Education, the Weapon to Change the World?
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Following the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented global disruption to education, UNESCO estimates 11 million girls may never return to school. This is on top of the already staggering estimation that 65 million girls around the world were not already in school prior to COVID-19.
It was with great unease and sadness that I watched the coverage of the unfolding situation in Kabul. The disruption of political order has caused profound fear amongst women and their families living in Afghanistan, adding to the humanitarian disaster with 900,000 people already displaced in the past 12 weeks.
The dichotomy of experiences evident for young women across the globe, has not been lost on us. This week at St Catherine’s, we congratulated six Year 11 students on their selection to the 2022 Student Executive. These young women are harnessing leadership and advocacy opportunities within our school, guided by our Towards 2025 Strategic Plan, and in particular, our student leadership agenda ‘Use Your VOICES,’ which enables our students to explore and discover their own leadership capacities.
This is in stark contrast to the violation of human rights the world fears for the women and young girls of Kabul today. Undoubtedly, the gains made by Afghan women over the past 20 years, particularly in education, employment and political participation, are under grave threat.
The Washington Post reported this week on a girls’ school hidden deep in the concrete wall maze of central Kabul. The seniors of the all-girl Zarghoona High School keep one eye on their homework – and the other on the Taliban’s growing territory.
Zarghoona students of the Class of 2021, are too young to have experienced the Taliban’s brutal years in power, but they are old enough to understand what they have read in history books. Many of them took their midterm exams last month ahead of graduation later this year, a rite of passage into an increasingly uncertain future.
“We share the same thoughts, jokes, plans and even future careers,” said 17-year-old Belqees Niazi. “We want to enjoy our teenage years. We motivate each other. We make each other laugh.”
Education can be a powerful weapon to change the world. It is one of the greatest resources the world has to offer. Unfortunately, young girls and women, half of the world’s population, are rarely given the same opportunities as boys to learn, study and succeed. Of the 774 million people who are illiterate around the world, two-thirds are women. There are 33 million fewer girls in primary school than boys.
Education is essential for human development; it is the most enduring capital you can provide a child.
Despite our own discomfort during online learning, the boredom of our 5km radius and frustration with the lack of clarity around our own city in the forthcoming weeks, I encourage every student, supported by their families, to treasure every day of learning this term.
Remember how fortunate and privileged our students are to have a laptop and a dedicated teacher on every Teams call to guide them through their academic programs.
With the extension of COVID-19 restrictions, I encourage our girls to re-set for a two-week lockdown period, lean-in to learning and challenge themselves to be the best they can be.
65 million girls are not in school today. We have an obligation to ensure our next generation of leaders have a voice for all girls who are not in school today, tomorrow and well into the future.