“Education : A right not a privilege” – Shónagh Smith
Before I traveled to India I was told multiple times by friends, family and strangers about how awful it is that not every child is receiving a good education in India. I myself was also concerned and obviously by signing up to the programme was ready to lend a hand teaching with the incredible NGO, The Thoughtshop Foundation.
But when I arrived back home I began questioning myself. Why hadn't I offered help or volunteered with disadvantaged children in Ireland, helping them with their education? Why aren't we more concerned about the quality and inclusiveness of education in Ireland? Are we oblivious to our own education problems or are we ignoring them?
When I started to think more and more about Ireland's education system I began to see that the similarities between Ireland and India was more than our sense of humour, the colour of our flags, and the fact that we were once part of the British Empire. It was a lot more than that. The similarities regarding education and a child's postcode or financial situation are both much the same, allowing me to believe that maybe this is a global issue.
Both in Ireland and India, a family's financial situation has a huge impact on a child's education, whether that means difficulties affording fees, transportation to school, uniforms, books or extra much needed tuition for struggling children. This can have a massive effect on a child's future. It can prevent children from attending school, prevent them from enrolling in university and continue the cycle of poverty. Here, in Ireland, many children are falling through the gap because of insufficient educational supports and inequalities. In a study reformed by UNICEF in 2018, gender, parental occupation and school differences were all listed as factors that drive educational inequalities in Ireland as well as globally. As a result, UNICEF compiled a list of areas in which they ask for the Irish government to take action on, including: reversing the educational cuts from 2011 in order to provide high quality, equal education for all.
But what can we do to help? Well, similar to volunteering abroad, we can volunteer a lot closer to home by offering free grinds to someone who may need some 1:1 help, by volunteering with local organisations that provide literacy and math support in schools, by offering a few hours each week at local homework clubs or by lobbying the government for better educational supports, funding and grants.
So the next time people comment on how the education system may be abroad, remind them that maybe our own isn't much better, that maybe Ireland isn't as inclusive as we should be and remind them on how we can take action. When people start to understand the inequalities surrounding education, people will get angry and when people get angry change will happen because every child deserves a quality education regardless of their family's income, or country of residence.
Name: Shónagh Smith