Last week, the Education Secretary Michael Gove was accused of ‘abolishing childhood’ when the Department for Education unveiled plans to introduce complex maths subjects to primary classes. While the education system in the UK may not be perfect and may be in need of reform, it should not be taken for granted. On Friday, in a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, called on world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education” for every child.
“They shot my friends, too,” Malala told the audience at the United Nations. “They thought that the bullet would silence us – but they failed…the terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born.”
As I watched the speech in full, I remembered my father’s words, “Malala’s speech is more than incredible and remarkable…her words border on magical” and he was right; a sixteen year old girl from SWAT Valley in Northern Pakistan, having been shot by extremists, still fighting for compulsory education and equal opportunity.
Malala’s delivery was as compelling as her words and her passion and self-possession went far beyond fearlessness. Speaking of the Taliban gunmen who tried to kill her, she said “The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them.”She is convinced that in the end, she is the stronger one.
But according to the New York Times, there has been no pause in attacks on schools that educate girls in Pakistan. Taliban militants have pressed on with their violent campaign, attacking more than 800 schools in the North West since 2009 alone.
In the UK, The Education Act requires parents to ensure their children are educated, and state-run schools and colleges take students free of charge between the ages of 3 and 18. So while there are important discussions to be had regarding the National Curriculum, the changing nature of qualifications, grade inflation and so forth, on the back of Malala Day, I hope we can all take a step back and appreciate the schooling we are so privileged to have had.