The story and accomplishments of Pakistani MalalaYousafzai are inspirational. A 16-year-old girl shot in the head by Taliban gunmen on October 9, 2012 for campaigning for girls’ education in her homeland and miraculously surviving the potentially fatal shooting; recovering to continue her activism; and now, two years later, having the distinction of the youngest Nobel laureate ever.
Today, as the child education activist was announced winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for the right of all children to education, she reminded us of the need to cherish the learning we are afforded here in Barbados.
Malala’s heroic struggle captured the world’s attention as she reiterated her commitment to fighting for the right to education, even to the death.
She is an inspiration for millions. But her struggle should hold enormous significance for Barbadians; her struggle should give pause for thought on how other children are denied an education, while here, Barbadians from nursery to university have the privilege of walking into primary and secondary school, college and university without fear. In fact, they have that opportunity free from primary to secondary and subsidized at university level.
Some argue that the decision by Government to stop paying tuition fees for Barbadian students at the University of the West Indies from last month – a decision that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler made clear yesterday, in an interview with Barbados TODAY, would not be reversed anytime soon – should move students to more appreciate the learning they are being afforded.
But that privilege should not have to be threatened, or violently ripped away, for it to hold significance and for Barbadians to stop taking it for granted and make good use of it.
If our children could appreciate their education perhaps they could do more with it.
Education is a means, perhaps the greatest means, of social change and personal empowerment. In the case of Malala, her struggle was not only to be afforded an education but also an assertion that her gender has the right to equal access to that education.
Barbadian society is replete with examples of persons who have abused educational opportunities that have come at great cost to their fellow citizens. They have abused financial systems put in place to facilitate their advancement without a single thought for others who might have been deprived of the opportunity because of possible quotas.
We conjure up images of Malala slumped to the floor with a bullet to the head. We recall images of her lying unconscious on a hospital bed in the United Kingdom. We applaud her subsequent advocacy before the United Nations in the cause of child education. We praise her efforts to have schools established in her native Pakistan. We also acknowledge that she is still a marked woman for many Muslim extremists in Pakistan.
Then we juxtapose those images with some of our own youth, none of whom shed blood for the right to an education, as they spend their days becoming drug-related statistics, or otherwise engaged in nefarious activities, and lament at a nation devalued by the loss of its productive youth.
Perhaps, if our young people follow Malala’s journey, appreciate that she is a mere 17 years old, they might realize when they waste educational opportunities, whether academic or technical, like the Taliban, they are virtually placing a bullet in their own heads.