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Reflecting on the International Day of Education

By Catherine O'Shea

This blog was originally published on edufinance.org

Sometimes the answers to simple, fundamental questions are in fact the most compelling. As part of International Day of Education 2021 we asked three of our Opportunity EduFinance staff to reflect on the importance of education in their own lives and the lives of others.

What role has education had in your life?

Jane Aik, Technical Assistance Advisor, Africa:

 I reflect on the quote by the legendary Nelson Mandela, that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” I was raised in a family of 10 siblings in a peri-urban setting and our educational institution often changed with the routine job transfers of our father.

At the time, girls’ education was not a government priority but given the background of my parents, both professional teachers, the family was strongly knitted on the mantra ‘education for all.’ Not even the early loss of my father changed this as my eldest brother and mother supported all the family through education in search of a respectable career.  

Fast forward, life after school was not easy in Uganda, my home country, but one thing has made my story different from many other ladies of my generation. Because of education I have progressed from a banking officer all the way to a Chief Executive and International Consultant. The life I lead, and my future shall be shaped by how much I allow myself to learn, for its only then that I will continue to make my mark on this world.

Ommara Raza Ali, Senior Technical Assistance Advisor, Asia:

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Laureate from Pakistan said “Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”  My parents believed that girls should pursue independent careers. Being brought up in Pakistan, I was privileged to study in the best institutions across the country. My mother once told me that doing something for the women and serving the marginalized segments of the society of Pakistan was the best thing I could ever do for my country. 

Growing up, I was astonished to learn that girls in this part of the world faced such socio-economic hurdles and were victims of massive discrimination. The real essence of my life lies in service beyond the self. This is why my career reflects my commitment to serve and create a difference in the lives of the marginalized segments of the society who have been excluded from the formal financial services. My education has enabled me to open my mind and look at problems from various perspectives so that a viable solution can be obtained.

To me, education was never about attaining a certain grade or getting degrees. The focus was to strive to gain knowledge. My education helped develop lifelong habits like self-discipline, hard work and the passion to pursue one’s goals!

Juan Vega, Senior Technical Assistance Advisor & Regional Director for Latin America:

Personally, education has changed my life focus, helped me grow as a professional and as a person. It has helped me to achieve a more humanistic and realistic perspective on life.

The education I chose helped me access opportunities that led me to travel and work in 30 countries on four continents. Education has helped me to be more productive. I have learned to do more with less, to work as a team. I have learned the importance of a holistic education where you have to learn various disciplines to integrate perspectives to help other people fulfill their dreams.

When choosing what to learn, it is essential to consider your reason to wake up every morning, considering: what you love, what the world needs, what you are good at and what you can be paid for.


How do you think education can change people's lives?

Ommara Raza Ali: Malala Yousafzai’s also said “Books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.” Education is the tool for building a society that can interpret, analyse, think critically and creatively through unprecedented circumstances. It creates awareness about our rights and rights of the people around us.  Education is the fundamental right of every individual because it promotes empowerment, can uplift societies and elevate the social and economic conditions of the marginalized segments of the society.

Various governments have recognized education as a tool to enhance progress, reduce crime and racism. Education gives people the confidence to stand up for themselves. It improves an individual’s decision-making capabilities, making them emotionally, socially and economically independent. Research has proven that in countries where women are subjected to gender bias, education helped them stand up against marital violence, improved their decision-making capabilities and helped them take charge of their own lives.

Juan Vega: The single greatest effect meaningful education can have on any person is the ability to learn, relearn and unlearn the environment in their midst. Given the multiple challenges of the day, learned people continue to establish mechanisms to survive despite the challenging environment in which they live.

Advancements in health, communication, transport, settlement and livelihoods are part of the contribution of education. Without education, well intentioned social, political and economic efforts in society will not be able to manage challenges.

Jane Aik:
Once I heard a mother say, "Education for my children is an opportunity to become someone in life.” Education is also crucial for adults to become professionals, learn how to handle money well, and make better life decisions, setting an example for their children. I have seen thousands of financial institution clients double their savings levels and their families' quality of life thanks to financial education, even in countries in social and economic crises.

There is a vital need to combine technical and professional education in the educational curriculum with financial services (savings, credit, and insurance). Financial and entrepreneurial education and soft skills should be part of comprehensive support for people's development. Education must be accessible, accurate, appropriate and of quality. Learning is a lifelong path that leaves benefits over time. Let's never stop learning!


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