Education is a privilege


It was Christmas Eve when I started to pen my next column. The coloured lights decorating the houses across the street reflect off a few flakes of long-anticipated gently falling snow. Soft carols play on the local radio station, repeating the message of “peace on earth, goodwill to all.”
Incidentally, this article started out as a light-hearted reflection on the cognitive benefits of outdoor neighbourhood skating rinks. Nonetheless, the direction of my article quickly took a drastic turn when I read a news story that I cannot seem to get out of my head. It’s painful, gruesome and, at first glance, seems like it has absolutely nothing to do with the Christmas season, yet I feel it needs to be shared.

This article, covered by the BBC, told the story of Ms. Akther, a woman in Bangladesh who was brutally attacked by her husband, culminating in his cutting off all five of the fingers on her right hand. Aside from the stark brutality of the attack, it was the underlying motives behind the attack which caused this story to appear on international news sites. The attack was allegedly prompted by Ms. Akther’s decision to attend post-secondary education without her husband’s permission.

Even though this story in and of itself is horrific, it could have easily dropped off my radar but for one tiny detail: Ms. Akther is only 21 years of age. This is the very same age group that most of us, as university students, fall into. The blatant reminder that, as a friend once told me, “Not everyone’s reality is the same as your own,” was enough to stop me in my tracks.

This article, the latest in a disturbing series of international attacks on educated women, comes at an uncanny time. For the past month and a bit we could not turn on a radio or a TV without being reminded of the gift giving which goes hand-in-hand with this time of year. Not only are we instructed of the “perfect gifts” for our loved ones, but there is increasing pressure to “spoil yourself” with personal gifts. As such, the season is not so much about giving gifts, but getting them. And, as we all know, the bigger and shinier the better.

Yet, how often does this focus on the trivial “goodies” blind us to the enormous gifts we receive every single day? Gifts like family, friends or, tying into this story, education. I suspect that for many of us, the perpetual presence of an educational system in our lives has blinded us to how tremendously privileged we are to have it. We may profess access to education to be an international human right, but both the quantity and the quality at which it is available to us is truly a phenomenal gift.

Before you nod your head in agreement, think back over the past month. Exams may finally be done, but the grumblings over unreasonable paper deadlines, frustrating professors and inconvenient final exam schedules are still fresh on our lips. All too often our perspective of school can turn negative, as the work becomes more drudgery than a delight. Nonetheless, the very things we complain about are the same things other young people are paying dearly for.

Even though she was interviewed just days after the horrific accident, Ms. Akthar was astonishingly optimistic. She told reporters that she is already practicing writing with her left hand, so she can return to her studies as soon as possible. Now, I’m usually not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but I will most certainly be keeping this story in mind as a new semester dawns. The dedication and determination Ms. Akthar has displayed is truly remarkable. What a difference we could see in our own university experiences if we could adopt even a fraction of this attitude and view every aspect of this upcoming semester as a treasured gift.

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Serving the Waterloo campus, The Cord seeks to provide students with relevant, up to date stories. We’re always interested in having more volunteer writers, photographers and graphic designers.