This month the United Nations marks the International Day of Education and the world body in a statement says education is a human right and points out that it is enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration calls for free and compulsory elementary education. In 1989, Rights of the Child Convention went further to stipulate that countries shall make higher education accessible to all.
When the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, the international community recognized that education was essential for the success of all 17 of its goals. Sustainable Development Goal 4, in particular, aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030.
Outlining the challenges in achieving universal education, the UN says education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future. But around the world about 265 million children and adolescents do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school. More than a fifth of them are of primary school age. They are thwarted by poverty, discrimination, armed conflict, emergencies and the effects of climate change. Migration and forcible displacement also affect the achievement of the education goals, as presented in last year’s global education monitoring report.
This International Day was marked for the first time last year. By proclaiming this event, UN member states recognized the importance of working to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels – so that all people may have access to lifelong learning opportunities that help them to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to access opportunities to participate fully in society and contribute to sustainable development. The UN Secretary General António Guterres in a statement says we need to do far more to advance Sustainable Development Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Proper formal education is vital to promote peace and sustainable eco-friendly development especially in this era of growing digital social media influences which have reached such a crisis stage with fake news spreading so fast that some analysts are referring to this challenge as ‘truth decay’. The world is advancing fast and powerfully into the cyber era with Artificial Intelligence and marvellous robotic technology drawing much attention. On Thursday Google announced it was developing a means of technologically detecting breast cancer in a manner that even the highest qualified medical consultants could not do.
All these advances have their positive and powerful dimensions but overall human nature is still to a large extent selfish or self-centred. That is why it is widely feared that digital technology may eventually go the negative way and destroy basic human values instead of providing the needs for creativity, enterprise and imaginative innovations for the common good of all.
That is one of the reasons why the main centre of education needs to be the family or the home. We learn as much at home as we learn at the highest educational institutions though the teaching process is not formal but more practical. Selflessness, sincerity and sacrificial values need to be practiced in the family so that these values could be promoted in the neighbourhood, workplaces, in the country and in the world. For instance, if the father and the mother set the example of living for each other, the children also will learn it not from textbooks but by example.
Though the selfish world generally teaches us to be self-centred for our personal gain or glory, in the family we need to learn to be other-centred and live or serve the others. Families need to promote values such as forgiveness, compassion, understanding, care and concern for each others’ needs and wishes, understanding of each others’ faults and weaknesses and appreciation of what is good and nice in each other. In simple terms we need to often say ‘please’, ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ in the family. We do this in our workplaces and elsewhere but if it is not happening in the family those words would often not be genuine but come from the head and not the heart.
Statesmen such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela have given us words of deep wisdom relating to education. Mahatma Gandhi says, “By education I mean an all-round drawing of the best in the child and other people in body, mind and spirit”, while Mr. Mandela says education is the most powerful weapon which we could use to change the world and build a just and fair society.