Excluding The Right To Life, What Do You Believe Is The Most Important Human Right? | HART Prize for Human Rights

6 May 2016


This essay, by Selvan Senthilkumaran, received 3rd prize in the 2016 HART Prize for Human Rights, Junior Essay Category.


“Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”- John Dewey. It could be argued that our right to education is the most important human right as it gives us our humanity and spiritual freedom. The etymology of education is e- out from; ducere- to lead and therefore being an educated man means you have been led out, possibly from the desert of spiritual and intellectual wilderness into a purer environment. Moses, as an example, led his people to the Promised Land, which was a spiritual, cultural and intellectual home, and so Moses educated his people. Dewey proclaims education is “life itself” which suggests a sense of necessity and to deny a person of education is to deny one of their liberties, something we have, as a race, been edging towards since the beginning of time- freedom. If the right to life is the fundamental, unquestionable human right, then education is an extension of that right using Dewey’s philosophy.


The case internationally is that education is not an area where there will be outrage if not enough is being done and therefore many countries just do the bare minimum and focus on other ‘more pressing’ problems leaving standards of education depressingly low. Take Burma as an example. The country has had an erratic educational history. During British rule in the late 1940s, Burma celebrated one of the highest literacy rates in Asia however in 1962 a military faction led by Burmese general Ne Win took control marking the start of authoritarian rule within Burma. This, coupled with economic sanctions, crippled the economy leaving little money available for educational institutes. The few that made it to university had been bound by the government in the past to study the course they scored best in their matriculation exam. It could be argued this is a type of psychological imprisonment, caging one’s mind. Being denied the right to study the things that inspire you is no different to being starved of food- something that would cause international outrage as we see campaigns against world hunger almost everyday and yet little to no mention of the past abysmal state of the Burmese educational system as a result of civil conflict.


Things are looking up for Burma though, since the removal of the authoritarian regime it seems as if a new focus has been placed upon the revival of education in Burma. We can now see educational spending has tripled from $340million to around $1billion. As a result, the number of higher education institutes has significantly increased which gives more students an arena for introspection, freeing their minds.


Education does not only have to be a way to preserve and feed our minds, the Health and Hope foundation which HART have helped fund since 2008 does incredible work in many different countries including Burma where they educate one man and woman from one rural village in basic health care which they can then utilise by teaching other members of the community. These villages are usually neglected from a national perspective, however, this education can help save the lives of people and therefore we can see how education preserves both our body and mind.


Education can breathe new life into oneself. In India, Bhukya Nayak would travel forty-five kilometres each day to get to school. His workload would span across seventeen hours everyday, all this to study for the Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination. It eventually paid off though as in the summer of 2013 he found himself outside the gates of IIT Bombay where he would be able to truly exercise his mind. This was his first journey outside of his village, proving to us that an education can change one’s life, as without it, Bhukya would still be in his village, wasting his potential.


In conclusion, education has the power to let us look at ourselves, see our strengths and weaknesses and thereby offering us a way to improve and evolve into better beings. It can show us how to transpose the complexity of the universe into algebra, turn this into literature, gives us an opportunity to communicate with the dead and speak with the divine once more. Education is our only way to travel through time, to go back and converse with Plato, Dewey and Shakespeare in one afternoon- a truly outstanding quality that no other substance or thing can give us. All human rights aim to give us a certain freedom and a freedom from our very physicality awaits all who learn. We must have an education though to gain this purest form of liberation as education gives us a life after death, making it our most important human right.


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