Subberwal: As school begins, we remember how lucky we are |

Subberwal: As school begins, we remember how lucky we are

Kaeli Subberwal
Ben Trollinger / |

For the next few weeks, students across the country will be making the reluctant journey back to their classrooms, their dormitories and their lecture halls. The first week of school is always exciting: The reunion with friends, a week of nothing but reading syllabi and the refreshment of a change of pace.

Then the monotony sets in.

School can be a struggle. It is at times boring, competitive, rote, embarrassing, exhausting and demoralizing. Like anything mandatory, school can feel oppressive, but it is crucial that we take a moment to recognize how lucky we truly are to have our American education system.

This week, a video was released of about 50 of the 276 students who were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. They were abducted by Boko Haram, a group whose name means “western education is forbidden” in a mixture of Arabic and Hausa. At the time of the kidnapping, the school was closed due to security concerns. However, students from several of the surrounding schools had been called in to the building to take their final exams in physics.

These students were studying something profound, a discipline that tells us of the most fundamental workings of the universe. Physics does for some what religion does for others: helps us understand our place in the grander scheme of existence — yet the militants of Boko Haram fear that girls learning physics will violate the sanctity of their religion. Science is something that should inspire wonder and awe not hatred. Physics exams are something that should inspire nerves and cramming, not fear for one’s life.

The kidnapping of the Chibok girls, girls who were taken in the midst of a day of school, underscores one of the greatest contradictions of our time. In the Western world, I can get a high school degree, move to a new city and throw myself into the study of whatever subjects I choose without worrying about more than my next paper and how to do a problem set while eating a fourth bowl of cereal. A woman with an admirable background in both politics and academia stands a very good chance at becoming the next president of the most powerful country on Earth, and more women than men are enrolled in university in 97 countries. Meanwhile, however, 39 percent of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are married by the time they reach 18 years old,and 62 million girls worldwide are not in school.

The world has long been divided up into rich and poor, developed and developing as well as men and women. However, we cannot allow these perceived divisions to determine how we make our decisions about education. There is nothing inherent about a girl from a struggling family, living in a developing country, that makes her less deserving of an education than me.

Education is the key to so much of what the world has to offer, and so many young people across the world are unable to even reach the door. Learning goes far beyond the memorization of formulas and the recitation of events. Education gives students a whole toolbox full of skills they can apply throughout the rest of their lives: analysis of arguments, understanding of cause and effect, diligence, discipline, a respect for evidence and critical thought.

With these tools, countless people, girls and boys alike, could start to reach beyond whatever hardships they have been presented and determine the course of their own lives. Beyond this, they can help their communities to flourish: Countries that send more girls to school have lower maternal mortality rates, lower rates of HIV and AIDS as well as better child nutrition. Many children would give anything for a chance at a good education and yet have no way of even beginning to receive one.

I can’t deny that school can be grueling. The long hours of studying, the terror of exams and the frustration of being unable to figure out the problem or argue the point can get to you. However, as we flock back to our respective classrooms over the next few weeks, it’s important that we recognize how lucky we really are.

The girls who were taken from Chibok unwillingly sacrificed their freedom as a result of their pursuit of learning, and, every day, students risk dangerous journeys to school and disapproving families for the sake of education, which for many is synonymous with hope.

Kaeli Subberwal graduated from Summit High School in 2015 and just finished her first year at the University of Chicago. She is a summer intern at the Summit Daily.

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