There is a reason why every civilization throughout time has valued education—because it truly can alter our collective condition and make our lives easier, simpler, and most crucially, happier! From Egyptians learning to write on papyrus tablets to late nineteenth century scientists striving to discover medicines like penicillin, there has always been an urge in humanity to be better and to be more than what we have been before.
Man’s highest achievements—the building of bridges and overwhelming skyscrapers, to video chatting and space travel— the marvels of modern day living that we take for granted today, were once just mere ideas in people’s heads, planted when a few lucky people got a chance to gain true education—one that told them that it was okay to dream things that did not exist yet, and then gave them the courage of their own convictions to turn those blueprints of ideas into concrete reality. Just think, if all the people in this world could be given the same chance! Things and phenomena we aren’t even aware of, would come true.
“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten”, Edward Skinner had once said, rather wittily and aptly. Education in truth is more than just skills and knowledge; it is also the ideas and idealism of living, the power of the brain to imagine, the strength of the heart to connect, and the ability of a person to live fully, curious about the world around them. True education allows us to revel in our interaction with others, having, most crucially, discovered the indomitable strength and potential inside our own selves. If self actualization is the ultimate goal that man desires, as Abraham Maslow suggested, then education is the surest way to transform a human being’s life. It breaks physical, mental, and spatial barriers and allows a person to critically and logically examine life, believe in his own potential, rather than depending on any other external source.
In a more practical sense though, education equips an individual to create and find better choices of employment and hence upgrades his chances of economic success. In tough economic climates, educated people are more likely to be employed and break the cycle of poverty that many uneducated, poor people remain constantly trapped in. Although material success is not everything yet it certainly gives the individual a firm economic base and thereby greater leverage and freedom to have a more meaningful life in the pursuit and fulfillment of his dreams.
An educated person also then begins to understand his place in the world. An educated man who is gainfully employed contributes to the GDP of his country and the meaningful life he leads gets translated into enhanced productivity for the country, leading to increase in the country’s national income. It was an apt comment on the potential which educated individuals can provide in the form of enlightened leadership to a country when President Obama declared that “the nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.”
True education propels people to contribute positively to the society, community and country and the world at large. Education promotes world citizenship, acting as a passport to a better tomorrow since every enlightened, educated person shines a stronger light in the world around him. One need just look at people like Bill Gates, whose philanthropic efforts run into billions of dollars, to realize that those who get a lot from the world, in the form of a good education and opportunities, are also more likely to contribute positively to the world. Good education spreads its impact in concentric circles, starting from a single individual but then benefitting communities and societies as well, and that too across several generations. In fact, historically great educators like Socrates and Aristotle have always been concerned with and taught their students lessons in morals and ethics, since they and countless others after them, have realized that the true quest in life for people, and the only medium of creating everlasting change in the world is, education that encompasses the moral and philosophical development of people as well.
Calling education a weapon may seem radical coming from Nelson Mandela, a man who was an exemplar of peace, but the strength and force of education is visible to anyone who cares to look at the recent Egyptian revolution, where young students, with minds opened to the wonders of democracy, through education, helped overthrow the yoke of suffering that their parents had silently borne. Education is the silent and effective weapon of non violence, which can help people and societies break the cycle of oppression that many have historically suffered from. Many oppressed societies, where dictators have thrived, have had a paucity of education avenues.
Education liberates the mind from its shackles and fears and encourages it to challenge and to communicate with others. It is not without a reason that education is at the bottom of the priority list of dictators. It was also not without reason that upon annexation of neighboring states, Nazi Germany imposed its own brand of education. Many dictators find it easy to unscrupulously deny people education or better still, manipulate education to serve their own selfish interests. Throughout history, and even today, autocratic leaders censor literature and books and prevent potent ideas from spreading since they realize that an idea is the most powerful force in the world and can transform a human being completely.
More importantly though, to me, an educated person also has the capability to objectively analyze issues, recognize and learn from existing flaws, and relearn what is right. This ability to adapt and learn is important in our world as it is inevitable that in our world there will be a few self interested individuals, dictators like Hitler, Kagame and Gaddafi, who will try to seize power to serve their own selfish ends in this world. But whenever humanity goes wrong, or someone strays from the ideals and path of righteousness, the best weapon, and surest way to bring them back on track, is to empower others around them with education, to resist and reform such people. In a way then, education acts as a social safeguard, against the base tendencies of humanity, and the aberrations in the story of growth and progress of our civilization.
Democracy thrives best when there is widespread education amongst citizens, who make informed voting decisions, exercise their rights and perform their duties towards the State and strengthen democratic instructions in a country. It is for this reasons that the right to education or the concept of No-Child Left Behind is on the agenda of every civilized society along with the subjects of food, clothing and shelter.
Coming out of the narrow mental confines, education moreover, helps one see the diversity of the world around them in everything from opinions to culture. This naturally promotes tolerance and respect for the other people’s viewpoints and encourages social harmony. Studies have shown a definite correlation between a fall in communal incidents and a rise in educational levels and gainful employment in countries around the world. In a country like India, which is a cultural mosaic of various castes, creeds, races and religions, education becomes a powerful tool of National Integration.
Education enables each person to be an agent of change. In countries where health issues like HIV AIDS, Malaria and tuberculosis are a major concern, educational campaigns through advocacy have fundamentally changed the extant scenario for the better. Education is also a guarantor of human dignity and human rights for equality and justice. Education also has a great role in developing countries like India plagued by gender issues wherein education of the girl child is the least priority of most Indian families. Educating a woman has inter-generational cascading effects. By educating the girl child one is educating several generations of children as an educated mother is bound to rear educated children.
It is apparent all around us that the destiny of a nation is shaped in her classrooms. As a volunteer at an after school education program, I once interacted with a woman, a mother of a child in my class, who would sneak into the classroom and sit in the back. She broke down in a strange mixture of laughter and tears when she first learned to write her name and subsequently kept scribbling it everywhere—from her child’s books to the walls of the classroom! Her joy, when she learned to recognize and see her own name as a separate identity on paper—a validation of sorts for her existence, was incredible to watch. Education does indeed have such dramatic, life-altering effect on people, empowering them to recognize their own identity and potential in this world and no nuclear weapon could ever match that!