Imagine where you would be if you couldn’t read this

By Oana Bonu. Oana, 29, is a communications professional and blogger from Bucharest, Romania. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison”, said Victor Hugo sometime in the 19th century.

I have always been an admirer of Victor Hugo and his writings, ever since childhood. His novels “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” and “Les Misérables” both fascinated and terrified me. He describes a world of contrasts – of beauty and ugliness, of rich and poor, of health and sickness. A world where the poor and uneducated don’t really stand a chance against the cruelty of the rich and careless.

Luckily for us, quite a few things changed since the 19th century, when Victor Hugo lived, loved and wrote. But his view on education still feels as relevant today as it did almost two centuries ago.

I grew up in the countryside, in a small village in Romania, a country that was under Communist ruling for almost half a century. There wasn’t any internet back in the ‘90s, our television only caught the national TV station and we didn’t even have a landline phone because it was expensive to install one.

Thus, reading became about the only fun thing to do. Being surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of books soon became a way of living. I don’t want to repeat what is probably the number one argument for reading – that it opens new worlds and brings a lot of opportunities. But it does.

If anyone would ask me what my biggest achievement so far has been – I would say without blinking: “learning to read”. This foundation brick is the most important moment that has shifted my entire existence and allowed me to become everything I am today. Reading, learning, discovering opportunities, going to school, participating in all sorts of competitions, moving to a bigger city to continue my education, learning foreign languages, getting scholarships, getting involved in my faculty’s projects, becoming Valedictorian, traveling outside the country, getting my master’s degree, getting a job I love, blogging, networking – these are 29 years in a nutshell.

If there is something I really appreciate about my parents, it is that they understood the importance of education and they did all they could to give my sister and I the chance to become anything we wanted in life, unlike them, who were stuck working on a minimum wage for all their lives.

But not everyone is so lucky – illiteracy is still a big issue in the 21st century. The World Bank shows that the literacy rate of all adults (aged 15 and above) was 86.24% in 2016, which means that now, while you’re able to read this, over one billion people worldwide can’t.

This is where Maslow’s pyramid comes into place – how can someone strive for self-actualization and high esteem when he or she can’t even satisfy the basic physiological and safety needs?

How can someone who goes to sleep starving every night think about education? How can someone who can’t even afford a new pair of shoes browse online for education or job opportunities? How can someone who doesn’t have a roof over their head think about going to a college, a university?

Poverty, ignorance, fear and despair are the roots of all evil – and one moment over the edge can have catastrophic consequences for the rest of one’s life. I was recently reading the novel “Waking Lions” by

Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, where the main character, Dr Eitan Green, an accomplished Israeli neurosurgeon accidentally hits an immigrant from Eritrea and runs from the accident site, leaving the man bleeding to death on the side of the road. After that, the hit-and-run accident brings the blackmailing widow into the life of the neurosurgeon, sparking a triangle of moral dilemmas.

It’s an interesting book, I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but it got me thinking: why do people go to prison anyway? Obviously, because when faced with a dilemma they chose the wrong way out – they steal, lie, cheat, hurt or kill.

A recent report published by Penal Reform International – The Global Prison Trends 2017 report shows adult men represent the majority of prison populations globally, mostly coming from poor and marginalized communities.

But that doesn’t mean women and children don’t make up a significant percentage of imprisoned citizens. Various studies (such as “Initial guidance on the interpretation and implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules”, 2017 University of Essex or “Prison: Evidence of its use and over-use from around the world” by Institute for Criminal Policy Research and Fair Trials) show female prison population continues to rise on all continents.

“The Global Prison Trends 2017” report confirms that a high number of women worldwide are being imprisoned for minor offences relating to poverty and familial roles (700,000 women and girls held in 219 national prison systems according to 2015 data), while the total number of children – those under 18 years old – in various forms of detention was estimated to be about a million in 2010.

In late 2015, a very comprehensive report by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary‑General on girls in the criminal justice systems shows that the main causes for imprisonment are the unstable family environments, histories of violence and abuse, poverty, failure of school systems, physical and psychological health issues, the use of criminal justice systems as substitutes for weak or non‑existent child protection systems, and discrimination. Besides, in some countries, girls are arrested more often than boys for running away from home, immoral conduct, or association with prostitution – all of these in direct correlation to poverty and lack of education.

Here in Romania there are still major issues caused by poverty – the lack of education means that statistically, many people don’t exist, because their parents didn’t know how to get a birth certificate for their children. So, they can’t go to school and they will never be employable, except undocumented.

Violence, especially domestic violence is still king in the country sides, because the man is the ruler of his household and nobody interferes, even though the neighbors know a tragedy is occurring and the women and children are sometimes beaten to death.

Women become mothers at very young ages, because they never heard of protection, they don’t know what that is and how it’s done, and men still consider them responsible, it’s their fault if they become pregnant.

In the end, I’m not saying that if I had not had the chance to get an education, I would have ended up in prison, but what I am saying is that many of those who are in prison right now would have had a chance at a different, better life if they had been able to go down an educational path.

But I don’t want this to be a monologue – what do you think? Do you agree? Is there a strong and clear correlation between the two?

30 comments on “Imagine where you would be if you couldn’t read this

  1. Emilia Carata on

    I strongly agree. A childhood spent while being friends with Huckleberry Finn, or other amazing character of universal literature, is a very happy childhood that prepares you for anything might come in the later years of your development.

    Regarding the statistics, they are still unveiling an upsetting reality, but we work together every single day to create a better future for us, our children, our loved ones or simply strangers touched by our good intentions.

    Reply
  2. Ramkumar on

    Awesome 👏 deserves an applause! Everything were to the point exact! Only eduction can change, the change we look upon😊😊

    Reply
  3. Peace Ezekalu-Obi on

    Interesting write-up!

