Education in a class of its own

Access to a classroom is a blessing that should never be taken for granted. In the case of one man, the decision by his father to sell valuable livestock to fund his education was a life-defining moment.


By Dr Paul Hine, Principal of Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview

Education is the turbine of human development. I see it made manifest each and every day – spiritually, academically, socially, pastorally, emotionally and physically.

It is a joy to witness the growth that is visible in so many domains of school life as young men take on new challenges, experience the uncertainty and at times the disappointment that can come with not being successful, but ultimately triumphing in fields from which they find enormous satisfaction and fulfilment.

For the many opportunities that exist and for the extraordinary human development that can accrue from it, there is a need to step back and offer a deep and heartfelt expression of gratitude, for what we have at the College is not replicated in the same way in so many countries and regions of the world.

Over recent weeks I have been corresponding with an Old Boy who has taken up the challenge of working for humanity in some of the most difficult circumstances on the planet. He is currently in Mogadishu, Somalia, working for the World Food Program (WFP), providing food relief to 70% of the population who live on under $2 USD per day. Three out of ten people are food insecure, with women disproportionately affected by a lack of opportunity and constrained by cultural expectations. Many girls are pregnant with their first child or are already mothers prior to school-leaving age. As for education, it is in due proportion to a family’s circumstances, so determined by the status of a birth certificate and the number of goats and cows that they possess!

The following is a conversation that the Riverview Old Boy had with a local Sudanese man that links the two threads of institutional poverty and the power of education:

“You will find that many people in Sudan are born on the 1st of January because we don’t know when we were actually born, and we were issued fake birth certificates so we could attend school. *

“My father had to sell several goats (the key household asset) to afford the fake birth certificate … which didn’t actually guarantee that I would get into the school. Once we had that, he needed to sell a few more so that I could travel to the city to take the entrance exams because the school didn’t have enough teachers to take all the children. So it was a significant risk because the investment was sizeable, with no guarantee of success.

“After the exam I learned that it was my friend from my village who had come first in our district. I had qualified by the skin of my teeth, so my father sold all the cows necessary for me to attend school. But my friend’s dad didn’t want to sell the cows to send his son – not out of malice, but he simply didn’t understand the value of education. From then on, I began attending school, and those cows and goats have proved incredibly valuable.

“Now, more than 50 years later, I have had 20 years working in the international development space, 10 years of working for the Sudanese Government, and I have been fortunate to attend the London School of Economics, and university in Sudan.

“When I return to my village to see my family, I see the childhood friend of mine who didn’t get the opportunity to attend school because his father hadn’t sold the cows. He remains an agro-pastoralist in the village, and I cannot help but think about the opportunities in life that he never received because of those few cows when he was six years old.”

This is a compelling story, one relevant for millions of children in Africa and around the world. We have seen throughout the week the discord in countries such as Nigeria and Sudan, where the rule of law is made redundant to military and cartel power. In these countries, a career as a child soldier has more to offer than many other professions that are unattainable due to the institutional barriers associated with education. The latter for most is simply serendipitous as the next meal and/or where shelter can be found is a much more pressing concern.

Photo: Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview.

We live in a world of privilege – one not to be taken for granted. The word education derives from its Latin origin: educare – to impose from without, and educere – to lead out from within. Riverview facilitates many external requirements – some such as literacy and numeracy that are imposed along with an array of other options that are chosen. And each one leads out from within the gifts and talents of our young men to find expression, enrichment and extraordinary personal growth.

This is the turbine of human development, one to be acknowledged, celebrated and extolled in numerous ways. Let us treasure it and be thankful for it.

* Many years ago, I was principal of a school that had a large number of refugees from Afghanistan. After years of internment, the children had been released from the Baxter Detention Centre, which was a euphemism for a prison. Most had their birth date listed as 25th December when they arrived in Australia, for they thought it would be advantageous in securing refugee status in a Christian country, being the birthday of Christ. One such boy, who by his documents was identified as being 14 years old on December 25th, was found to be 16 after bone density tests were taken associated with chronic illness!! Birthdays and fact are not synonymous in many parts of the world, so for those who have birthdays this month, do be humbled, and be grateful for the opportunities that education affords.

This article by Dr Paul Hine was initially published in a recent edition of ‘Viewpoint’, the online newsletter of Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview.