“Too often we forget how lucky we are to go to school”. This sentence opens the brilliant documentary “On the Way to School” by French director Pascal Plisson, produced in partnership with UNESCO and Aide et Action.
The true stories of four children who walk 15 kilometers across the savanna of Kenya, cross the Atlas mountains in Morroco, ride for hours on horseback through the middle of Patagonia, and push a wheelchair along 4 kilometers of sandy trails in India “just” to go to school are the best testimonies of what it means to have access to education and the right to a better future. At P.A.U. Education, we published a similar story written by a young Liberian girl named Korto, who wrote about her experience of being allowed to go back to school once the civil war was over.
It is certainly worth remembering that, at the same time, 58 million primary school-aged children and about 63 million adolescents of lower secondary school age are not in school. And there is a need in 2015 for an extra 1.6 million teachers in order to achieve universal primary education. But these inspiring stories still exist and show the way for many.
But what is happening in Europe where education is fully guaranteed as a right? Have young Europeans forgotten how lucky they are to go to school?
More than 12% of all European pupils are early school leavers, with peaks in some countries (like Spain), where the rate is well above 20%. Every sixth young person aged 18 to 24 in EU-28 leaves school with only a lower secondary level education, and participates in no further education or training beyond this point.
Why do young Europeans decide to leave school early when young Indians, Kenyans, Argentinians and Moroccans are risking their lives to go to school? Statistics don’t always tell the true lives of students, especially when they get bored instead of enjoying every minute of their school day.
I had an interesting chat with my son Eliot, aged 13. He told me that he dreamed – sometimes – about not going to school anymore (we went together to see the documentary, and I am sure his dream won’t disappear). I asked him, “What will you do then if you don’t go to school?” His answer was, “I will study first on my own, then go to school to exercise what I just learned.” He had just reinvented the flipped classroom, because of the disappointment he felt with some of his classes.
Innovative learning isn’t just good for rich countries. Would technology enable the young heroes from the “On the Way to School” documentary – and many others – to access school more easily? This is one of the questions that may be raised at the upcoming “Mobile World Congress”. In Kenya, for instance, 75% of the unbanked population now has access to improved financial services through mobile money. Could they, in a near future, access basic education the same way?
The father of Samuel – the young Kenyan in the documentary – blesses his kids before they start their journey to school, telling them, “God bless your pencil and give you success in life”.
Might he say one day, “God bless your cell phone (or your tablet)”?
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