There was a jewel of insight hidden in a presentation I heard at the 10th Annual High Level Group Meeting on Education For All here in Jomtien, Thailand this week. A Powerpoint slide said this: “If all the girls in Africa could complete secondary school, we would save 2 million lives a year.” There is a reverse alchemy that kicks in with big numbers, that diminishes them somehow, reducing the stunning realities they represent, to where figures flash past on the screen, and are soon forgotten.
But this was a number worth pausing over, paying attention to, prompting a response to all that it represents.
I had the privilege, 35 years ago, in central Africa, in my first year as a Grade 6 teacher, of saving a child’s life. Neil had been chewing on a pen and the plastic tip had somehow gotten lodged in his throat. He had fallen to the floor and was turning blue. This was in the days before the Heimlich maneuver, but I held him upside down, and hit him on the back. Time stopped. Nothing else mattered. I can still see the moment in my mind. And, just like that, the obstruction popped out. Neil gasped a huge grateful gulp of air and was fine.
I’ve never forgotten how it felt to save a life…but the chance to save 2 million lives is beyond imagining. And yet, education really is that life-saver. It really matters. This is something we can do. It’s within our reach.
During the question-and-answer session that followed the Powerpoint, there were many thoughtful questions. But not one person mentioned the 2 million lives. So here’s mentioning it…This May, the FTI Board of Directors will discuss a proposal to support secondary school for girls. Until now, we’ve been focusing on primary school. I hope we agree to do it, and I hope we can get the funding. Just remember that single Powerpoint slide.
More about FTI work in girls’ education
- Fast-tracking Girls’ Education A Progress Report (March 2011)
Success stories on educating girls: