Speech on the Value of Education

Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘Investment in education pays the greatest interest.’ 

Good afternoon, my name is John Dowling and I am here today to talk to you about the importance of education in today’s world.

As a student who has spent the last fourteen years of his life in the corridors of the Irish education system, I can empathise with those of you who can’t wait to be free of the shackles of rules, regulations and of course, homework. But if we consider what our education has done for us since we entered Junior Infants as hyperactive five year olds, we will perhaps begin to appreciate all that we have learned.

The five year old me couldn’t read, couldn’t write, didn’t know the history of our world and in truth didn’t know much at all. A series of teachers who we ‘couldn’t be bothered listening to,’ have in fact given us the greatest gift we are ever likely to receive and that is the gift of learning.

Many of you here today are about to embark on another journey, whether it is a college course, an apprenticeship or into the world of work, you are going to continue learning. But it is the foundations that were laid by our many teachers that will allow us to flourish in the years ahead and we will, believe it or not, look back on these years with fond memories.

I didn’t always have such a positive attitude to education. I didn’t always see the bigger picture but I remember the moment when my attitude towards school changed and I want to share it with you all here today.

My older brother went to college two years ago and he and a group of his friends decided to help out a charity, which sent aid to one of the poorest regions of Africa. They worked hard to raise money and they felt really good about doing something for people in need. A few months passed and he had forgotten about his good deeds, until one day just before Christmas, a card arrived in the post and it was from ‘Dodi.’ Dodi was twelve years old and he was writing to my brother to thank him for what he had done. With the money they had received, a new roof was put on Dodi’s school, which allowed them to resume the classes that had been cancelled for the previous couple of months. He finished the letter by saying, ‘going back to school is the greatest Christmas present ever.’

I want you to think about that for a minute and think about the lists you make at Christmas, is education at the top of it? No, of course it’s not, because we take it for granted. Reading Dodi’s letter gave me a greater appreciation of education and gave me the focus I needed for studying for my Leaving Cert. I should probably add in that seeing the craic and banter that my brother was having at college also helped to focus me a little more, as I was not missing out on that!

Education opens doors, but we must be prepared to take the steps to get through the doors. Education requires hard work, dedication and an appreciation that learning is never-ending. Education is the great equaliser, it allows the kid from the rough estate in a bad area to rise up and make his life better. When I think of this I am reminded of Tupac’s song, ‘The Rose that Grew from Conrete,’ as it highlights that no matter where you come from, you can flourish and education is the key.

Education is the key to unlocking bigoted minds. Racism and bigotry thrive on ignorance and it is no coincidence that civil rights in both America and Northern Ireland came to the fore when blacks and Catholics were given the right to an education. Education broadens your horizons, removes narrow-mindedness, allows you to accept pluralism.

In this country, we blindly accepted bigotry. We accepted homophobia, we accepted religious intolerance and we even accepted clerical abuse. Why? Simply because we had not the wherewithal to question societal norms. Why was it okay to send an unmarried pregnant woman into captivity without question? Why was it okay for our children to be beaten by teachers and priests? Why was it okay to ostracise gay people? Because without an education, we don’t have a voice. Without an education, we feel helpless. Without an education, we are nothing.

Can you imagine those things I mentioned happening to Ireland today? You would not accept those things because education has opened your mind, it has opened your eyes and it has broadened your view of the world.

Our time in secondary school is at an end, but our path in education is just beginning. The foundations have been laid, it is now up to us to build on them. I will finish with a quote that I want you to remember. “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” In August you will get your passport, my question to you is, ‘where will you go?’

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