    The writer exposed different people living in different regions who are faced with different life situations and their various approaches to life.
    Truth be told, education has a way of shaping ones life. If you have the ability to read and write, you stand a better opportunity to discover knowledge that will in-turn, bring about good judgement. Just like the saying of Victor Hugo “He who opens a school door, closes a prison”.
    Most people in prison would have chosen better life for themselves if they were exposed to other approaches when faced with life’s dilemma.

    On the other hand, education alone does not aid good judgement because even in prisons, we find educated people who decided to look the other way when faced with life’s situation. In our world today, we have seen uneducated people become wealthy whereas graduates are working in our streets begging for jobs.

    I believe those without roof on their head would have chosen better condition of living if they had the option to choose but life does not give such option, you have to create the life you want to live.

    So, wherever you are today, you can change your life and become anything you want to be.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Florin on

    Education is fundamental for a growing society and a strond educational system could help increase the level of wellbeing within society and make the world a better and safer place for our children.
    These statistics are worrying and we should do something before it’s too late. Thank you for pointing this out!

    Reply
  5. Lizzie on

    Wow! Beautiful article. I love it….it’s so interesting to know this because it seems all these challenges apply regardless of where one comes from. In Africa, this are more or less the challenges that the youth and women and children in particular face. It’s a thought provoking piece and I love it Oana!

    Reply
  6. irina_s on

    We have a great story here. 🙂 In a challenging world, looking for easy money, or rapid opportunity to show off in the society, the education seems to be left behind.
    Thanks a lot to Oana for reminding that the cost of education worth every penny, just because in the end it opens so many doors for human development, in so many areas.

    Reply
  7. Ionela on

    Indeed, books can be good friends while growing up and, sometimes, they turn into your key for a better future. Nice reading, thanks, Oana!

    Reply
  8. Jenifer Kuadli on

    This is a worth reading article! I totally agree with everything you’ve mentioned here. Really, knowledge is power. It could bring you elsewhere. Unless you have it, you’ll never have the confidence to deal with life as it gets complex with time.

    Parents play a significant role in educating their children or giving them the chance to be educated. It’s a valuable possession one could ever have that can never be taken by others. That’s what my parents used to tell me and my siblings when we were young. Both of them didn’t earn a college degree and they fully understand how difficult that can be. So they strive hard in order to send us to school and have a better future than they had. I’m always grateful to my parents for that and it’s a legacy I would want to leave to my future children.

    Reply
  9. Begum Ozbek on

    This is a great article for making everybody think about the importance of education not only for joining the workforce but especially for the development of personal attitude. I congratulate you and I agree with you in every point of view that you put on the table.

    Reply
  10. Robert Staicu on

    Indeed, this article defines entirely that all our modern life stages are based on reading and writing. Without education I could not succeed in life. It gave me the power to make all things possible and I may quote Sir Francis Bacon “Knowledge is power!”.

    Reply
  11. Raluca Fazekaş Olteanu on

    With your article, you took me to many places and made me happy, but sad too, just like a good book that wakes up all over you. Yes, I think education (from school and home) is very important not only for the benefit of the individual but also for society.

    Reply
  12. Nicoleta on

    A very good article. I also believe education can guide us trough life. Unfortunately education it’s not enough to can keep us out of a criminal life. There so many other factors such as violence at home, personality, poverty, illness etc that can influence our choices in life, but if you add the lack of education on top of all that the result can be catastrophic, not only for us but for society as well.

    Reply
  13. Mihai Schiau on

    Of course there is a strong corellation between illiteracy, poverty and crime, you are right. Great article with great examples both from your personal life, as well as books and studies. And a really catchy title 🙂 Congrats!

    Reply
  14. Anca on

    Nice reading! Thank you, Oana, for sharing your thoughts on such a sensitive topic. As a parent I strongly support the idea that trough a good education you can really make changes in the world that mater! As Ghandi used to say: ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’.

    Reply
  15. Vlad Rotaru on

    A well thought point of view. Since we can clearly see for ourselves how well developed nations have had a huge economic increase thanks to making full use of their great universities and culture.
    Let us take France for example. 70% of the inmates are muslim, and we all know the kind of conditions that muslims have in middle east and the lack of education they receive before moving to France.
    Even French born muslims suffer from a low school enrolment and they lack the necesarry skills of getting hired. It is only normal that they resume to a life of crime in order to make some money and stay alive. That is why Multiculturalism is the biggest geopolitical mistake that has plagued our continent in the past 10 years.
    I remember what my teacher said in 2011, in the middle of the economic crisis. Arm yourselves with knowledge, for it will be the only way of creating a living during the crisis. And to a great extent, he is right. I wasnt able to get hired during the crisis and that is because i did not have the necessary skills. I barely have them now. I wish I had more and I wish i will never cease to read, learn and educate myself.

    Reply
  16. Oana CRAIU on

    Very well written! I strongly believe that education helps increase your security especially if you are from a poor family and even from a poor country. If you are not educated, you are like a child without parents. You cannot protect yourself and no one else will protect you.

    Reply
  17. Ackoa Sapong on

    Wonderful article. I ask myself the same question, why cases of injustices are popping up in a country like South Africa. Can’t South Africans learn from the great Nelson Mandela? Injustice is actually a cancer that is determine to destroy the world. Thanks so much for your well thought out article. Good luck!

    Reply
  18. Diana on

    A very interesting view on one of the most important milestones that help shape an accomplished adult. The article offers an intensive personal perspective combined with thorough documentation. Very well written! Thank you, Oana!

    Reply
  19. Alina V on

    I totally agree with your theory. There is nothing more important in a child education process than discovering books. And we all know education is the main key of a healthy society.

    Such a beautiful and nostalgic way of sharing thoughts!

    Reply

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