It is quite shocking to witness the unfolding drama in Nigeria where over 200 girls have been kidnapped from their boarding school by a militant group called Boko Haram. Initially a barely reported story, it is now attracting headlines from across the world. Indeed the American First Lady, Michelle Obama, taking the place of her husband in the weekly presidential address, has condemned the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Nigeria as an “unconscionable act” led by a group of men “attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls”.
However, the First Lady spoke not just for the kidnapped school girls but the 65 million girls worldwide who are not in education. It is indeed unconscionable that education, taken for granted as a birthright for so many, is unattainable for so many more. She singled out for particular praise Malala Yousafzai. Mrs Obama observed that Malala spoke out for girls’ education in her community, and as a result, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a school bus with her classmates. But fortunately Malala survived and hugely impressed Mrs Obama with her passion and determination to champion girls’ education which is still her life’s mission.
We are fortunate indeed to live in a country where education for all is a birth right. Whatever the rights and wrongs of political debate about the purpose of education, it captures without any fear of contradiction the vital importance of education for us individually and for our society. This is why the fate of the girls in Nigeria should matter to us. Indeed a member of our school community whose family are Nigerian felt moved to present the plight of the schoolgirls in assembly ensuring that everyone in our community understood the bigotry behind the kidnapping and the importance of education for these girls – after all, education is the most powerful weapon against such bigotry.
This dimension of our school’s life is essential for our young learners. Growing up in a world which is interconnected in so many ways necessitates a global awareness and understanding. We should all care what happens in other countries. Certainly global citizenship is an integral part of our vision for education. Growing up in today’s world our youngsters need a nuanced understanding of so many different cultures and societies. In my view, the outrageous kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls highlights the importance of global citizenship. The race for grades can sometimes place pressure on that part of school life not so easily measurable. Yet young people in this country will only appreciate the horror of this incident if they understand the context. How education is so fundamental to the life chances of their contemporaries in countries in other continents; why it is that the education of girls is particularly important because of its power to transform a society’s demography.
So when we reflect on our values in education we must ensure that our learners have the capacity to view the world around them with a critical and informed eye. Their education must encompass the world beyond our country’s shores. After all, without a critical citizenry we risk intolerance and prejudice prevailing; a dangerous place to be in our interconnected planet.