On my flight to Dubai I was sat with a couple of gentlemen whom by coincidence were both working for the UN, yet with different projects, and very different backgrounds.
John, a Scot, originally from Perth, now resides in Portugal and works for the UN Security Services and was on route to South Sudan were he was going to be based for a year working on one of their operations. Previously a Royal Marine as well as a MET Police Officer he talked openly about not enjoying school when he was young.
‘I really wanted to be in the merchant navy as for some reason I’ve always liked the sea. My dad signed me up to attend a training school for this in Wales that would enable me to do this but I got thrown out. At that age I was always getting in trouble at school. But by being there I learnt about the Royal Marines and so then applied for that when I was 16. It really sorted me out. In particular, I saw right from wrong and that really helped me down the straight and narrow. And I loved it; it all works out in the end.’
‘I think common sense is half the battle. Kids need opportunity to try things out and to learn from their mistakes. They need to see the real world. Often you see young people who are academic but not really practical and can’t apply themselves. I didn’t like school at all and came back to do a degree when I was older and was working. I found it hard as I hadn’t studied in that way before. The thing that really helped me – and was crucial, was learning a good vocabulary to help with my work and also my jobs.’
‘I’m not sure if University pushes them hard enough. I think work ethic is really important’.
Those views were echoed by Baha, who normally lives in Brighton in the UK as a Lecturer at the University but who was on a secondment with the UN. Originally from Afghanistan, Baha was spending the year in Kabul supporting the government with their education programmes.
‘At 16 I lived in a small village in Afghanistan. Timing was important. The school established in my village had only just opened – I was in the second year to have classes; and because I was top of my class I had an opportunity. I contrast my experiences with what it is like to grow up in the UK now. We only had one radio station – just for music. This meant we had much less vision than students have nowadays. My wish at the time was to be able to attend a good school in the capital – but to do this any family would need a scholarship. Once that had been secured the wishes built up – then a place at Uni; then the opportunity to go abroad; then an MA and then to be able to travel the world. Education was the only opportunity.’
‘My advice? Stay in education. Quality of life can only be enhanced through education. Look at the differences between countries – all because of education. Stick with it! I really think that if children in the UK had seen a really poor country it would make them want to stay in education. They don’t know how lucky they are…’