My parents emigrated from India to Canada in the early 1960s with little more than 50 dollars in their pocket and the name of a contact in Edmonton who could help them settle into their new community. They arrived in the cold of winter, and my mother, raised in small village outside of Delhi, was fearful that spring would never arrive. Of course, it did eventually, and my parents, armed with an uncanny resourcefulness, the support of a community of friends, and a belief that through education there is a broadening of not only of what one can do but how one can understand the world, managed to survive and then thrive in a country that was so different from the one they came from.
So often we hear that education is a tool to empower, a means to progress one’s station, a path to contribute to a better life. And it is, it can be. But education first and foremost is a value, something to teach our children to appreciate because we appreciate it ourselves. The role of education is not simply a means to an end—study hard and this will pay off in financial success—but a shared principal that is bigger and more important than earning individual dividends. My parents grew up in a community of immigrants who understood this, who helped and supported each other, and most importantly, believed that education was necessary not only for themselves but also for the community who supported them.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing public education systems—more so than lack of resources, class, cultural and digital divides—is the waning communal support of and the belief in education’s importance. It is true that any school system needs resources and data-driven plans for training better teachers and building more relevant curriculums, but public education also needs the support of an entire ecosystem—parents, teachers, and communities—reinforcing that the role of education is a shared necessary condition of success.
I am a first-generation Indian American woman and my parents’ story lives at the core of my education: that we inherit our history, learn to accept it, understand it, challenge it, and in the end, with the support of a community to stand on, we have the ability to change it, to improve it. It is our role to pass down the value of education to future generations, and in doing so, arm our children with the belief that they can achieve success, that they can make a better world.