Addressing complacency around accessing education

13 July 2014

“What did you do at school today?” The resounding silence will be all too familiar to many parents and carers with school-aged children in the UK. There are many reasons why children may not be able to answer this question. Most likely, though, that silence is not for the same reason as those associated with Malala Day.

Today’s Malala Day is an event organised in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative. It is a call for the voices of children everywhere to be heard, to insist on the importance of education in spite of those who may try to prevent access to it, and has the goal of seeing all children (particularly girls) in school and learning by 2015.

The circumstances which led to Malala Yousafzai becoming a household name – being shot by the Taliban, alongside two other girls, on her way to school – was a truly global story, shocking people all over the world.

However, has the core message of the right to access education – the actual principle behind Malala’s response to this attack – reached the consciousness of those who were rightly outraged and horrified by this story? And what parallels, if any, can be made with our society and rights to an education in the UK?

In terms of children accessing education, it does seem rather unlikely that most attending our schools embrace the learning opportunities presented each day with unbridled vim. Children in the UK may be considered relatively ‘privileged’ in comparison with many other countries in that schooling is considered an entitlement. Of course, within that sense of entitlement there are still those that face barriers to accessing education. However, rarely to the degree that children like Malala continue to face.

Just because there is less risk of loss of life in our everyday experience of education, however, there is no excuse for society to be complacent about the importance of all children accessing education. This is something directly addressed through family learning courses where support is given for parents/carers and children to develop skills which improve their understanding of and access to education. NIACE’s recent Inquiry into family learning in England and Wales shows how crucial it is for children to read with their families, to have behaviour modelled by parents/carers confident in their own skills, to have ready access to books and access to interactions that prepare them for engaging with education on their journey as lifelong learners.

Malala Day reminds us of the gross unfairness of differences in access to education across the globe for a variety of reasons out of the direct control of children. Or so it would seem until you see an orator of Malala’s skill delivering that message around taking ownership. It reminds us that differences in access to education are not just across geographical boundaries between countries. Barriers can take many forms.

Parental expectations of children, whether linked to gender, religion, socio-economic class or a range of other factors, are a powerful force in challenging views around accessing education. Family learning providers, for example, are well placed to support families and inform society of why access to education is important, the impact it can have and why it is something worth arguing for. Perhaps those families will cherish more their ability to ask that question, “What did you do at school today?”