An Open Letter To Malala From A Teenager In India
Dear Malala. Why you accepted the Nobel Prize despite saying on record that you yourself don’t think you deserve one, has long baffled me. As the Nobel Prizes are once again in the news, I thought I’d take this opportunity to pose a few fundamental questions.
Similar to you, I am a privileged kid who goes to a private school in Delhi, India. Both of us are at ‘elite’ schools receiving presumably the ‘best’ education available. But as you campaign for putting more children in school, don’t you think our story is biased? We only talk about the misery of those who go to poor government schools or of those who don’t go to school at all. There’s a broad consensus that our ‘elite’ schools are working fine.
We never talk about what goes inside these schools, be it in Swat Valley, the United Kingdom or New Delhi. We have not asked the radical questions: Do we even know where our current schooling regime is leading us? Are children happy within these prison-like, anachronic institutions? Are they even close to the meaning of real education? Do they understand what education is in the first place? Do we ourselves know what it is? Will it ever make your home country a better place?
Your intentions may be pure, but you, like everybody else, seem to have fallen in a trap of placing schooling on a pedestal and haven’t given a thought to the very idea of schooling.
You said, "There have been great moments in my life, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the speech at the U.N. But in terms of achievements, getting my (General Certificate of Secondary Education) results and listening to my teachers saying 'A's and A stars' — it was the most beautiful and the happiest moment."[i] It is phenomenal for a teenager to have such pronounced opportunities. But, why do results and grades matter to you? Would these exams make a stronger Malala? Would they help towards world peace? Why are we selling learning and education for insignificant and unimportant rewards? Do we propose to ‘uplift’ people through such an education?
When the Nobel Committee announced the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, they said "Children must go to school and not be financially exploited. In the poor countries of the world, 60% of the present population is under 25 years of age. It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected. ”[ii] Malala, which are these ‘poor countries’ the Nobel Committee spoke about? Are these the ones declared by the World Bank, IMF, and the West? Why are we letting anybody tell us that we are impoverished? India, Pakistan, or any other country in the world, doesn’t need a certificate from these institutions. We are rich, diverse societies with brilliant organic learning systems (which are being constantly destroyed by one-size-fits-all model).
Why is wealth and happiness being looked at from parochial, prejudiced perspectives? Our communities have problems like all others in the world. And, you already know that most of the problems your home region faces today have their origin and funding from the alliance which the UK is a member of. Malala, if schooling were to ever solve the problem of conflict and war, Osama would not have had a degree in Public Administration.[iii]
Your spirit has only been reduced to a mere propaganda of western media. Our education is fast becoming an instrument of integrating people into a ruthless economic order, killing their opulent native cultures and you are becoming a brand ambassador of this process.
When you said in your prize acceptance speech “...That has been my experience during the 17 years of my life. In my paradise home, Swat, I always loved learning and discovering new things. I remember when my friends and I would decorate our hands with henna on special occasions. And instead of drawing flowers and patterns we would paint our hands with mathematical formulas and equations…..We had a thirst for education, we had a thirst for education because our future was right there in that classroom. We wanted to make our parents proud and prove that we could also excel in our studies and achieve those goals, which some people think only boys can.”[iv]
I am not surprised that the best memories of your schooling in Pakistan have absolutely nothing to do with the curriculum. I am inviting you to rethink why superficial, unusable knowledge should form the basis of our education; what does it add to anybody’s life? Or as Gandhiji put it up, “To teach boys reading, writing and arithmetic is called primary education…. What do you propose to do by giving him a knowledge of letters ? Will you add an inch to his happiness? Do you wish to make him discontented with his cottage or his lot? And even if you want to do that, he will not need such an education. Carried away by the flood of western thought we came to the conclusion, without weighing pros and cons, that we should give this kind of education to the people.”[v]
Malala, our dreams do not have to breed within the walls of classrooms. I am not sure how your brand of academic excellence does any good to anybody out of school. The world recognizes you, reveres you, not for the exams you topped but for the valor you exemplified. Schools have absolutely no role to play in building us into independent, strong adults.
Let us stop pretending that the current model of factory schooling is what we need; success and happiness in life have nothing to do with schools. I am sure the resolution to the conflicts plaguing the world today will not come from the ‘intellectual’ graduates of Ivy League Universities (because they never have). It is instead the local communities, the ordinary, illiterate, uneducated people who will ultimately do the real labour of cleaning up our mess. If education only means schooling, then we are not helping anyone. Only because we are a winner at this game doesn’t automatically make it a fair one. And the winners of a rigged game should never get to write the rulebook.
Can we please shun our education’s arrogance and stop this dehumanizing process of trying to ‘civilize’ the ‘backward’ people? Let’s first, ourselves, unlearn the lies implanted in us about development and happiness.
A teenager from India
(Akshat Tyagi is a fifteen-year-old entrepreneur and author from Delhi. His book "Naked Emperor Of Education: A product review of the education system" is the first Indian student voice against the current regime of compulsory schooling. You can connect with him through AkshatTyagi.com).
(This article appears as an Opinion piece in Young Citizen and does not necessarily represent The Citizen’s views)