I came across a remarkable photograph yesterday of a school in China which is set up in a cave.
“A cave in a mountainous village in southwest China’s Guizhou province is of special significance to local children, as it’s the venue of their primary school.
The school, built back in 1984, is called the Mid-Cave Primary School, since it sits right in the middle one of the three caves in a big mountain of the area.
Everyday, eight diligent teachers at this unique yet environmentally-tough school teach their 186 students, who tramp over hill and dale to get their education. Some of the pupils spend even six hours each day traveling back and forth to their cave for knowledge.
The school is the only source of hope for children who live in the surrounding villages in the mountains of Shuitang Township, Ziyun county, an autonomous but poverty-stricken county inhabited by the Miao and Buyi ethnic groups.”
I found this a humbling story yet it’s this strong desire to be educated which will continue to drive the ecomomies of other less developed countries.
I wonder of it’s possible to ignite the same desire to be educated in a highly developed country such as ours or do we all just take education for granted?
I suppose one way to find out would be if school were voluntary – then we’d see who has “the hunger.”
I remember talking to an insistent shoe-shine boy during a trip to Bolivia a few years ago. While we were chatting it struck me that he didn’t seem to be in school on a week day (I should really switch off more). I asked him if it were a holiday and he informed me that the teachers were on strike. When I suggested that he might be happy about this and he looked at me as though I were insane and stated emphatically, “No – I like school!”
It’s an interesting question – perhaps we need to ask ourselves why education has to be compulsory? We sometimes seem to have turned what should be a privilege into an unwelcome obligation. Would making education voluntary liberate ths system? If this seems a little “off the Wall” I apologise but if you can’t dream on a Sunday morning then when can you dream?
These thoughts crossed my mind when working with teachers in Africa last year. However, I think the problem with this is that for every keen and enthusiastic pupil you meet in a school in a developing country – there might be one or more pupils out there who are not in school.
Sometimes it’s just about letting thoughts cross your mind. Too often we just accept the status quo without considering the alternatives – even if these alternatives appear extreme.
It’s by looking at some of these alternatives that we can sometimes find solutions – which although not as extreme – follow a line of logic that would otherwise have been closed off.
The other question that comes to mind if school became voluntary is ‘Do children always know what’s in their best interests?’
In my experience children don’t always know what’s best for them. But I suppose that could be said for any of us at any stages in our lives.
One of my most humbling experiences as a teacher was when working in an FE college teaching ‘Basic Skills’ and ESL. The ‘drop in’ evening sessions for people with literacy and numeracy difficulties were attended – rain, snow, sleet and hail – by a group of men desperate to learn to read. Most of them had become parents and passionately desired to be able not just to help their children with homework but to read them stories. The commitment and motivation of this small group was inspirational.
I wonder how we may provide the sort of environment for young people that encourages them to develop their own passions so that the issue of voulntary or compulsory is no longer an issue?