I still remember my first week at University. I was buzzing with the idea that within those walls I could learn anything, ANYTHING I wanted. At the young age of 17, I don’t think I quite understood the weight of the social and financial privileges I was blessed with. I was the first woman in my Father’s family to complete a University degree, and the third in my Mother’s. I really wasn’t that far off from the generations before me when that framed degree was kind of a pipe dream.
Out of the bottom 10 ranked countries for female education (UNESCO), over 50% of the poorest demographic of women aged 7-16 have never been to school, and women aged 17-22 average less than a year spent in school in their whole lifetime. That is heartbreaking on so many levels. The report did not show the percentage of men who also experience this loss in opportunity, although chances are in the poorer countries that are rife with corruption and civil war, they are in a similar situation. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if education was a fundamental human right? The right to learn, to get excited about knowledge, to explore different topics that fascinate you.
Breaking down barriers to education, whether they are social, financial, or otherwise, should always be one of our top priorities on a global scale. Education is the key to solving so many of the other issues that plague us internationally. Having a more educated population means more people to learn how to feed and support their families, more opportunity for people to make socio-economic advances, and a higher chance that the children of that family will also go on to enjoy further education and a higher quality of life. Plus, tapping into the collective brilliance of our world population on a bigger scale means more opportunity for the next amazing innovative ideas to emerge.
And it’s not just the developing world that needs support, even here at home people still struggle with the cost of education. According to Stats Canada, 82.7% of our working population in 2015 graduated high school, 55.4% of those students completed a post-secondary diploma or certificate, and only 23.8% of those students continued on to complete a degree. In this competitive economic landscape we are in, where baby boomers are retiring later, technological advancements are increasing the need for technical training, and skilled labour is valued at a premium, having an education sometimes isn’t even enough to set you apart in the workforce. You have to have better education and more experience than everyone else.
The same report states that the average annual cost of tuition for a Canadian full-time undergraduate student averaged $6,191 for the 2015/2016 school year. An undergraduate degree typically takes 4 years, which would come to $24,764. I am assuming these numbers do not incorporate the cost of books, lab supplies, and any other necessary materials. Compared to some countries, that’s not bad. But considering that nearly half of the Canadian working population is already living paycheque to paycheque, finding an extra several thousand dollars a year isn’t easy. Yes, there are student loans, which is a great option, but it’s not an awesome feeling when you get handed your degree and you start off your time in the work force under crippling debt.
Student loan debt in Canada is collectively in the billions, and climbing every day. Many sources report a student’s average personal debt to be between $20,000 and $35,000, taking them 10 years plus to pay off. That first decade in the work force is when you are trying to discover what you really want to do, how to work hard enough to make an impact and stand out, and a myriad of other challenging life decisions, on top of the fact that you’ve just been thrown from the cushiony academic world into adult reality.
I have known students from all over the world, from all demographics, and there are creative ways to find the funds you need to finance a post-secondary education, like bursaries and scholarships, if you are willing to out in the effort. I was incredibly privileged to have a family who was generous enough to prioritize my education as something they were willing to put their hard-earned money towards. I will be forever indebted to them.
So, what can we do now to make it easier for those coming after us? Use our vote when it comes to provincial and federal elections. Save for our children’s education and ask our families to contribute to their RESPs when/if they can. Volunteer with NGOs that focus on education. Make choices with our dollars and support companies who are giving back to alleviate the financial, and in turn mental, pressure that plagues students trying to get ahead. Sometimes, even the brightest and hardest working students slip through the cracks because the opportunity for further education just isn’t within their reach. I sincerely hope that somehow, through changes in policy and perception, we soon find ourselves in a global revolution on how we solve these issues. We really are smarter and stronger together.
Take a peek into the second annual TED-Q through a Q&A with the founder, Billy Quirke as he explores what matters the most to us in our everyday lives.