Senior to Senioritis in 60 Seconds (or 60 Semesters)
Last weekend, on Mother’s Day, I graduated from a master’s program. I walked across another stage in another cap and gown to shake another president’s hand and receive another piece of paper emblazoned with my and the university’s names.
I’ve spent practically my whole life in school, studious existence structured by spring and fall semesters and pleasantly interrupted with winter, spring, and summer breaks. Preschool at three/four and five. Elementary school at six through ten. Middle school at eleven through thirteen. High school at fourteen through seventeen. College at eighteen through twenty-one. More voluntary college at twenty-two through twenty-three. I love learning, but sometimes this institution can feel like imprisonment impeding me from real life. At every stage of my life, from childhood to adulthood, there’s been school. And at every pre-graduation, there’s always been senioritis, or the nonmedical condition of being tired of homework and classes. Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, and general IDGAF about anything anymore. It’s highly contagious, but treatable by prescribed vacations.
This graduation was no exception. I mentally checked out months before the school year ended. With educational enrollment as the most constant certainty in my life, the amount of times I’ve experienced senioritis outnumbers my romantic relationships.
And so we study (studying = student + dying) and suffer through the malady until school’s over, when we then joke about continuing higher education to acquire another advanced degree when job prospects are zero.
I’ve always been fortunate to have the ability to attend school with a backpack full of supplies and a lunchbox full of food—and the financial and emotional support of my parents enabling me to pursue my dreams without accruing debt out of college. To not go to school, to not be able to learn in a classroom setting, is unfathomable to me.
But what about those who don’t even have access to education, who don’t have the luxury of experiencing senioritis? What’s all this pomp and circumstance about when over 72 million children (in 2007) in developing countries and of primary/elementary school age aren’t enrolled? Just in the US, “40% of children living in poverty aren’t prepared for primary schooling” and they have higher absenteeism or leave school because they’re “more likely to have to work or care for family members.” And the statistics pile up.
The Importance of Being Educated
(Punning The Importance of Being Earnest, and referring to “educated” as the verb of going through the matriculation process, rather than the adjective of being a pretentious snob who thinks they’re better than everyone.)
Poverty and a general lack of resources (classrooms, teachers, etc.) are major barriers to education. Surprisingly, so is gender. Despite the paradoxical gender gap in K–12 and higher education in the US, where women earn more bachelor’s degrees than men, more than half of the estimated 101 million children not in school worldwide (taken from a different source) are girls. In Pakistan, for example, “58.7 percent of women and girls over 15 are illiterate,” as educating women is taboo. See the Global Education Monitoring Report for the bottom ten countries for educating females.
Instead of learning their alphabet and mathematical formulas, these girls are (or can be):
- Relegated to the periphery in favor of male relatives. Due to “strong cultural norms favouring boys’ education when a family has limited resources,” girls often don’t have the same academic opportunities as boys.
- Subject to gender-based violence. Over 200 million girls and women in 30 countries are victims of female genital mutilation (FGM, or cutting). Cutting can cause severe complications with urination, sexual intercourse, and pregnancy. Aside from this horrendous practice, even at school there may be “negative classroom environments” in which girls face “exploitation or corporal punishment” just because they’re the “wrong” gender.
- Menstruating. Ridiculous, right? Due to social stigma and a dearth of safe and sanitary bathrooms and feminine products, “more than a fifth of girls [in Sierra Leone] miss school because of their periods. In Afghanistan and Nepal, three out of 10 girls miss school for the same reason…The issue is widespread–particularly in rural, remote areas, where it can lead to girls dropping out of school entirely.”
- Performing marital and maternal duties. “Recent estimates show that one-third of girls in the developing world are married before age 18, and one-third of women in the developing world give birth before age 20.” This inevitably prioritizes childrearing and household duties over learning and school attendance.
If these girls had access to primary and secondary education, “child marriage would fall by 64 per cent, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.”
“I didn’t want my future to be imprisoned in my four walls and just cooking and giving birth.”
We need girls in school: “Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.”
We senioritis sufferers take for granted our fancy degrees and highfalutin credentials when millions are deprived of this basic human right from a young age. It’s difficult not to want to be finished with school when that’s all I’ve known, but our #FirstWorld senioritis only mocks this. Let’s quit this mentality and do something useful with our education by helping others. When every girl and boy in the world knows senioritis, then the world will be a better, more educated place.
Organizations fighting for girls’ education in the US and abroad:
Let Girls Learn
Global Citizen Girls & Women
World Bank Group
Because I Am a Girl
Girl Effect Accelerator
World Vision Gender
United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative
Free the Children
Photograph: banner at Harvard Graduate School of Education.