In 1842 the Swedish government decided that all children in Sweden should go to school. This school reform lead us to where we are today; a modern society with welfare, good healthcare, a high level of education, low infant and maternal mortality. It was tough at the beginning; the parents didn’t send their children to school without resistance. The industrialization had begun to grow, but still most people were living on the countryside. There were even small farms in the outskirts of the towns, and it didn’t matter if it was our capitol Stockholm or a small town somewhere far away. The work was hard and every hand was needed. Parents depended on their children to participate in the work; the youngest could look after the sheep and pick fire wood in the forests. When the kids grew older and stronger they were forced to work in the fields, milk cows and they had a lot of chores at home.
The churches had a lot of power over the people here; they could even get orders from the King to gather money and/or soldiers. The priest in every congregation kept books over everyone who was born or who died in their congregation. If someone didn’t turn up in church on Sundays the priest went to them to look for the reason. The priest could even humiliate a person in front of the entire congregation when he told that this person hadn’t been to church and the reason for it. People were not allowed to practice their religion the way they wanted. They were not allowed to have meetings in their homes to read the Bible and sing hymns to God. If the police found out that people held this kind of religious meetings in their homes, people could be put in jail for it.
Several years of bad harvests, starvation and oppression lead to a lot of Swedes emigrating to America. People sold their farms, their belongings so they could afford the tickets on the large ships that took them to “the land of opportunities”. Many died during the journey, sicknesses were spread among the malnourished and weak emigrants. The people on board the ship had heard wonderful stories about America. They had heard that the emigrants got farm land, that the cows were big as elephants and milked hundred of liters every day. Stories were told about the gold fields where you could carve gold out of a stone with a pocket knife. People were hired by the shipping companies to persuade the poor Swedes to emigrate. These agents brought booklets with them and gave these to those who got interested. There were drawings of some of the amazing things you could see in America. Some information was given and of course the cost of the journey. So many wanted to go and so little they got paid when they sold all their belongings.
Some believed that they would automatically be able to speak English at their arrival in America. Those who survived the long journey quickly found, at their arrival, that they didn’t understand a word of what people said in America. They were showed to the worst places where they could get a roof over their heads. The money was different and it was easy to become fooled by salesmen and others who took advantage of the ignorant emigrants. The emigrants got some farm land for their families, but the land was very far away and they had no option but to walk there. Many died during this long walk, they were malnourished, exhausted from the long journey and an easy target for all kinds of diseases. Further in to the country some of the emigrants were killed by the Native Americans, what they then called the Indians.
Of course there were no cows with a size of an elephant, and the existing cows didn’t milk hundred of liters every day. The one who was lucky could afford to buy a cow, but cows were expensive. Life was extremely hard; the emigrants had changed starvation at home to starvation abroad.
When you read about our past you can see parallels to your own life in the Gambia. The memories of fear, starvation and oppression are still fresh and the mental wounds haven’t healed for many of you. It is important to keep the memories of your past alive, and learn from them so the history will never be repeated. We study history because by knowing our past we understand our present and we can influence the future. The most fundamental way to change a society is by education on all levels. It is never too late to learn new things and it doesn’t matter what age you have. They say that it is easier for small children to learn new things than for adults. This is not completely true; children learn by repetition and adults learn by adding new knowledge to former experiences.
A child can’t think back on something it has been through before and relate to that. A child lives in the present so the ability to relate back to former experience is nothing you can do until you have that experience. Logical, isn’t it?
As we have had public schools here in Sweden for more than 150 years now, it is no wonder that we have come far. The education has always been free on the basic levels, even if school books had to be bought by the parents in the beginning. Even if the parents found it hard in the beginning to adjust to the new school reform in 1842, they realized that education was a privilege that only rich people had before. A society with a low level of education is a society that is struggling to develop somehow. Keeping the education level low is a way of controlling the citizens. If you are illiterate you don’t know your rights and the leaders in your country can use that to their advantage. The colonialists had the best schools for their children and you had to be content with what you got.
Not enough was invested in the schools of the Gambia during the oppression and look where this has led you. The level of literacy is still around 50 % in the Gambia and that is terribly low in these modern times.
Some days ago I saw a post on Facebook from a man from the UK. This man had added a photo of a small Gambian boy who was leading heavy sacks on a donkey cart. This photo was added together with a report from UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Fund. The report told about how many children in the Gambia that still don’t go to school. Some parents can’t afford it and others are not able to see the necessity of even basic education. We had the same problem here in Sweden, around 150 years ago. Parents were reluctant to send their children to school; they thought it was better for the kids to learn how to work from an early age. Educating a child is an investment, not only for the family but for the whole nation.
A child doesn’t only learn to read and write mathematics and geography. It learns to understand the world around it and the reasons for why the world looks as it does. When the child grows older it can study for example agriculture and learn how to grow better crops on the family farm. These crops can be sold for good money if the farmer goes together with other farmers as a collective. They can buy seeds together and get it for a better price because they make big orders. The farmers on this level are educated and will not be fooled by buyers. The farmers are aware of their rights and get paid in time, instead of be waiting for several months before they get any money. The farmers can now afford healthcare for their families. No women need to die giving birth to a child; no child needs to die of malaria.
The farmers can afford to dig deep wells so they will always have fresh water. They will have solar panels on their roofs so no one needs to stumble in the dark. The children can study and do their homework in the evenings, using an electric lamp instead of kerosene that gives a nasty smell. The kerosene lamps are also dangerous, in a blink of an eye they can fall down for some reason and the disaster is there. We had these kinds of lamps here too and a lot of accidents happened with them, especially with kids around. Solar panel is a true blessing and you never lack of sun in the Gambia.
Investing in education is an investment in our future leaders, doctors, nurses, architects, engineers and inventors. Children’s bodies are not made for hard labour, they are not strong enough to carry heavy loads. All parents in the world wish their children a better life than they have had. The one who is speaking about ”the good old days” is lying to himself. The times were not better, only different. Improvement has been done in all areas, but you will never be able to take part of them if you don’t understand them. With time there will be more industries in the Gambia, and industry means machinery. For maintaining all this expensive equipment we need skilled workers. We need staff who are trained in computing and for that they need to be excellent in reading and writing in English. We need staff who can repair machines, others who are working at the machines for making products. These staff must be creative, problem solvers, able to allocate chores and also able to understand safety instructions.
Industries need accountants, secretaries, janitors etc and all of them must be able to read and write. Right now about 50 % of the population in the Gambia are illiterate. What use do we have of all these people in the future Gambia if we don’t face the problem and do something about it as soon as possible? The Gambia will be hopelessly behind in its development and an easy target for those who wish to use its vulnerability. We must ask us what kind of future we wish for the Gambia and what we can do to improve it. All children must have an education, which is where we have to begin. No children must be seen as apprentices on a Tanka-Tanka, no children must work on the fields or driving a donkey cart instead of going to school.
No children must be out on the streets late at night, trying to sell some fruit or peanuts. These children are an easy target for peadophiles and get their lives destroyed. All families must be able to afford to send their children to school. Education must be free and teachers must be well educated and well paid. We must show that we valuate those who are taking care of our future, what profession can be more important than that?
Teaching is an honorable task and learning is a joy and an obligation. Ask yourself what kind of future do you wish for your family and for your country? Do you wish to be ruled by a foreign power or are you able to rule your own destiny? If you are educated you will be able to choose.