Growing up as a child, one of the people I have come to identify with and in fact whose memory I will forever cherish is that of the first black president of South Africa Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. We loved Madiba as he is referred to in his native Xhosa clan so much that we knew him more than ourselves. It became a habit therefore to memorize the many poignant quotes that Mandela made one of which is his famous axiom that “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”. I could not agree more to this eternal truth that has within itself a lot of wisdom we can tap from if we are to overcome the plethora of challenges facing the acquisition of good quality education.
Education is the key to many of the challenges that we face today. Democracy as promising as it looks, still has a long way to go in many countries because of the high illiteracy rates. Education uplifts a person out of the cancer of ignorance. However, it takes courage to obtain a proper education no matter where you find yourself, whether in a poverty stricken country or in the most developed country in the world. It is therefore important for us to have a proper grasp of what courage really is while drawing important lessons from the life of Nelson Mandela.
Courage is not bullying other kids in school. Courage is not settling down on easy tasks when you should be tackling a bigger challenge. Courage is our ability as human beings to overcome our fears and doubts. Mandela himself until his unfortunate passing in December, 2013 served as a living testimony of courage. How many of us today can withstand the discrimination that Mandela had to face growing up in a racially segregated South Africa? How many of us today can afford to still pick things up after languishing in prison for 27 solid years? Mandela did not just overcome these two enormous challenges but many more in his lifetime.
Fear is a thematic component of our lives and physiologically helps us to survive. And since all of us are created with a quantum of fear in us, it is instructive to realize that the ability to overcome this intrinsic fear is what really makes us courageous. None of us have been able to evade the natural phenomenon of fear no matter who we are. No matter how well prepared I am for an exam, my heart would usually miss a beat anytime an exam paper is about to start. This however does not make me weaker than any other student; neither does it have any bearing on the grade I will obtain at the end of the day. It is our ability to handle fear that truly makes us courageous. Courage like fear resides in all of us and we must never lose sight of this glowing fact.
Growing up in Ghana where educational facilities are lacking, where some parents prefer to send their children to tend farms rather than send them to school, it takes courage to brave the storm to attain an education. This is one of the reasons why we readily identified with Nelson Mandela back in basic school. He started out as a cattle-boy in his small village like many of us and ended up being a global icon. In today’s age and time, there are still many families who do not understand the importance of education and see it as a waste of time. It takes courage to skillfully persuade one’s illiterate parents to fully understand that education is not for lazy people but in fact for everyone including them. For many children in such families, that you would ever go to school lies in your ability to confront this primary hurdle in your family.
To add to the above, many students drop out of school not because they are not good enough to seek higher education, but because they do not have money to pay fees. When they finally do get the money to further their education, they are afraid considering that very few people pass the final examinations every year. It is not only the academic fear they would have to bear with, but they will also have to endure the bullies in the class and in the dormitories. Notwithstanding the challenges, the courageous ones endure and still make it. Real courageous people like Mandela are not washed away by the magnitude of problems they encounter but strive to find the silver lining in every dark cloud.
Another practical application of courage in education is that it teaches us never to give up. As I described earlier, the sheer problems inherent in obtaining quality education in many African countries has led many to call it quits. But some have purposed in their hearts to withstand the fear, confront the challenges squarely and triumph over them. Such people refuse to be discouraged by the bleak future hanging menacingly on their heads but rather have resolved to utilize the opportunities available to them today.
Another lesson we can draw from Nelson Mandela’s axiom is to pick ourselves up when we strip and fall in our quest to obtain an education. Some people unfortunately are consumed by one or two challenges and finally fail in a particular aspect of the struggle. Such are the times we have to demonstrate courage and rise up again, shake off the dirt and blaze new and even better trails. Fear and challenges are not in themselves bad, they rather give us an opportunity to be better, an opportunity to be courageous. Several students have committed suicides because they have failed their exams. Some have decided to even call it quits because their grades are not improving. Failure is an ordinary and sometimes even necessary component of the human life. What we must do especially with respect to education is not to look so hard at our bad grades that we miss the golden opportunities available to turn the tables around. We must always appreciate the bigger picture and not be discouraged by a few mishaps. Just because one may fail in one or two subjects does not make you a failure as a human being. Academic work can be sometimes be frustrating but the truth is that at the end of the day we will get to learn something we did not know before.
Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Today throughout the world, there is a general cry for change. There is a general consensus that the world is not in the best of shapes and something urgently needs to be done. For so long we have looked for this “something” in politics but it has not worked. Why don’t we take a break and appreciate that one of the best ways of really changing this world is to look up to education. However, let me be quick to add that the challenges in ensuring that everyone receives good quality education are many and the struggle will be a difficult one. Notwithstanding this, Nelson Mandela offers us another solution to overcoming the challenges that we will most surely meet in his axiom that “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”.