Sometimes my mind wanders and I tend to think critically about what messages are being delivered through media, educational institutions and society as a whole. I may read too deeply into things at times and wonder what the intended agenda behind the messages really are. I’ve always thought deeply about what ‘The Right to Education’ really means. I would presume that most people agree that everyone has the right to an education but what level of quality does that education provide? What is the cost of the education and how accessible is the education that we agree should be obtainable for all? These questions all depend on how a person defines the words ‘right’ and ‘education’. How would you define the terms accessible or affordable? What does quality of education mean to you? We all define these terms differently, so the phrase means different things to different people based on their understanding and experience.
On a broad scale, education can be defined as “all activities, which a person or group transfers information to its descendants as a body of knowledge and skills to enable a person or group to subsist” (Beiter, 2005). Hmm, that sounds like a pretty general definition. However, that last word in the quote is what really intrigues me. Subsist. Subsist could also have varying definitions; depending on who you ask. The Merriam-Websters dictionary defines subsist as “to maintain or support oneself, especially at a minimal level.” A minimal level? Okay, this is where my mind starts to read deeper into things and I start to ask myself a series of questions.
- Does the right to education mean that people have the right to a minimal level of education?
- How does this definition and the use of the term minimal impact the quality of education?
- What rights are included in a minimal education?
- At what point does a minimal education commence?
- Assuming that a minimal level education consists of K–12 education levels, how does one support oneself with a minimal level of education in a world that demands a higher level of education to succeed and support ones life or the lives of their families?
- If the goal behind the right to education is to provide a minimal level of education for all; are there standards that a minimal education adhere to?
- Does a minimal level of education allow a person to obtain a good quality of life beyond educating themselves?
- What does ‘quality of life’ mean?… See how my mind wanders?
Denzel Washington — The Great Debaters.
The Right to Education—in my opinion—should be one that is inclusive, equal in scope, accessible, and prepares a person to progress beyond a “minimal level” of education. I believe that the right to education should not have limitations. I would hope that most people agree that a minimal education does not go very far in the competitive landscape that we currently live in. The right to education should not simply include teaching children how to read, write and do arithmetic based on low standardized checklists. Don’t get me wrong, the fundamentals are necessary. However, in the 21st century, I have experienced students who are expected or assumed to be intellectually advanced—by way of their birth date (Millennials)—yet they possess an inconsistent quality of learning of these foundational skills. They may also be assessed differently. It is a shame that not all students experience reading, writing and mathematics with equal quality. However, there are many other fundamentals of learning that students experience poorly or not at all. If we accept providing people with a minimal education, this means that we accept the quality of education to be minimal as well. How can we expect people to succeed in the current world if their educational experiences are of lesser quality than the demands made by higher levels of education? If a minimal level of education is not granted at an equal level of quality then the right to education will prohibit people from pursuing higher education; and shouldn’t people be granted the right to higher education as well?
The Right to Education in the 21st century.
I may not be able to provide students with financial accessibility for their educational path but I can redefine what the right to education includes in my classroom. I believe everyone should be given the right to a quality education that prepares them to pursue their passion and potential. Students should have the right to think freely, objectively and critically about the messages and information delivered to them and how they apply to their lives and the lives of others. I’ve met many students in my 10 short years of teaching at the post-secondary level and I have to say that I’ve seen many students arrive in my classroom incredible talents and abilities. Most of them come into my class with different levels of education and experiences. Even those who presume their education is of equal standing find out that there are differences in how they experienced the “same” education offered to their peers. I am also aware of the many incredible students that I have not met or those who had to leave my classes that may have excelled at the post-secondary level but were not afforded or granted the same opportunities and quality of education as other students; for whatever reasons. As an educator, professor, teacher, facilitator, mentor… whatever category I fit in, no matter what level of education I provide, I will always strive to nurture and provide students with a quality education that is inclusive and prepares them to reach their potential with meaning and fulfilment.
Idris Elba — Speech on Diversity.