Using the United States as a case study, the number of uneducated individuals incarcerated is incomparable to those that have an average level of formal education. In this context, “uneducated” refers to an individual that cannot read and write.
According to the article US Prison System Plagued by High Illiteracy Rates (Observer, Michael Sainato, 17 July 2018), three out of five people in prisons in the United States cannot read, while 85% of juvenile offenders have trouble reading.
It does not stop there either; some experts have stated that the illiteracy rates in US prisons are as high as 75%.
If the figures are as high as this in a developed country like the United States, it is possible that they would be higher in a developing country.
Education is not necessarily a guarantee that an individual will be successful in life, but at the very least, it does arm the individual with the necessary tools, and increases the likelihood of that happening by a great margin.
Yes, there are countless individuals that have dropped out of school and went on to become successful: William Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs are prime examples. What many fail to mention or grasp is that all of them had already gotten some form of education up to a certain level (they all actually dropped out of college), and had been challenged by their environments to learn, solve problems, and be of great benefit to the world, in general.
William Gates also stated in an interview that if things had not worked out as expected, he could always go back to school.
On the other hand, there are many that dropped out of school far earlier than college, or dropped out without a plan, and their stories are being studied today, to teach young people about actions having consequences. Of course, there will always be exceptions, but it may be presumed that the majority fall into this category.
Using a practical example such as football (known as soccer in the United States), there are countless tales of individuals going from riches to rags. Recently, there was the peculiar case of Emmanuel Eboue, who was a star for Arsenal Football Club in London, England and left the club just seven years ago.
Three years ago, he was still a professional footballer with Galatasaray, but by December 2017, he had been rendered homeless as a result of a nasty divorce.
When he was interviewed, he made the following comment:
“In Turkey I earned eight million euros. I sent seven million back home. Whatever she (his ex-wife) tells me to sign, I sign.”
The summary of everything was that he had no one to show him the ropes and also lacked sufficient exposure and/or formal education to inform his decisions.
Eboue was a poor kid from Ivory Coast who had very little formal education, and this was a telling reason why he now finds himself in this predicament. There are countless others just like him today.
Everyone needs money to carry out their day-to-day activities and survive. Our needs do not care if we have a job, sufficient income or more than enough; bills will always be there to be paid.
According to the article Education is the Key to Better Jobs (Brookings, Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, 17 September 2012), being more educated makes one to be much more likely to earn more.
Having a college degree ensures that an individual is nearly nine times more likely to make over $100,000 than someone with a high school diploma and 13 times more likely to make more than $200,000 per year.
If an individual does not have a means via which cash flows inwards, (s)he will retort to other vices, such as begging or stealing-which brings us back to the statistic this paper opened with.
Another factor that has an effect is what I will term the “Get rich quick syndrome”. A lot of young adults watching the flashy lifestyles of many hip-hop musicians on TV do not realise that most of it is all an act, they then become impatient and refuse to work hard to attain the lofty heights desired.
Such impatience encourages many of them get involved in illegal activities, and also ensures that they will be more likely to be taken advantage of by nefarious characters, such as the likes that we will look at in a bit.
Nature abhors vacuum, and if kids are not fully engaged, then they will be targeted by syndicates to be involved in activities such as drug dealing, prostitution, stealing/snatching cars. All it may take is to flash a little wad of cash right before their eyes.
Many kids have been lost to such vices, and we can put a stop to it through education.
Gang affiliation is another vice through which young adults are being led astray. According to the National Institute of Justice, out of a total number of 1.5 million incarnated individuals in the United states, 200, 000 have gang affiliations.
It should be noted that some kids and young adults would love to get an education, and increase their chances of becoming successes, but lack of funds prevents them from having access to an education.
The Scandinavian model is one that all countries should look at taking a leaf from. For those that are not familiar with it, they believe that education should be accessible to all, and there should not be a reason why any child should not have access to quality education.
Interestingly, until a few years ago, their universities were also free for foreign students. (Some programs are still free).
Based on the considerations raised above, if governments around the world were to take this into consideration, then the number of young men and women incarcerated could drop drastically over time.
Lack of access to education is not an excuse for getting involved in crime, but ask a number of persons who are affected, and they will reply or insinuate in the affirmative.
Schools are tools that inspire and give hope. It does not promise a tomorrow, but it greatly increases the chances of that tomorrow being a beautiful one.
Another point I would like to stress is that a school does not necessarily have to be a regular grade 1-12 setting. I do think it is about time we evolve, and begin to focus on ensuring people are able to identify, groom, and develop skills that are inherent (example of such skills are crafts that cover woodcraft, metalwork, jewellery, etc). Such skills can be taught, and then mastered by these individuals. While this is ongoing, ensuring that they develop additional skills, such as interpersonal skills would not hurt either.
Just as we have schools for music, dancing, sports, and acting – basically covering the arts, there should be schools meeting the needs of other facets of learning.
This could go a long way to encourage more individuals to enrol in shorter programs that ensure that more people are taken off the streets and equipped with skills that increase their chances of making something out of their lives.
There are no two ways about it; either we step into the light, or the darkness embraces us. Which is the light, and which is the darkness? Your guess is as good as mine.
We need enabling systems/environments to take our kids off the streets, and give them an opportunity to become success stories. They are us, and we are them; there is no difference or distinction. Take a walk in their shoes, and you will be left with shattered dreams, a lack of hope, and a horizon where the sun never rises.
The ball is in our court, and we can ensure that each and every kid can have the world at their feet, if they so choose to accept the mission presented before them.
Victor Hugo once said that “he who opens a school door, closes a prison”; truer words have never been spoken.