For the millions who call the streets their home, there is no ‘second chance’. No take two. No kingdom come. There is an eternity of today and tomorrow and very little hope in between.
For the little more fortunate, there is the humdrum- cleaning our toilets and making our beds; wasting away. Devising complicated, intricate, useless plans for escape from what fate has delivered.
And there are women in villages in India and Sudan, who have never peeped over the patriarchal walls surrounding them, because they could just never be tall enough to.
There are children of war who were children some fossilised time in the past; sitting in tents in strange foreign lands, slowly getting pulled under with the cruelty of it all.
And the ones who have long passed beyond our reach, slipped through our fingers, cradling weapons of terror and hate, to command obedience, and turn to hazy, obscure fantasies because they never had the ability to see clearer.
All these groups of people share only one thing – they were denied the opportunity to an education. And now, they have children.
If you find yourself brimming with pity, well, that’s a nice thing to feel once in a while, great job. But we cannot possibly begin to understand the depth of this epidemic.
And the clocks face staring down at them their entire life, bell tolling loudly in their ears, just a very pleasant, uninterrupted alarm, makes it a little hard for these children of the streets, while they fight tooth and nail to feed their family and satisfy their thirst and cure their illness, to be overly concerned about a fancy word like ‘tomorrow’, forget ‘education’.
Because civilisation only reaches that far. Only touches that many lives in that much time. We are so caught up in our exponentially potential advancement and our money and fame, we could not possibly be convinced there still remain Homo Sapiens living a life that should have died out by now, after 66 million years. A life of survival.
Let’s try our hand at some evolution.
A lot of people in the middle-upper classes have common misconceptions about illiteracy. Beliefs that have hardened them to inequality, whenever it confronts them, saved them a life’s worth of insecurity and embarrassment. Or so they think.
They say- “The poor brought it on themselves”, and “They don’t earn a decent living out of pure laziness.” I’m sure you’ll find some of that genre of illiteracy in New York City or wherever else you have beggars with attitude, but it’s definitely not universal.
If I’m illiterate, I can’t just wake up one day on the right side of the bed and go and claim my education. If I have to cross a river in a boat to get to school, or I’m brought up in a family that believes that my greatest potential lies in plucking cotton or beading necklaces, I can’t put my work down and march to a likely nonexistent school. That’s part of the problem.
The other problem is that being illiterate also means illiteracy about literacy. Illiterate people would call education a privilege because they have other human rights to claim. They have mouths to fill and, therefore education doesn’t deserve any substantial attention. It becomes a want, not a need, like it should be.
The difference between humans and animals is our ‘superior intelligence’. Our understanding of the universe beyond the fact of our survival, and the ability to apply it to a cause so much greater.
But we fall short again. There are almost 800 million illiterate people on the planet. That’s close to 1/7th of us; who can’t read the instructions on a bottle of medicine, or a traffic sign, or even understand who we’re voting for. It’s time to stop treating them like a stain on our pride, failure and problematic consequence of fate and bad faith and whatever other fantasy you blame their existence on, because they are so much more than that.
Children who are condemned to the same destiny through generations. Their parents have probably concluded their fate, branded a figure of worth on their forehead (they would, if they knew how to count), but these children have no cause to dream, to believe they’re allowed to, or even need to, ever rid themselves of the chains that make them sink.
A spanner has been thrown into their wheels of fortune, and they remain, in a constant loop of the most primal form of existence, cleaning our toilets and floating in their tanks. And while they do, all of humanity, blindly roams the streets together, to reach the same dead end.
Education as a right; will finally be recognised as something of utmost importance. The fact that there exists an equal opportunity, for children, wherever in the world they are, and whichever social class they’re defined by. A boundless human potential that cannot be downtrodden by the circumstantial conditions of their birth and ethnicity, religion and sex, class and home, or any of the other convenient excuses we have scribbled down in margins next to their names.
Education is the loophole in the contract they’ve signed with an iron grasp that is crushing them. For these children to know that they are capable of something bigger, that they can reach farther than they were meant to and break free, is what we need – to start with. It is not a privilege, for the fortunate and the elite to carelessly consume, which is the case with everything else.
The right to education is effectively the right to dream. To hope. To hope for a world that can be better than the one they live in, and for the power to make it so.
And only when these children know that they can walk into hypothetical yet-to-be-built schools, with hypothetical teachers, and claim what is rightfully theirs; that they can let their minds wander beyond the next meal and beyond tomorrow, and mould it into some clearer figure of future, will we be able to take a deep breath and temporarily live with ourselves.
Then there will be some hope, a ray of light towards which we begin a long climb out of the dark pit where carcasses of children lay; glorious dreams and hopes that we have let decay and crumble away, for lifetimes.