The girl child, however, is sent to school to complete her education up to the 10th standard. Some progressive families will even allow their daughters to study up to the 12th. All because it increases their demand in marriage.

A boy educated up to 4th standard will work from the age of 9 till 24, manage to buy an acre of farm land with the joint earnings of his family, and then approach the family of a well-educated girl with a marriage proposal.

If all goes well, the proposal is accepted and a marriage is celebrated by the families. The daughter-in-law dutifully takes up her responsibility of cleaning the house, cooking three meals, tending to the cattle and bearing children – often before she herself is even 20 years old.

This is the story of young adults in most villages here.

Is there any need for change? Who is to blame? Does something have to be done, or is this something to be left alone?

Schools and colleges were, at some point, new to many living in villages across India. Yet most people accepted them with open arms. My question, though, is if this education does not translate into a good job and decent pay, is it of any use to poor farming communities?

Ensuring we don’t just stop with providing schools, but focus on creating livelihoods through relevant vocational training is a major need for our people.

Making opportunities for working and earning available to girls and boys equally is the responsibility of every government.

What use is a 12th standard education if a girl is unable to support herself financially? After all, financial independence is very closely linked to security and safety.

I believe that societies change and adapt to the opportunities presented to them. Law makers, influencers and policy makers must understand the needs of a population with a view to future growth, rather than simply providing dead-end educations!

A Letter to the 15-Year-Old Me

As we celebrate women’s month in South Africa, I took a moment to reflect on of all the mistakes I made and the right things I did to prepare myself for womanhood.

I am a 26-year-old young woman, who doesn’t have it all together. But, I am glad I am working towards a goal. Looking back to when I was young, there are certain things I wish someone could have told me, lessons that I should have learned a lot earlier. Although I am happy with the life I am leading, I have made my own fair share of mistakes. I made enemies that could have become valuable friends, spent money that I should have saved and wasted time that could have been better used.

On the note, I decided to write a letter with advice to my 15-year-old self, with the hope that it will be useful to someone who is in their journey to womanhood:

  1. You are beautiful. The world may have its definition of beauty, but you are allowed to create your own. You are your greatest asset, and no one can love you or value you more than you. Tell yourself how beautiful you are every day. You know yourself best.
  2. The world owes you nothing. In fact you are the one who owes your government tax, if you’re religious you probably owe your church tithe, and maybe even your time towards community service. You have to consistently work hard to stay alive.
  3. Standout. It may seem cool to be part of the most popular group of friends where you study or live. But you need to strive for individuality, if you are blending in you may be giving up a lot of who you are just so you can fit it. Remember, you are so special – you cannot afford to be anyone else.
  4. Educate yourself. Get formal education, study society, your history, history of your country, continent and the world. Remember you are a product of your parents’ past. Don’t only depend on the education you get at school, it forms a small part of the life you will live in future. Learn something new every day. Read about financial reports, sports, politics and stay well informed. An educated mind is an empowered mind.
  5. Humility is key. Do not look down on other people just because they are not like you. They may not be of the same religion, race, class, speak the same language or gender. That does not give you the right to look down on them. Learn about your differences, learn about their religion and accept them as they are.
  6. Travel whenever you can. Never miss an opportunity to meet new people and learn about where they live, their beliefs and what they like. The best lessons are learned in a place of discomfort.
  7. Stay healthy. Having a healthy mind and body is essential. Exercise and eat right while feeding your mind with positive thoughts. Skinny is not always healthy. Exercise for health, not only weight–loss.
  8. Marriage is not everything. Women are mostly groomed to get married, so much that you start thinking of marriage at 15. Marriage is good, but remember that your success should not be tied to a man. Work on making yourself a masterpiece. Marriage can be an addition to the masterpiece. You can be happy without being married.
  9. Find your passion. Find out what makes you tick and what you are willing to do without remuneration. Your passion will be a place of mental refuge when days are dark, friends are few and finances are dry.
  10. Spend wisely. Teach yourself to manage finances as early as you can in life. The skills you acquire will come in handy when you earn your first salary. Know how to differentiate between needs, wants and luxuries. It’s not bad to spend your money on anything you want, but know when the right time is to spend on each of the three. Remember to save money wherever you can.
  11. Have fun. Try to have as much fun as possible in everything you do, including exam preparations and writing assignments. It’s the best way to excel. Allow yourself to make mistakes, laugh at yourself and do not walk away without learning from them.
  12. Life is a journey not a destination. You are a work in progress. You need to improve yourself to be a better person in all you do. There are so many talented people in the world that average will not be enough. Strive for excellence in your studies, career and extra-mural activities. An undergraduate degree is nice, but a master degree is more competitive.
  13. Run your own race. Never mind how fast or how far other people your age are progressing. What matters is that you have started and are determined to achieve your goals. However long it takes, you will get to where you want to be. Do not compete, it is bad for your confidence.

What would you tell yourself at age 15 if you could go back? Perhaps to be more gentle to yourself – and to recognize the uniqueness you possess. Maybe you should write this letter too – and remember that it’s never too late to listen to your own advice!

Featured image: Rebecca / Flickr (Creative Commons)