This time two years ago I was getting stuck into my volunteer teaching placement in the hills of West Bengal. Every now and then I reminisce about some of my young charges (you can see some in the photo below), wondering what they are doing now. I was reminded of them again today when my eyes alighted on a mounted photo of my two nieces, aged about six and five, looking smart and cheerful in their matching red school jerseys.
I tried to imagine a scenario in which my nieces were told, out of the blue, that there were no longer any funds to send them to school. Instead, they were to spend their days working in or around the house.
At a stroke, the world of opportunity that lies ahead of them would be swept away. Food for the mind would dry up, social interaction with other pupils and staff withdrawn.
In India, I came to appreciate just what the poorest children in developing countries stand to lose if there is no financial support from charities or other organisations. Some of the children at my school could only remain there because the headteacher was waiving the fees. I could see that these children were, in their hopes and enthusiasms, essentially no different to children in the UK, so it was easy to empathise with them.
There’s no doubt that ‘education for all’ is a noble aim. Education opens the door to a productive future and exciting possibilities, and is the most powerful tool for overcoming poverty.