High-schooler: Don't take education for granted

Jenna Stafford

Along the side of a wide dirt road in Pakistan, a young girl starts her walk to school.

It isn't complete without constant over-the-shoulder looks and a subconscious voice warning her that every shadow may hold a brutal attack.

The hair on the back of her neck stands when she hears a twig snap.

She walks a bit faster.

Her weariness doesn't fade when she reaches the school.

She is fully aware that at any moment, the door might be broken down. While part of her brain may be focusing on the math under her pencil, the thought that she and her classmates might be facing a tragic ending sits in the back of her mind, the permanent weight of a crushing reality.

The fear does not end on the walk home. She is hyper-aware to every motion or sound that seems slightly out of place.

All this, for what?

Something as simple as attempting to go to school.

Seven thousand miles away, an alarm clock buzzes.

A teenage girl rolls out of bed, sighs, and tweets about how she'd do anything to never go to school ever again.

An astounding difference in the perspectives of youth on education.

As a student in America, I can admit to my fair share of complaints about attending school.

However, when looking at the bigger picture, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Let's put this into perspective.

According to dayofthegirl.org:

■ Worldwide, girls constitute more than half the children out of school

■ Only 30 percent of girls are enrolled in secondary school

■ In many countries, less than one-third of the students are women

■ The average sub-Saharan African girl from a low-income, rural household gets less than two years of schooling and never learns to read and write, to add and subtract, as opposed to the average sub-Saharan African boy who fully completes primary education

Isn't it amazing how most of those who are given an education don't want it?

One particularly disheartening image has been floating around social media lately, reflecting Western teens' views on school. It's a screenshot of a Google search with the phrase "School makes me …" and shows Google's suggestions, based on popular searches. The sentence is completed with words like "depressed," "suicidal" and "anxious."

This comes as a drastic difference in views compared to those girls who would give anything to learn how to read and write.

Malala Yousafzai is an example of these girls who won't stop fighting for their right to education. Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban at 15 years old for going to school. Malala, after making a full recovery, now lives in England with her family and is an advocate for a girl's right to education.

In 2014, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her unwavering stance in the face of violence. In the past year, she has continued to relentlessly campaign for the schooling of girls in her home region.

In an interview for BBC News, Malala was asked about the difference in attitudes toward education between her hometown of Swat versus that of her current residence in the U.K. Her answer stressed the importance of this dilemma.

She said, "In Pakistan, if a girl gets the opportunity, the chance, to go to school, it's like a good news for her." She continued, "But here in the U.K., it's not taken as serious."

She added, "Because we know that education is important and we know that the terrorists were afraid of the power of education, and that's why they've stopped us from going to school. ... We have seen this and I don't want the students of the U.K. to see this, and then realize it. I want to tell them that it's very precious and it's very prestigious. Go to school."

Malala hits the nail on the head here.

Too often, people don't realize what they have until it's too late. Many teenagers in first-world countries don't even consider the fact that getting an education is not easily available in all places of the world.

Yes, school, at times, has had me stressed-out, pressured, angry, sleep-deprived, anxious and overall annoyed.

I'm sure many of my peers have felt the same way.

However, I would take these feelings 1,000 times over an inability to get an education. If more people understand that education is a gift, they will start to treat it as such.

Knowledge is important. Education is precious. And learning to treat education as a gift, that's empowerment.

Jenna Stafford is a sophomore at Richmond High School and the opinion co-editor for its student newspaper, the Blue Devil's Advocate.