“Let us pick up our books and pens, they are the most valuable weapons”–
Primary 7 pupils of St Eunan’s Primary School, Clydebank
Yesterday I had the real pleasure of hosting the Primary 7s from St Eunan’s in Clydebank at the Scottish Parliament. Of course, Clydebank isn’t in the Highlands and Islands region I represent, but I also serve as Convenor of Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group on Human Rights, and the pupils were here for a particular reason; to call for the realisation of Article 28 to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – the right to an education.
Having studied human rights in class, the children decided they couldn’t just learn about the many ways those rights are not respected – they had to do something. So they founded their own campaign, Education for Every Child Everywhere.
They have visited other primary schools, secondary schools, and two universities to campaign for the global right to education, and now they were bringing that campaign to Holyrood.
Along with Gil Paterson, the constituency MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie, and Annabel Goldie, one of the regional MSPs for the West of Scotland, I was inspired and captivated by the pupils’ presentation.
Brilliantly informed and passionate, the class explained that although Article 28 guarantees the right to a free primary education for all children, an estimated 50 million children do not receive one. They demonstrated that the problem is especially bad for girls, with 33 million fewer girls than boys attending school worldwide.
The explained the barriers to education that underpin this crisis – poverty and war. They told us that nearly half the world’s population lives on less than £1.60 per day, and 150 million children are in child labour, with 1 in 4 of those doing jobs that are dangerous or harmful to their health. War makes it unsafe for many children to travel to school – for example, we learned, 3 million children in Syria and neighbouring areas are prevented from going to school by the wars between the Syrian regime, ISIS, and other forces. And of course, some children are even forced to go to war: there are around 250,000 child soldiers worldwide. I was struck by the banal obscenity of why children are so popular as fighters “we are easy to brainwash, and we don’t need much food,” one P7 told us.
Their presentation was expertly researched, but it was anything but dry facts. The children brought a passion and empathy that is so often missing from the Committee Rooms of Holyrood. They understand the children they are standing alongside as brothers and sisters, not just statistics. When they recited what they wanted to be when they grew up – a pilot, a scientist, a vet – they asked “why are my dreams a reality, and theirs an unreachable aspiration?” And they displayed that passion through a prayer and a song, both written especially for the campaign.
But this visit was not a counsel of despair, it was a hopeful demand for change. “All of these things are upsetting,” one girl said, “but a feeling will not get a child into school. We need to turn our words into actions.”
The children of St Eunan’s carried banners with the face of Nobel Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, who defied Taliban gunmen in her determination to get education for herself and for all children. They are inspired by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. And they know exactly where the responsibility lies. As they pointed out, not only does Article 28 declare that children have a right to education, it demands that wealthy countries should help poorer ones achieve that right.
Primary 7 of St Eunan’s came to the Scottish Parliament because it is a place of power, and they want those in power to act. They’ve certainly inspired me to redouble my efforts to stop powerful countries like ours sponsoring or supplying the wars that stand between children and the education they deserve, and to investigate what more the Scottish Parliament can do to assist children in places like Syria.
This blog post can’t do the children’s achievement justice; if you had been there you would have, like me, scrambled to sign their petition there and then. But if even a fraction of these pupil’s passion, determination and expectation has made it onto the screen, I’m sure you’ll sign it now. Please do add your name to St Eunan’s call for Education for Every Child Everywhere at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/education-every-child-everywhere