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The onus of education

Both of my grandfathers at one point had four simultaneous wives. I am one of fifty-nine grandchildren, my mother is the eldest of twelve, and my father is the eldest of twenty four. While these figures—and my own status as the eldest of six—confound many, they are present-day realities of societies and communities the world over.  

In the northeastern region of Nigeria where my family is from, polygamy is just one distinguishable attribute of the environment. The infant and maternal mortality rates in Nigeria are the second highest in the world. According to UNICEF, everyday roughly 2,300 infants and toddlers die in Nigeria. Additionally, lack of access to quality schools, limited family resources, and cultural attitudes towards education remain grave challenges to school participation. 

As a result, nearly half of high-school aged girls in the North are enrolled in neither formal nor nonformal education programs. Longstanding cultural norms define women as homemakers, and hence, young girls are married off at young ages. This is in order to attain limited economic security for both the bride and her family. My grandmother, first married at twelve, is but one affected by this practice. 

However, these attitudes are far from extinct. When I was fifteen, former family-friends encouraged my parents to send me off to boarding school not far from where Boko Haram would soon-after abduct nearly three hundred girls. 

What is the point of her going to school, the family friends wondered. “Isn’t she going to finish school and just get married anyway?” they asked my parents. They could not understand that my parents envisioned a future where I alone work to support myself.

My parents’ pursuit of higher education for themselves and their children countered the long-standing cultural and social norms of their villages in Northern Nigeria. They sought to empower their children, particularly their four daughters, with all the resources and opportunities an American education could offer to diligent, ambitious young women.  

For all these reasons, I believe education is the most critical tool of empowerment. Particularly for women and the impoverished, a quality education offers a gateway to a better life where social, political, and economic restrictions, realities, and hardships are escaped and dismantled. 

Furthermore, for all these reasons, the opportunity for an education at an institution for higher education is a sheer privilege of tremendous magnitude. Particularly, this education is invaluable in a time where automation will soon displace millions from their jobs, and skills obtained at increasingly expensive universities become necessary if one is to remain competitive in future job markets.

The Pew Research Center reports that future employment will favor those with above-average education, experience, and job training, specifically  “average or above-average interpersonal, management and communication skills; and higher levels of analytical skills, such as critical thinking and computer skills.”

Given my identity, it has been at times mind-boggling to consider the fortunate ways in which my parents and environments have led me to Duke University. Here, young people are exposed to the knowledge, networks, resources and opportunities that connect to each of the skills detailed in the Pew report. 

Above all, the cultural, political and environmental changes ushered in by a new age of industrialization and globalization will continue to exacerbate global inequality. We are fortunately positioned to thrive in a world where many will suffer concurrently.

For the oil-based economy in Nigeria, even the wealthiest stand to lose if the nation does not immediately diversify its investments and revenue sources. Even worse, for the millions of young people in rural areas such as Northern Nigeria with limited access to basic secondary school educations, the future looks dreary. 

Therefore, it is pivotal that today and forever more, young people blessed and empowered by the tools and opportunities of higher education, commit the fruits of our education to the betterment of humanity, and consider the ways in which we are complicit in maintaining certain inequalities. 

I am one generation removed from poverty. The patriarchal gender roles that define women as assets kept by patriarchs with several wives, each to produce children who are seemingly destined to an impoverished life, still creep at my ankles. Thanks to the education my parents were able to receive, however, I have a future they could never at one point conceive.

To all the undergraduates fortunate to receive higher education in this time of rapid change and innovation, I hope my story will shine a new light on your educational privilege and inspire you to commit to something impactful with the opportunities that surround you. From meeting with a Director of Academic Engagement to conversing with friends on this topic, the onus is on you to put your education to action. 

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays. 

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