The last year has been an eye-opener for the world on what education actually means to many children, not least in Pakistan and Afghanistan, just two places where the education of children is not guaranteed. Being a student in the UK, I have always taken education for granted, but the courage that girls such as Malala Yousafzai have shown in their fight for education is amazing. I accept that in this country, not everyone enjoys school or college, but it is something that is so important for the development of a person as they grow up. Without education, many don’t have the skills to get jobs. Without jobs, people cannot earn money to support their family. It’s a vicious circle that many have to cope with. No matter what circumstances you are in, no one should ever be denied the right to learn. Unlike some students in the UK, young kids in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan actually enjoy education when they get it. We, in a way, should be following their example of thinking positively about wanting to learn. Unfortunately, they don’t always have the chance that we usually do. That’s just plainly unfair.
The consequences of terrorism and war are acting as barriers for ALL young people to enjoy life and eventually earn from their skills. An education is not only a right, but also something that can show the capabilities of children and young people and what they can achieve, no matter where they are in the world. It’s something they should be able to be proud of.
Despite the horrible situation in Middle Eastern countries, after twelve years of war, access to education in Afghanistan is improving. If the UK can take anything positive from the sacrifices that British soldiers have made in Afghanistan, it is that education has improved, with a better balance of male and female, both as students and as teachers. School enrolment has risen by millions and a large proportion of these are girls. Under Taliban control, many of these girls would not have been given the opportunity to go to school.
On the other hand, the threat of attack from terrorists has not been completely eradicated. There are still attacks on teachers and students alike, but these are being tackled and UN Forces are doing their best to keep schools safe. There is a concern that with the withdrawal of British troops this year, and the winding down of the British Army’s operation in Afghanistan whether this safety will be maintained. On the other hand, if Afghan troops have been trained properly, this should be taken care of by the time we leave.
To return to the story of Malala Yousafzai, I believe that she is a role model that many should, and perhaps do, look up to. I’m not suggesting that everyone should put themselves in danger to fight for their education, but I do believe that everyone should care about their education. If not for their own sake, then for a child in Pakistan or other countries where it may still be too dangerous to go to school. If everyone cared as much as people like Malala, perhaps then, it might be safer to get an education.
Hopefully, in years to come, the effort to get an education for everyone will continue. You never know, perhaps in a few years’ time, it may be safe to for everyone go to school in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq alike. No child should be threatened or hurt for wanting to learn. Real progress has been made, so let’s not stop here. Let’s continue to make it possible for everyone. It may have cost lives, but the evidence is there. Whatever was done in Afghanistan worked. Now we can at least try to make the same progress elsewhere. Perhaps not through military intervention this time, but more peaceful means.
Backbench Minister for Education