Opinion | Columnists

The importance of being educated

All children must be given access to education, and its importance must be emphasised, for it not only improves minds but is also an investment in the future of the nation.

  • By Nicholas Coates, Associate Editor
  • Published: 00:00 September 28, 2007
  • Gulf News

There is more to education than learning the three R's - reading, writing and arithmetic. While not wanting to undermine the necessity of these subjects, it is also important a pupil receives a rounded education which incorporates a number of disciplines that will benefit and improve a person's life.

Many nations provide free education for children - and it is even compulsory in some countries. Generally, a child is expected to go to school from about the age of four or five, until around 15. Further education may be available at colleges or universities, but it is usually based on a child's academic ability.

Yet there are countries which cannot provide adequate education for their youth or, if it is provided, is of poor quality. It is often in these countries where parents decide they cannot afford to send their children to school but need them to work at home. This is especially rife in the poorer African countries, where generations of uneducated youth impede upon a nation's progress.

This can become self-perpetuating. An uneducated mother, who is generally recognised as the mainstay of the home, will have little knowledge of the importance of raising a family that will lift them out of their situation. Issues such as hygiene, adequate diet - science tells us that without proper nutrition the body and mind fail to develop to full potential - and of course, the importance of educating the offspring, as well as being instrumental in decisions on family size.

Without proper education, in some countries mothers are looked upon as baby-making machines so children will look after parents in old age. But with an extended family, poverty, inadequate diet and lack of education, the situation continues from generation to generation. In some countries female foeticide is practised because girls are deemed to be less beneficial than boys. This phenomenon has become so widespread that in China, for example, where a "one child" policy is followed (but occasionally ignored) the imbalance between males and females will affect future development.

India does not restrict the size of a family, and has even banned female foeticide, but in some areas a female foetus is destroyed as it is believed boys will provide for the family later in life - girls are seen as a burden in rearing and in the future when a dowry is called for. So the tendency is to have many boys as an insurance against premature death of a child, which may happen as large families can often be ill-afforded.

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Unfair

It would be unfair to attribute all these problems onto developing nations. Even in the West, the US and UK, for example, the consequences of inadequate education, or neglected opportunity to educate, can be seen.

In the inner cities, unemployed, and unemployable, youth congregate into gangs which resort to crime, drugs and violence as they are of little or no benefit to society. Ghetto-type areas are created, often caste inspired, which can create no-go areas in a city.

There are numerous recorded incidents of young girls leaving school early and becoming single mothers. Without adequate education, the mother is unable to raise her child in a proper manner, which is why over successive generations, the literacy and moral standing of a section of society declines.

It is a disinterest in education by some members of society, or the inadequacy of its implementation, that hinders nations from developing. All children must be given access to education, and its importance must be emphasised, for it not only improves minds but is also an investment in the future of the nation. Unless initiatives are taken to educate children, then it is almost a certainty a nation will remain impoverished and will always need assistance from other countries as it will not be able to manage.

It was the late president Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan who, on the founding of the United Arab Emirates in 1971, stated in the country's first budget that a major investment was being made in education as the youth, is the "real wealth of a nation". Since then, successive governments have set aside considerable sums of money to ensure and maintain a high level of education is not only for Emiratis but also the large expatriate population in the country.

So strongly has Shaikh Zayed's message been instilled into the leadership of the UAE that His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has instituted a new drive, called Dubai Cares, intended to provide education to over 120 million children around the world. The initiative has been warmly received by individuals and commerce, who have responded to the challenge of raising Dh200 million. To further demonstrate the active participation of Shaikh Mohammad and his family, he has set his children the challenge of also raising funds for the project.

But aside from any competitive element, it is important not to lose sight of its purpose. Namely, that children should be given every opportunity to access to education and improve their life. Without education, no nation can flourish and prosper.

Gulf News