Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave. – Lord Chancellor Brougham
Freedom would be meaningless, if existent at all, in the absence of education. This is because knowledge is paramount in every sphere of life. It is the most potent tool for charting the growth and development of a society. The process of acquiring, reforming and utilizing and imparting knowledge is what is termed ‘education’. Education is a broad, functional term – implying all forms of training, learning, practice and experience that improve a person’s output from cradle to grave. While in a strict sense, there is no one without education or knowledge, I take ‘education’ in this context to mean ‘formal and functional learning or acquisition of skills’ so that one who has not consciously undergone any training can rightly be classified as uneducated.
Freedom denotes the liberty to act freely and independently within the limit of the law without being coerced or unduly influenced. It is a person’s right to think independently, associate with whom he wills, say and believe what he likes, move to and live where he chooses and engage in what activities please him, provided no law is violated. It is my contention that a person who lacks education is not free but in shackles in every area of his being.
The world over, education is recognized as indispensable. International legal instruments including the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the constitution of every nation of the world guarantee it. Epictetus declared, and I believe rightly, that only the educated are free.
In the religious circles, learning is given a very high premium as a prerequisite for freedom and salvation. The first 5 verses revealed of the Qur’an command the seeking of knowledge. “Read! In the name of your Lord Who has created … Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not.” (Qur’an 96: 1-5). The Bible also says, “And ye shall know truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32). By analogy, if a dog recognizes his master, never will it be deceived into deeming as its master a rogue who would only enslave or murder it.
In the social setting, education ensures a person is capable of pursuing his legitimate interests without jeopardizing the rights of others and the community as a whole. He does not resort to violence as a means of ventilating his grievances. In Nigeria for instance, the Northern region has witnessed series of avoidable ethno-religious violence with thousands of casualties. This is due to the high level of illiteracy in the region as no religion allows the indiscriminate cleansing of an ethnic or religious group. The fact that only 45 of the 117 Nigerian universities are in the region and that about 10 million almajiris (pupils memorizing the Qur’an and begging to fend for themselves without any formal education) and many more of their youth do not attend any formal institution of learning reveals how educationally deficient the region must be.
In politics and governance, education ensures there is sanity and fair play. In the first place, no community would give legitimacy and loyalty to an ignorant, unlearned fellow as its leader. Education guides the leader to know that the loyalty and cooperation of his subject can only be sustained by persuasion, pro-people programmes and value-based welfare schemes. Such knowledge liberates him to become the leader. Also, if the people are learned, they would be active participants in the governance process which would give them the unfettered freedom to occupy the driver’s seat in determining their political destiny. In advanced nations like Britain and France where scholarship flourishes, elections are seldom rigged, political opponents rarely persecuted, electoral violence infrequently heard and military intervention never seen. The reason is not far-fetched: the learned people are vigilant and would simply not allow themselves to be toyed with like chess pieces. In educationally deficient states however, the rulers ‘ride’ their docile subjects like donkeys. The purposeless killing in the 2011 post-election crisis in Nigeria is still fresh in mind. A society’s development in politics cannot be quicker than its growth in learning.
Education frees man from the shackles of economic servitude. It teaches him to give value to his money-making endeavour. If an untaught mind produces and sells popcorn, he would not sell beyond his stall and he would most probably not enjoy the patronage of the elite who may not feel comfortable standing by the roadside procuring the snacks. A learned person however would give worth to the trade. He could brand it by packaging the popcorn in sealed can, plastic or nylon with his trademark printed on the pack. Then he engages vendors who would buy from him in bulk and resell to the common man in his domain and the crème de la crème in their imposing houses and offices. This would see the educated entrepreneur selling his product and name to all in far and wide places and at a much higher price. He would have equally created employment for the vendors. On the global scene, the USA, according to the Digest of Education Statistics in US 2010, has 10% of her population in the university system in 2009 alone while Nigeria, according to the Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics, has just 0.35% of her population in the university system in the same year. Hence, the USA has the most vibrant economy in the world while Nigeria remains underdeveloped.
In the present times, education is the sole legitimate criterion which determines who gets what percentage of the national resources and income. Erudite professors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, medical doctors and engineers work in the conducive, air-conditioned milieu of their offices, taking decisions, signing documents, giving expert advice, making prescriptions and proffering pragmatic solutions to the problems of the world. They do what they love doing and earn a handsome income, live in gorgeous mansions and are reckoned with in society. The life of the uneducated man, by contrast, leaves much to be desired. He toils tooth and nail in the scorching sun and the heavy downpour cleaning the toilet, scrubbing the floor, clearing the bush, pushing trucks, dusting shoes, running errands and enduring constant scolding. He gets a pittance for a salary, puts up with starvation and malnutrition and sleeps, in Nigeria for instance, in dilapidated shacks, uncompleted buildings, under bridges or even on trees at night. He is in economic chains for the simple reason that he is educationally deficient.
The educated man is free to guard against infringements of his God-given rights. The constitution of every nation and the UDHR guarantee some minimum levels of human rights which are inalienable and which must be enjoyed by all and sundry irrespective of age, sex, religion, tribe or colour. These include the rights to freedom of movement, of conscience and religion, of association, among others. However, these rights cannot enforce themselves except that those who posses them vigilantly guard against their violations. Education would help a man know his minimum rights, how to protect them and how to seek redress when such are infringed upon. An illiterate is oblivious of his rights and their protection. If I possess a cake, but am unaware that I am the owner, will I protest if another person arrogates it? Even if I am aware of my ownership rights over the cake without knowing how to repossess it from the trespasser, will I enjoy the ownership rights?
Education equally guarantees liberty for man from the fetters of obscurantism. The modern society is replete with misinformation and stereotypes about many things. The media – rightly tagged the fourth arm of the realm – controls the thinking and worldview of the masses. Only the learned beings would be capable of sifting information to extract facts from myths and misconception. Only he would be capable of independent and clear reasoning, deep research and critical analysis and be liberated from intellectual servitude. If a teacher constantly tells his primary 2 pupil that lizards grow to become snakes, would the student not absolutely believe and fanatically proclaim, albeit without any proof, the “fact” anywhere in the world? The uneducated by the same logic are slaves of misinformation. But such a concocted lie cannot be popular with a college student whose intellect is not dwarfed.
Education is the mother of freedom. It procreates, nurtures and safeguards it. If Homo sapiens seriously craves development, desires justice and loves peace, I prescribe for him the remedy called ‘education’.