Education worthless without free speech?
by Nagla Rizk
Cairo - Last month I was invited to participate in The Doha Debates, a televised forum where experts debate the region’s most controversial topics, to discuss the motion: “Education is worthless without freedom of speech”. At the outset, one would jump to agree with the motion. Of course freedom of speech is a worthy cause and a noble pursuit that is hardly contestable, especially in a context like that of the Arab world, where a highly restrictive environment sheds further light on the malaise resulting from the stifling civil liberties.
But a careful reading of the wording of the motion calls for a more profound analysis of what it entails. It is about either the worthiness, or the total lack of worth, of education in the absence of freedom of speech. It is not about the extent of this worthiness. Education in such circumstances, according to the motion, is either worthwhile, or worth zero.
And that is why I argued against the motion.
I argued that no matter what restrictions are placed on freedom of speech, education will be the catalyst for change. Education helps create and expand freedom in all of its layers – political, social, cultural and economic. Education promotes human development. Even coming up against the harshest restraints, education builds a reservoir of intellectual capital that, together with innate human creativity, imagination and will, turns around to push for a state of a home-grown freedom.
The motion presented education as a function of freedom of speech. I argue that freedom is itself a product of education. For what are the Egyptian bloggers and Tunisian activists a product of, if not their local systems of education? And how come Egyptian women enrolled in illiteracy eradication programmes start reporting their abuse once they begin learning how to read and write? And why is the percentage of Egyptian women opposing female genital mutilation higher amongst the educated than...