IN NEW YORK last week, Malala Yousafzai announced that the fund
she had set up after she was shot by the Taliban is to launch its
first project, providing education for 40 girls from the Swat
Valley in Pakistan (News,
October). This, she hopes, is only the beginning: "Let us turn the
education of 40 girls into 40 million girls."
Malala's inspiring story is a testament to the transformative
power of education - for girls, but also for all children who are
currently excluded because of poverty or lack of opportunity. She
knows that education is not just about stuffing facts, or even
gaining qualifications: it is about enriching life. This is why
education is so prized by the poor and the young in Third World
countries, and why reactionary and sectarian groups such as the
Taliban strive to keep girls away from it.
In Britain, universal access to education is taken for granted.
Yet we rarely see it as having the potential to transform lives.
School is something to be got through, a necessary chore on the way
The debate about the state of our schools (teachers' unions v.
Michael Gove) is sterile. The point is not whether the curriculum
and the teaching methods are "progressive" or "traditional", but
whether what is offered arouses curiosity and desire for knowledge,
skill, and mastery - and, crucially, whether our education system
enables children to see themselves and each other as moral agents,
capable of making a difference in the world.
Millions of Third World children understand what we refuse to
see. Our problem is not just about failing schools; it is not just
about the way in which teachers and parents so often betray poor
children by their pathetic lack of aspiration. It is also about
middle-class parents, treating education essentially as a
commodity, a passport to more money and a better job rather than
about the forming of persons. They see schools as an exam factory,
not as a moral community in which being present to one another is
the most vital part of the curriculum.
Our schools were once sustained by a vision both Christian and
humanist: that everyone matters, and everyone can make a worthy
contribution if their gifts are encouraged. Without such idealism,
it is not only our schools that are failing: it is our society and
way of life. The Taliban are not the only ones who are capable of
The Revd Angela Tilby is the Diocesan Canon of Christ
Church, Oxford, and the Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser
for the diocese of Oxford.