[Photo by Monteserín Fotografía for Friends of Fe y Alegría]
As August turns into September, thousands of families around the country are in “back-to-school” mode. There are back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences and, of course, the necessary back-to-school clothes and supplies. For 264 million children and youth around the world, though, this reality seems like a distant future.
La Silla Roja campaign was launched last year in the United States and Canada to raise awareness about the right to education and the fact that millions of youth continue to be denied this inalienable right. This year, we would like to go deeper, and together explore the root causes and consequences of this lack of access, asking questions such as: Why are there 264 million children and youth out-of-school worldwide? Why is education so important? How does education, or a lack thereof, affect our human rights? Why should I care? What can I do about it?
However, before we discuss why education is vital to human rights, it’s worth asking ourselves the following question: Do we know what human rights are?
Respect my [Human] Rights.
As U.S. citizens, we often speak about our constitutional rights (the right to bear arms, the freedom of free speech, etc.) but what about our human rights? Do we even know what they are? Fortunately, for many of us human rights are so basic that we don’t even realize that they exist. We drink clean water and eat healthy food, we go to the doctor when we are sick, we vote in free and open elections. We go to quality and inclusive schools.
Though the concept of human rights stretches back centuries, our modern understanding is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. This document, which is the first of its kind, outlines the universal and inalienable rights we all share, regardless of gender, race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or disability.
For human rights to be respected and for this declaration to be more than a piece of paper, citizens and governments must do their part. Governments are responsible for upholding national and international laws that guarantee the free exercise of human rights and citizens are in turn entitled to enjoy their human rights. Citizens, though, must also burden the responsibility to respecting the rights of others.
Unfortunately, human rights are only an idea for millions around the world. As of 2016, 767 million people live in poverty, 400 million lack access to essential health services and over 758 million adults lack literacy skills.
Education is vital to Human Rights.
One of the most important human rights we enjoy is that of the right to education. Education is fundamental to exercising all other human rights. Education allows individuals to lift themselves out of poverty, to open “the golden gates to freedom” (as George Washington Carver once said) and to socially, physically and emotionally develop. Education not only gives us the skills and knowledge necessary to survive, but it also gives us the power and sense of self-worth to demand our human rights. For example:
– Without education we are more likely to be poor. (Poverty could be reduced by over 55% if all adults completed secondary education, meaning more than 420 million people would be lifted out of poverty.)
– Without education we are less likely to be healthy. (Just four additional years of education can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.)
– Without education we encounter higher rates of inequality and inequity. (Equality and equity = better access to jobs, wages and true sustainable development.)
– Without education girls and women are less empowered to assert themselves and stand up for their rights. (Educating girls and women = changing gender stereotypes of what girls and women should and can do.)
– Without education we care less about the environment and our effect on it. (Forty-two percent of individuals with a Master’s degree are concerned about the effects of climate change compared to just 25% of individuals with a high school degree.)
– Without education we are less likely to acquire political knowledge. (Less political knowledge = less likely to participate in democratic processes, such as voting, and more likely to resort to violence when protesting).
Simply stated, education is vital to addressing social inequality and injustice in our world today.
Why are there 264 million girls, boys and youth out of school? Why should I care?
Before asking whether or not we should care about the millions of children and youth out of school, let’s reflect on a more basic question: Why are there 264 million children and youth not going back to school this month? Why are most of us in the throws of back-to-school fever with our own children and families, while a group of kids roughly the size of the U.S. population sits idly by in refugee camps in Jordan or sells fruit in the overcrowded streets of Lagos, Nigeria. Why do we enjoy our universal right to education and they do not? And, more importantly, is that just?
Whether you live in New York or Nairobi, access to quality and inclusive education can be problematic. [The United States, for example, has one of the highest out of school rates for children among Western nations at 5.5%] Poverty, climate change, war and gender are just a few of the reasons why there are so many kids out of school. Together with our partners at Educate Magis and Entreculturas-Fe y Alegría Spain, we will spend the next 10 months exploring some of the root causes of these issues through The Global Red Chair Project.
In the United States, though, we would like to spend this school year examining this last question: is it just that 264 million girls, boys and youth are out of school worldwide? If it is indeed unjust, what does that mean for us? If we are truly men and women of conscience, competence, compassion and commitment, what is our role in an unjust system and world? What are our responsibilities as men and women for others to social justice in this situation? How do we analyze this problem, not from a “us vs. them” perspective, but from a place of solidarity where we recognize the injustice facing others as an injustice facing us all?
What can I do?
As cliche as it sounds, the first step is reflection and understanding, both the importance of education and the rights and responsibilities that we all share regarding education.
As Fernando Reimers, Director of the Global Education Innovation Initiative at Harvard University, states, “In order to effect change on a global scale, one must be personally responsible, must participate in efforts to remedy injustice, and must seek to understand the causes of problems and injustice worldwide.”
So, we invite you to grab a red chair and join Friends of Fe y Alegría and other partners across the U.S. and Canada on “La Silla Roja: A Journey Toward Justice”.
This year, we have 8 easy-to-use, adaptable lesson plans to accompany you on the journey:
– World Literacy Day – La Silla Roja Launch
At Friends of Fe y Alegría, we believe that it is our responsibility to protect and care for the best classroom we have, the Earth. We also believe that it is our responsibility to promote peace, in our classrooms, in our schools and in our communities. Neither are possible, though, if we do not first defend the right to education. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that every single person, every girl, every boy and every young person exercises their right to a quality and inclusive education, regardless of their age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. We each have a fundamental and inalienable right to a quality and inclusive education, no matter where were born or the resources we have.
Thank you for joining us on the journey to promote global citizenship. We look forward to working together today to create the world we want tomorrow.