Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The right to education

Last week a very sad thing happened in Johannesburg. A mother died in a stampede outside a University as she waited with her son to see if he could gain admission to study further after completing secondary school. What happened was that many students who completed Grade 12 last year didn’t expect to pass with university admission. So after getting their results they realised that they were eligible to study at tertiary level, thus there were thousands of students queued up outside the university waiting to see if they could get last minute admission. When the university finally opened up its doors, people began to push and shove (which is natural in any huge crowd where people have been waiting for hours). The result was that a mother who was with her son passed away and some other people got injured. This is a tragic thing to happen, but it highlights some very important issues within South African society, one of these being that although many people are still in need of good education, access seems to be rather limited.

The fact that thousands of prospective students were queued up outside the university clearly shows that people believe education is the key to a better future, yet so many people don’t have proper access to education at all levels. The other thing that stands out for me is that education has become this thing that is way too formalised and theoretical. There are so many skills that can be acquired in life and the truth is that many things cannot be learnt at university. Also, even when people do gain admission to university, there are many obstacles that they have to deal with. High student fees, expensive textbooks, difficulty coping or adjusting to working independently, large workloads etc. I know that all this is part and parcel of life but it just seems to me that a basic right such as education is so difficult to come by, and I really don’t think it should be this way.

Seeking knowledge is also a fundamental part of Islam. Muslims have been encouraged to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave so our quest for knowledge should in fact never cease, it should be ongoing and continuous. In these times when gaining education is so difficult and expensive, it may be worth noting that knowledge can be found in many ways and forms. “Education” is not and should not be restricted to an institute, whether it’s a school, a university or even a workplace. Education is far too broad and multi-dimensional to be restricted. Knowledge can be acquired in many ways and people should not be afraid to learn whatever they can, even if they think it’s irrelevant to what they want to do in life.

My mother always tells us that she had an aunt who always told her to “steal with the eye”. What this aunt meant was that through watching someone do something, you can learn how to do that yourself. This is of course the oldest form of education. Anything you learn in life will benefit you in some way (of course if it’s something positive otherwise learning negative things will only cause you harm). I have an uncle who studied to be a teacher and his father used to do glasswork-making glass frames for people and so on. So this uncle always used to help his father out and he learnt how to do things himself. Today he does not work as a teacher but does glass work himself and he has done much better in this field. So you see, education is not limited to what we learn at university or at school. Education is limitless; it goes beyond the walls of an institution. It can be gained in many different places and through different means and you never know what part of your education will benefit you.

I’m not saying that people should not go to university. I think my life would be very different if I didn’t go to university. University has taught me many things, but there are lessons outside the classroom as well and sometimes these lessons are much more valuable than the one’s you learn inside the classroom.

I still find it unfortunate that so many people who are longing to study to have a better life have not gained access to university this year, but if I could give those young people advice, I would tell them not to fret, because education can be gained in many ways. There will be time to go to university and perhaps next year they’ll be more fortunate to get in, but in the meantime, they should keep their minds open, learn whatever they can learn and strive to continue learning. Every skill you have is an asset and no one can take away from you what you have learnt. For instance, there are women who have spent their lives making money through cooking and baking. There are people who make a living through doing and making many things. This is education as well, the knowledge of how to do things like cook and bake, fix a car, make a frame or furniture, etc...should not be undermined. It may not have the prestige that comes with careers such as law, medicine or economics, but it is education and takes a huge amount of intelligence as well.  

So in short, what I am saying is that every single person has a right to education. Knowledge should be an ongoing quest. BUT...

Education should not be restricted to the walls of a university. There are many people who never go to university but their knowledge is astounding (the example of Sheikh Ahmed Deedat comes to mind here. This amazing man had no formal education, and yet his knowledge and achievements are amazing-

May Allah give Him Peace and allow him to rest in the highest stages of Jannah Inshaa-Allah).

We should not wait for others to fulfil our rights and we should not hold others responsible for our destinies. We have the ability to learn what we can, and like I said, every bit of knowledge can benefit you in some way. So let us all seek knowledge and increase our education in whatever way we can, even if that means doing tasks that others may regard as menial.   

Image 1 from here
Image 2 from here


  1. This is very interesting and very well written post Zarina. From a sad story you show us what education really means.
    I too had the chance to go to University but lately I realised we can learn from different sources and don't always have to learn for a diploma. We can learn many different ways too, like you did doing a puzzle.
    I did learn a lot when I was in Egypt about the culture and how to cook some special dishes.

    I miss the time when mothers were teaching their children the things their mums taught them before...........knowledge reverts many forms.
    May we all learn from this.

    Stay well Zarina.

  2. Marie

    Yes, I too miss that time-mothers have so much to teach, not only skills, but knowledge based on past experience as well. This wisdom should never be taken for granted. My mum never went to University, but she is definitely the most knowledgeable person I know and the things that I've learnt from her I could never learn anywhere else.

    The thing is that there is so much to learn, like you leanrnt in Egypt just by spending some time there. I'm sure that you learnt much more about Egyptian life than you would have if you studied about Egypt. Its great to do formal studies, but the real learning happens through experiences, when we actuall spend time with people. This also brings about real understanding.

    Thanks for yor positive comment as usual and I'm glad you found the post useful.

  3. Dear Sister,

    I loved your thoughts about both formal and informal education and also the example of respected Sheikh Ahmed Deedat.

    Really gives me confident for not only university I did not even complete my college education. (I said good bye in the first year).

    But alhamdulillah, I learned a lot via informal studies. School teachers couldn't teach me the meanings of words "is" but an out of syllabus book made me love learning English.

    I learned to read Hindi a foreign language in almost one day.

    Life certainly doesn't end only because one couldn't succeed to enter the university gates.

    I remember an interview of an owner of a group of industries; he informed that his formal education was only up to grade nine of a high school but later he and his brothers worked hard in their small business in textile industry. Until they succeeded to become a renowned group of industries, maa sha-Allah!

    I think formal education can only show us a route ; future success depends on how one learns from the rest of the journey.

  4. Ibn Hanif

    Thank you brother, your response just adds to the discussion in this post. You bring up very good examples and I agree with all you've said. Its true, formal education can show us a route, but there is so much more to learn in so many different ways, it's what we decide to learn that will depend on our success.

    And we must not forget that in the end we will only get what Allah Almighty has put out for us. Even the knowledge we gain is only in accordance with Allah's will.

  5. I remeber being in South Africa this time last year and watching the craziness of it all on the news.

    I'm not actually a fan of formalised education (hence the home schooling) and I am a firm believer that sometimes a trade can get you far further than a degree can.

    I have a BA and I also have a Diploma, guess which is the one that enables me to earn money to support my kids? Learning a trade was one of the best things I ever did. Some pople have told me what a waste it is that i'm not 'using' my degree but I guess when the going gets tough, teh tough get going.

    Take care my dear xx

  6. Bonnie

    Yes it can be quite crazy in SA at times. Would be nice to hear your thoughts on what it was like living in SA.

    I agree with you that learning practical skills is so much more useful. I don't believe that having a degree is completely useless, but I just think people place way too much emphasis on it.

    It makes sense that you can actually earn money through learning a trade, and honestly I don't think that your degree can ever be "wasted". Anything you learn changes you and helps you to grow so I guess it all depends on your outlook and intention.

    Home-schooling- I think that's great, it takes a lot of dedication on your part but I think that you are able to do so much more with your children and they are also not forced to think in one way only. I really admire mothers who do home-schooling.

    All the best with everything, take care and stay well.