The Importance of being educated

Naomi Booth :: Friday 29th October 2021 :: This Story

Early Years

As a child growing up in Colombo, Sri Lanka (SL) my first experience of being educated was at a private girl's school set up by British missionaries during colonial times. Sri Lanka is a multi-faith country and the girls in my class were Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

This was an education. I learnt about all the different religions from a very young age. As well as religion being part of my early education, I also had in my class girls who were Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burghers who are descended from our colonial past of Dutch, Portuguese and British rule.

As I was growing up a message that was fed to me by my parents, family and teachers was "You must get a good education. Study hard and the world will be open to you."

I was also very much aware that my life was a relatively privileged one and I always observed school children going to poorer schools in Colombo where they would have to go either in the morning or afternoon as there were no facilities for them to be educated full time. Some of these children did not have school shoes. Some went to school in flip flops.

I was socially aware of the injustices when it came to accessing education from a fairly young age and a seed was planted in my head about somehow wanting to make a difference.

Moving Abroad

As SL entered a period of unrest and civil war in the 1970's my parents made the decision to emigrate so that their children could access an education that was not disrupted by curfews and constant closures due to political unrest. And so, the message from my family and teachers changed "You are going to England? You must study hard and do well. Education in England will give you lots of opportunities."

Education is part of my being, and I went on to become a teacher continued to be educated by my students as well being an educator to many children.

OST Origins

When the Tsunami happened on Boxing Day in 2004 somehow the seed that had been planted in my brain as a child sprang into action and I was overwhelmed by a powerful feeling of wanting to do something to make a difference to the children and families whose lives had been devastated.

Thus began my journey of travelling to SL after the Tsunami, coming back to the UK and setting up "Ocean Stars Trust" and our mission is "empowering children through education."

Preschools were being presented to me as wanting support as there was no government provision for all island early years education in a fair and systemic way. We are now in our 17th year of operation. Thousands of young children have passed through our Ocean Stars Preschools and started their journey of life and education by having access to a rich and diverse early years curriculum.

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Equality of Opportunity

I feel passionately that a child whether growing up in a city or in rural remote village should have access to a fair and equal education. Nelson Mandela said that "Education is the route out of poverty."

I have spoken to many village parents who had to leave school aged 12-15, who did not do exams and did not have a chance of following their hopes and dreams. These parents want their children to get an education, to study hard and do well for themselves. My childhood message of "study hard" is being repeated by parents almost 50 years later.

So why this message of study hard?

Education through a system that provides access to quality learning opens doors for us to shine and develop our potential.  Walking around a secondary school in a remote village, children had graffitied on the walls in chalk "I love my school" "I love my teachers". School for them is a means to a better life and education is a pathway that is very much valued and invested in by the students in countries where education is seen as a way out of poverty.

Child Educational Sponsorship

Picture: /files/blog/437/w288/blog-4-photo-1.jpgAs well as running 26 preschools in SL, Ocean Stars also has a sponsorship scheme where we sponsor children from poor families so they can indeed have access to a fair playing field when it comes to exams and learning.

One of our sponsor children from way back in 2005, graduated this year as a doctor. This was a very proud moment for Ocean Stars seeing one of our own living their dream and doing their community proud.

Picture: /files/blog/437/w288/blog-4-photo-2.jpgAnother sponsor student studying bioscience at university was following online lectures on her small phone. She had 4-hour practicals which she was following with difficulty. Her life was transformed when Ocean Stars donated a laptop to her so that she can access her learning and studies and poverty was not going to get in her way.

Importance of Education

I have found in the last 17 years the value of education be it in the classroom, taking students and volunteers from the UK to Sri Lanka, meeting people from different walks of life, just being engaged with life is profound, liberating and enriching. Having benefitted from being educated in the West and being able to make a difference to children in Sri Lanka has been a dream come true and I feel privileged that education provided me with the tools to make this happen.