I have been contemplating some parallels between travel and education.
If we spend our lives inside a single room, over time we will come to know the walls, floor, ceiling and windows in the room intimately. We’ll know the cracks and fissures in its plasterwork; the shelves accommodating books and ornaments; the carpet, the curtains and the artwork on its walls.
Stepping outside our room and into the street outside, begins to change the way that we see things. Making use of each of our senses to build layers of experience we can call on in the future, we begin to develop a greater understanding of the world and how we fit into it.
The further we make our way along the street, out of the city, beyond the county boundary and over the border into other countries, the more we provide ourselves with opportunities to open our minds and to learn by what we see.
The way I think about things today has been influenced by what I have learned through travel. Even if the more I have seen the less, I realise now, I know!
Mark Twain’s observation that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” resonates strongly in my mind, as I write. He could have replaced ‘Travel’ with ‘Education’.
When we are young, and if we are fortunate to have parents who were ‘hands on’, we may have been given a leg up, being read bed-time stories and receiving colourful, attractive books with words and pictures, to encourage our curiosity. At 5, we go to school and there we stay until we are adults. When the classroom bell has rung for the final time, many of us choose to extend our years in education at university.
We do this, mostly, because we know that education is a precious gift. Once it has been given, nobody can take it away from us.
I am fortunate. My life has been blessed by the opportunity to travel and I have seen what education means to people in other parts of the world. In Australia I’ve seen great galumphing six-foot 15-year old giants-in-shorts carrying armloads of books into school. In a remote mining town somewhere in Africa I’ve seen a crocodile of bright-eyed kids, smiling and playing while they queued at a school gate. In India I have seen rows of small children sitting cross-legged on concrete floors eager for every morsel of knowledge their teachers share with them.
Why? Because we’re inquisitive and curious (I have spoken about this in a previous blog…). Because we want to understand. The knowledge we gather is a borderless currency.
I am troubled though. I think about those kids sitting on the hard floor in India. Last year that country launched 104 satellites into space. A hundred and four satellites. Please.
Domestically, it seems to me that political ideology, and those who seek to impose theirs, stands as an immense barrier and that each time the pendulum of change swings, its movement is exaggerated. Then there’s us. Is it the case that the more we benefit from free access to something, the easier it is for us to lose our appreciation for what we have? Do we take education for granted? A right and not a privilege?
Of course, today, university education in England and Wales is no longer free in the way that it was when I consumed it. It comes at a price. A price that very few other western industrialised nations levy on their domestic university education consumers. Is it good value? That’s a question that we’ll only know the answer to in time. More time than remains for me! Despite my reservations it would seem that trust and belief in the excellence of a British university education still acts as a magnet for people from all over the world.
On which point, and returning to travel for a moment, recently I shared a plane journey with a young woman who was flying to the UK to take up a place to study at a university. Just like me, she is one of the fortunate. Her family circumstances are such that the financial commitment, a bloody big one, can be accommodated and her life will change forever. The students who she will study alongside are fortunate too. They will benefit through their connection to, and with, her. It’s a story that is part of every university in the country. One that involves both travel and learning – those two powerful influencers on who we are and what we can be.
Is it everyone’s story? I think not. We have a duty to make it so. To give everyone the opportunity to explore the world beyond their single-room. All of us will be the better for it. Will it happen? I wish that I believed it would.