Education FTW


So many people I know crap on education. Not that they necessarily say that education is a bad thing, but rather they highly doubt that campaigning for wider access to information does much good, nor do they think that problems such as fundamentalism or anti-vaccination can be battled through education. These people I know seem to think that the “education is the solution” approach is elitist, arrogant and naive.

I would like to introduce those people to William Kamkwamba, whose existence I just discovered through this meme I came across on facebook.

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This man is clearly extremely intelligent. He now has a website and gave a TED talk, and I have managed to discover a bit more about him.

Apparently, Mr. Kamkwamba was forced to drop out of high school in his freshman year, because a famine in his area meant his family could not pay his annual school fees. Despite this, he was able to learn how to build one, then several windmills from books he borrowed from the library, powering first his home and then his village. After much dedication, hard work and fundraising, he was finally able to re-enroll in school and eventually even go to college.

Without access to a library, where would William Kamkwamba be now? Without access to information, would he have been able to do so much for his community? Probably not. He would not have been able to take full advantage of his potential and the world, and especially his community, would have been a little worse off because of it. How many William Kamkwambas are there out there who did not have that library, or the internet, or some way to educate themselves and realize their full potential? How many more solutions to local or global problems would we have right now, if all 7 billion of us were literate, and had access to the knowledge that we have accumulated over the centuries?

Call me elitist, arrogant and naive if you wish, but I think that education is a gem that should not be underestimated. I think it should be a right, not a privilege, to educate oneself. That does not mean that the entire world needs to aspire to be doctors, lawyers or bankers. It does not mean that high-paying, white collar jobs are the only ones that matter and the only ones to value. It means that I challenge this idea that people who work in construction, or as road workers, or as farmers are by default, or by definition, uneducated and unintelligent. I hate this societal divide, in which some fear to pursue higher education because a farmer without a high school degree is to be expected, but a farmer with a college education is a failure in life. We should do what we’re good at, and never mind the societal judgement that comes with it. Maybe that farmer, through his education, comes up with a novel and far more efficient method of irrigation, or of disease prevention for his crops. Maybe that educated construction worker realizes that the materials he wastes everyday can be re-appropriated for something else.

College is not for everyone, and that is OK too. I am also not saying that everyone on the planet should be required to hold a PhD. All I am saying is that, no matter what job you have or what path you’re on in life, no one should be discouraged or prevented from educating themselves to the degree and level that they wish. No one should have to choose between having literate children, or having fed ones. No one should worry that pursuing higher education might, paradoxically, restrict their job opportunities.

In my ideal world, William Kamkwamba would be exceptional because of his intelligence and ingenuity, and not because he had to overcome insurmountable odds to learn enough to demonstrate those capabilities.

Comments

  1. Siobhan says

    In fairness, what most people refer to is not education, but accreditation. I couldn’t complete University for a lot of reasons, but I read more research and nonfiction than most people I know. The only difference is I don’t have a fancy piece of paper saying I’m smart–I just say smart shit and people call me smart anyway. Most people think Uni is just a springboard to get a job, which is a twisted way to view something that is a mutli-faceted and flexible tool for structuring knowledge itself.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      I know some people refer to accreditation, but that’s not what I was referring to, because I agree that having an official degree means nothing in the face of actual education. Rather, I know many people who sneer at the idea of spreading education itself. I have heard arguments against bringing more education to disadvantaged countries, saying that it was colonialist and self-important, in the same vein as bringing European culture to African or South American countries thinking that our culture is better than theirs. I have heard people scoff at the idea that education, literacy and access to different points of view could make the slightest dent in combating silly ideas like fundamentalism. And, when I heard that here in Germany there were people who were discouraged from pursuing higher education, because their future employers would be forced by law to pay them better and thus they feared that no one would hire them, I responded by saying that it was sad because no one should be discouraged from getting any education they wished, and they responded “I don’t agree. Some people just shouldn’t go to college”. Those were the people that I was referring to in this post. In fact, I was praising the library that this man had access to, rather than the college education he eventually pursued, and I explicitly said that I hate the societal divide in which college graduates have to get a high paying job or they are considered failures, and the sneering at other jobs as unworthy of anyone other than the dumb, uneducated, unwashed masses.

  2. says

    It means that I challenge this idea that people who work in construction, or as road workers, or as farmers are by default, or by definition, uneducated and unintelligent.

    My grandpa got a full 8 years of schooling before he became a miner. I got some of my more interesting books from him (Toni Morrison FTW). Actually, the whole family dreaded hearing him on the stairs, followed by coming in and asking “do you have anything to read for me”. Zombies asking for “braiiiiiiiiiiins” came to mind.

    I hate this societal divide, in which some fear to pursue higher education because a farmer without a high school degree is to be expected, but a farmer with a college education is a failure in life.

    Well, actually by now most farmers hold college degrees in Germany. Title is “Agrarökonom_in”.

    And, when I heard that here in Germany there were people who were discouraged from pursuing higher education, because their future employers would be forced by law to pay them better and thus they feared that no one would hire them

    That’s bullshit. There are no jobs where you get paid better in the same job* for having a higher school leaving cert. If there’s a union contract you get paid what you’re due according to your job title and duration of employment.
    I actually had the other way around: I worked as a substitute teacher even though I’m lacking the second part of teacher training. I still got paid the full amount because that was the job I did.
    The problem is more the other way around: By now there are many apprenticeships where, although the formal requirement is a lower level of education you cannot get a training position with that level because employers hire the ones with the higher qualification. Try getting a training position at a bank with a good “Mittlerer Bildungsabschluss” (middle school leaving cert, NCSE). No chance.
    Doesn’t mean that idiot parents don’t discourage their kids from pursuing higher education because a deep mistrust of the educational elites is firmly implanted in the minds of most**.

    *There are very few places, like Law Enforcement where you start different careers depending on your level of education.

    **It’s not like a college degree gets you rich these days…

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      To be fair to those who were telling me about this situation in Germany, “higher education” refers to University, not high school. For example, if you have a bachelors and a masters in biology, and you want a job as a technician, you would have to be paid more by law than someone with a Berufskollege (no idea if I spelled that right) degree. My boyfriend also wanted to go to an advanced chef school, because he has ambitions to open a restaurant and earn a Michelin star some day, but he was told that if he gets that degree he might not be hired easily in Germany, because the restaurant owners would have to pay him more, and you dont have to have a formal education to be a chef. I can’t attest to how true any of that is, but it seems to be common talk amongst those I know here. Either way, regardless of how true it is, I was making a point about a discussion I had with someone regarding the value of education, rather than making a point about German law.

  3. katybe says

    He also wrote a really interesting book, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, which was mostly really enjoyable reading, with some heartbreaking description of life in a time of famine – overall, I found the book incredibly inspiring and would recommend it to practically everyone, with that slight content warning.

  4. StevoR says

    Truth. This. What you said and what William Kamkwamba did. Spot on and so right.

    This is where facebook memes can be really informative and inspiring and good. Sharing this. BTW Have you seen the Goodwill Librarian’s fb page? Think / hope you might enjoy that.

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