A Flame Left Unfed: The Effect of the Lack of Formal Education in Oppressed Countries and in the Philippines

For information on Sharbat Gula, read this article called A Life Revealed: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text

For more information on Shin In Geun and his escape from North Korea, read this article called

      I remember stumbling upon these articles last year. I don’t know what I Googled that sent me to the biographies of these poor souls, but their stories spoke to me — it was reminiscent of the poverty-stricken Filipinos. Though their stories may be different, they had a central cause: the lack of formal education.

      In his induction address as president of Williams College in 1836, Mark Hopkins had this to say: “We are to regard the mind not as a piece of iron to be laid upon the anvil and hammered into any shape, nor as a block of marble in which we are to find the statute by removing the rubbish, nor as a receptacle into which knowledge may be poured; but as a flame that is to be fed, as an active being that must be strengthened to think and feel–to dare, to do, and to suffer.” Formal education is one of the most essential needs of every person. It enables many people to learn different skills that would help them solve a lot of the problems that they will encounter in the future. Although being formally educated does not guarantee success in any way, it increases our chances of getting the futures that we dream of. However, not everyone is given the privilege of earning a good education. Poverty, oppression and war often prevent people from getting the education they deserve, like the tortured Shin In Geun, the war-weary Sharbat Gula, and the poverty-stricken Filipinos. The lack of formal education has a negative impact on their lives, debilitating their knowledge, judgement and social skills.

                        Formal education, in a nutshell, means learning things through educational processes in an educational establishment, like a school. Formal education helps us improve our social, mental, moral and physical skills. It does not teach us bad habits, and instead teaches us how to steer away from them. People who earned a degree in education are called ‘teachers’ and they’re the ones that help the students with their learning experience. A variety of things are taught in a school, from mathematics to foreign languages. Teachers are given certain fields that they will teach – fields in which they are well-versed. Formal education helps promote awareness on current social issues and helps people define what is right and wrong.

                        With the lack of formal education comes the lack of knowledge and intelligence. In Camp 14, Shin In Geun knew nothing about the existence of literature. The only book that he ever laid eyes on inside the camp was in the hands of a violent guard. Sharbat Gula can write her name, but she cannot read. She said she wants her daughter to have skills, and that she was sad she couldn’t finish school, because she had to leave. (Newman, 4) In the Philippines, the lack of education often leads to people being severely under qualified for many jobs. Because of this, they have to resort to taking multiple minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet. However, formal education might not be for everyone – especially people who have their own pace when it comes to learning, for the methods of learning taught at school might just conflict with theirs and hamper their learning.

                        The lack of education often leads to poor judgment. In Shin’s case, his weak decision-making skills led him to tell the guards about his mother’s plan to help his brother escape, resulting in the execution of his mother and brother. “I was more faithful to the guards than to my family,” Shin said (Harden, 6). Sharbat Gula never felt safe in the refugee camp, which urged her to return to her village even if severely lacked resources like food and water. Poor judgment also exists in the Philippines, an example being the less fortunate citizens who succumb to desperation and resort to robbery and theft to meet their needs. Their lack of education prevented them from having jobs and from establishing a good conscience, thus making them do bad decisions in life. On the other hand, a formal education doesn’t guarantee a good judgment – a person’s environment plays a huge role on his instincts and intuition, and if a person hangs with the wrong crowd, it could negatively impact his judgment – but it can help hone and improve a person’s acumen.

                        A person’s ability to socialize with others is also hampered with the lack of education. Shin survived in the camp by snitching on everyone, from his cold family to the untrustworthy and abusive children (Harden, 1). Sharbat Gula left the refugee camp to return to her village in Afghanistan because she didn’t trust anyone – she didn’t like being subjected to the presence of strangers and thus wanted to live in solitude. A lot of uneducated Filipinos also have hampered social skills. Many of the uneducated folk prefer talking with their fists instead of their mouths. They also have zero verbal filters, and they say anything and everything that they want to say, even in the most inappropriate of situations. Still, having a formal education doesn’t necessarily guarantee good social skills, but it can contribute to improving them; a person’s environment heavily affects how he or she socializes with people (i.e. being bullied might lead a person to be anti-social, etc.).

                        The lack of formal education often hinders many people in many different aspects. Formal education would have helped Shin form an understanding of the word family and prevented him from aiding his mother and brother’s demise. It would have helped Sharbat Gula improve her life with her husband and children. It would have helped the Filipinos get better jobs. But it’s never too late to get a formal education and to improve our lives. Formal education will help us improve our intelligence, judgment and social skills and greatly contribute to our success in life.

Lyon Vincent Leus



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