‘I don’t want to go to school!’


Saudi Gazette

At the start of the first week of school in the Kingdom, jokes have been going around how kids are upset that their summer vacation is over, but parents are ecstatic to have their kids back in school!

Due to the long break, most of our kids have gotten lazy over the summer, sleeping late and waking up at noon, making it difficult for them to adjust to early rising for school. My two girls came to me with long faces the night before school, complaining that they didn’t want to go to school.

I had to remind them that school is a privilege not a burden; that girls in other places in the world are fighting for their right to education, rather than ungratefully complaining about school. I told my girls about the story of Malala Yousafzai, who was born in Mingora, Pakistan and as a child had a love of learning and books. Malala went to a girls’ school but when the Taliban took over her village, they announced a ban on girls going to school.

Malala and her father refused to adhere to the ban. Malala began speaking out on her right to education, and the right of all girls and women worldwide to receive an education. Malala and her friends defied the Taliban, and they continued going to school to learn. While riding the bus on their way back from school, a gunman opened fire at the school girls. Malala was hit in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were injured in the attack. The shooting left Malala in critical condition, so she was flown to a hospital where a portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England. Though she would require multiple surgeries, including repair of a facial nerve to fix the paralyzed left side of her face, she suffered no major brain damage. In March 2013, she was able to begin attending school in Birmingham.

Our girls should consider themselves blessed and fortunate that they can go to great schools. Worldwide, there are still 31 million girls of primary school age out of school. In the following ten countries, more than 50% of all girls between the ages of 7 and 16 have never been to school: Somalia, Niger, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Pakistan, Yemen, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire.

Do you know what education could do for girls and women in the sub-Saharan Africa countries? Better education means pregnant women will know how to better take care of their health, which could save lives. In sub-Saharan Africa, if all women completed at least primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by 70%, saving almost 50,000 lives. If women had proper education, child deaths, childhood malnutrition, and stunted growth in children would be reduced.

Mothers’ education improves children’s nutrition. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than a third of global child deaths. Educated mothers are more likely to ensure that their children receive the best nutrients to help them prevent or fight off ill health, know more about appropriate health and hygiene practices, and have more power in the home to make sure children’s nutrition needs are met.

Education empowers women to overcome discrimination. Girls and young women who are educated have greater awareness of their rights, and greater confidence and freedom to make decisions that affect their lives, improve their own and their children’s health and chances of survival, and boost their work prospects.

I told my daughters of the deplorable conditions of children’s schools in other countries, and how other children wished that they had air conditioners in their classrooms, and playgrounds, and enough books to go around, and how these kids went to school on empty stomachs due to poverty.

I showed my daughters pictures of schools in Guinea. The average classroom in a typical school in Guinea has 85 students in one room with one teacher. Four children sit at a bench and desk meant for two. The bookshelves are practically bare and students have to share books to study from.

Some schools in Africa attract students to attend the school because they offer a feeding program. The school provides a simple breakfast and lunch every day for children who otherwise would have stayed hungry at home, because there is no food in the household.

What a stark contrast between what our kids have for breakfast before they head off to school and what kids are served for breakfast in schools in places like Tanzania for example, because they leave their homes without eating anything. Our kids typically eat from a variety of foods that make up a healthy breakfast such as dates, milk, fresh fruits, cereal, eggs, cheese and olives, peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal, labneh, or breakfast cream and honey. The breakfast program at a school in Tanzania serves the same breakfast meal each day for students who would otherwise go hungry: porridge made with flour, grains, red beans, coconut, and fresh spices grown on the island such as cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon.

When your kids grumble about going to school, tell them about Malala. Tell them about the schools in Guinea. Tell them about the breakfast feeding program in schools in Tanzania. Tell them that girls are deprived of going to school in Kenya because they have to spend an hour and a half each day to go and fetch water from lakes, streams, or rivers and carry the buckets of water on their heads because they have no running water in their homes for drinking, cooking, washing, or bathing.