ducation was the subject of international attention last week with children’s education activist Malala Yousafzai becoming the youngest person in history to win the Nobel Peace Prize, while last Saturday the world marked the International Day of the Girl Child. The 17-year-old Malala, who was shot in the head by a Taliban terrorist in October 2012 because she dared to insist on the girl child’s right to education, has today become a much loved international ambassador for education, peace and justice for all. Some months ago, the brave teenager went to Nigeria where she held talks with President Goodluck Jonathan on stronger measures for the safe release of more than 300 girls who were abducted by the Boko Haram terrorists because they dared to defy the ban on education for all girls.
Malala was in her chemistry class at a school in Birmingham on Friday when she was called out and given the news that she had won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. She said the award made her feel more powerful and courageous while it would also be a new beginning for her campaign to ensure the right to a full education for all children, especially girl children, in all parts of the world. The reclusive Satyarthi, admittedly nowhere near as famous as his co-recipient, is however, a messiah for India’s close to 50 million child workers. Mr. Satyarthi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan (loosely translated as the Movement to Save Childhood) has to date rescued and rehabilitated more than 80,000 child labourers. Just last month, he rescued 24 child workers between the ages of eight and 15 from a bag and shoe making plant in New Delhi. After rescuing tens of thousands of child slaves, Mr. Satyarthi’s movement provides opportunities for them to get a full education, thereby going a long way in restoring their dignity as human beings.
Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, a Muslim and a Hindu, have said they would invite the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to attend the prestigious award presentation ceremony in December so that it could be a turning point for the two countries which have fought three wars and have been in conflict for decades over boarder disputes in the state of Kashmir. Even last week Indian and Pakistani armed forces clashed several times, raising fresh fears of a nuclear nightmare. People of goodwill hope that the girl of the century and the child activist, who prefers not to let his left hand know what his right hand is doing, would be able to provide not only child rights and education, but also bring peace to Asia and the world.
We also hope the international acclaim given to these two Asian child rights champions would bring about a greater awareness in Sri Lanka of the need for education for all -- not just examoriented studies but education for life. Otherwise, as Mahatma Gandhi has said, we may learn to fly like birds and swim like fish, but it would be of little use if we forget how to walk like caring, sincere and humble human beings.
The financial allocations for next year’s budget do not show positive signs of high priority being given to education. While other ministries have got huge allocations in the budget for next year, the allocation for the Education and Higher Education Ministries is only about Rs. 88 billion though it has been increased by about Rs. 21 billion from the allocation for this year. Some 220,000 public school teachers and 15,000 principals are complaining they have not been given salary increases or promotions for several years and are warning, as are many other trade unions, they would strike if they do not get a substantial salary increase.
With the principals and teachers discontented, the students will obviously not get a proper education while selfish market forces are driving them to come first by fair means if possible or by foul means. We hope Malala and Satyarthi will teach our children the great lesson that it is more honourable to fail than to cheat.