“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." - Walter Cronkite
It is not a stretch to say that every single one of the woes afflicting mankind come down ultimately to the issue of education. A reasonable level of education empowers the individual greatly, giving one the freedom to choose from a range of occupations, and to secure the means (via material income) to gain further qualifications and hence more freedom.
A lack of education leads to myriad social ills. Young people who fail to gain sufficient qualifications are severely limited in the occupations they can choose, and are doomed in most cases to menial, repetitive and soul-destroying work simply to pay the bills. The alternatives are living off state benefits or turning to illegal work, both of which greatly harm society as a whole.
Far more importantly, the despondency felt by those trapped in low-paid, menial work can only lead to great unhappiness, something which can only negatively affect their families and other loved ones. Further, because of their breadline income, it is nigh on impossible to break out of this vicious circle in order to acquire the qualifications necessary to find better work.
As an related aside, how about those dastardly 'benefit scroungers', who can't even be bothered to work at all? Extreme examples are presented as commonplace behavior in the tabloids, and the unsuspecting readership get angrier. Lost in the noise is the fact that in many cases, those on benefits have disabilities or other issues that prevent them from working. There is also the tiny problem of mass youth unemployment in countries like, for example, the UK.
What these outraged tabloids fail to point out is that while 1.7 billion pounds is lost annually to benefits fraud in the UK, 20 billion pounds is in fact unclaimed. Only 2-3% of claimants are actually playing the system illegally. While this is obviously an issue, it is nonetheless blown all out of proportion by sensationalist media, further reinforcing the view that anyone on benefits is either lazy, stupid or thieving.
In poor or developing countries, the education issue is even more devastating. Consider, for instance, the chances of those working in sweatshops for big Western corporations in Southeast Asia and China somehow breaking out of the poverty cycle. These downtrodden souls work every hour they can to take home near slave wages and they have neither the time, money or energy to even consider escaping the trap. Not all is lost, however: the usual avenues are available to them: prostitution or crime. Take your pick.
I have always believed that you judge a person not on how they treat their betters or equals, but on how they treat those weaker than them. Anyone can suck up to authority and peers in the hope that it will engender benefits in kind, but it takes true character and courage to spend time and energy aiding the helpless, those who can never pay you back for your kindness.
"Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do" - Voltaire
Education, a human right, is now increasingly inaccessible to the poor. Wherever education has become a private industry, the idea of a university degree is simply a very expensive dream. The choice for the poor is either to go into massive debt in order to obtain a degree that does not necessarily guarantee work, or to find unskilled work that may be a great waste of their talents. This not only hurts them, it hurts everyone. What if the next Einstein is one of these poor students? The ludicrous possibility exists that our great future minds could be stacking shelves because they cannot afford to go to college.
If aliens are covertly observing us, one can easily envisage their perplexity.
Student protests have occurred worldwide. In Quebec, students have traditionally enjoyed relatively low tuition fees. This is because all attempts to increase them in the past have been confronted robustly. The students have once more risen up because of a proposed five-year precipitous rise in tuition fees. In March, a demonstration involving over 200,000 took place, quite incredible in a city (Montreal) with a population of only 3.3 million. More information can be found here.
In Chile, and across Latin America in general, protests (which have turned violent) have occurred for the same reason: education is being turned into a profit industry and the people are revolting against the very idea. In the UK in 2010, the existing cap on tuition fees of 3,290 pounds was increased to one of 9,000 pounds and many universities moved immediately to charge the maximum possible amount.
Nick Clegg, the leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, stated before the election that he would not vote for any increase in tuition fees. After being made deputy prime minister as part of a coalition government with the Conservative Party, he changed his tune, as most politicians do when it is expedient, and supported the rise of 3,290 to 9,000 pounds (yes, I want to repeat those numbers). A tripling of the money students would need to spend.
Education is quite simply the most vital asset of any individual or group. Making it inaccessible to those without financial resources is not only a violation of the most basic of human rights, it is destructive to any society that attempts to do so. Having a huge underclass of poor and uneducated people can only lead to a multitude of social ills. It is a sad indictment of the state we are in that free education for all is not universally accepted as, say, universal suffrage is.
In my free book and also my last article, I advocate a free education system created in the same way Wikipedia was. The alternative is ever-rising tuition fees, and more and more young people thrown onto the scrapheap. Is that what you want?
'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog.