The best things in life aren’t free

The All Blacks made it home just in time. Days after they made their escape from England, violent protests have exploded in the heart of London.

The link between the two events is quite obvious, but perhaps a little context is best to start with.

About 10,000 university students, from some reports, flooded onto the streets of England’s capital, holding such enlightened signs as “F*** Fees” and throwing eggs, flares and smoke bombs at the police who were forced to intervene to control the chaos.

They were protesting their Government’s proposal to stop giving grants to low-income families to help with university fees. Instead, these would be replaced with loans that would eventually need to be repaid.

England’s opposition leader encouraged the protests (although he didn’t turn up), stating “Education is a right, not a privilege”.

And that is the crux of the problem.

As soon as you begin to get privilege and rights confused, you’re bound to end up in trouble.

Education, as it happens, is a benefit reserved for a very specific group at this point in history: those who were born in the West. It is not a right that everyone of us will be born into.

Sadly, we’re the only ones who don’t realise it.

In fact, you have to go beyond the West, into some of the world’s poorest communities, to find people who do understand just what a privilege education is. Ironically, they value it so much they’ll pay. Hence British education Professor James Tooley’s award-winning research on the massive success of private education in some of the poorest slums in China, Africa or India.

There, parents rejected incompetent, corruption-riddled state schools in favour of setting up their own, even though it would cost them.

But the small fee, which enabled slum schools to operate, ensured their success; students knew they must take their studies seriously, and parents ensured teachers didn’t waste the precious dollars they had spent. After all, those dollars represented a huge sacrifice.

And that’s just the point. Education is as valuable as the sacrifice required to attain it. That’s why those in slums on the other side of the earth are willing to scrimp and save every last penny just to send their child to school while Westerners protest being given a loan instead of a free ride.

Which is precisely why it seems strange to see students protesting the requirement to sacrifice for an education just as England wraps up celebrating the Rugby World Cup.

Sporting world cups are celebrations of the sacrifice and discipline required to earn the ultimate prize. They are so valuable precisely because of how difficult they are to attain. World cups that were given out to any team which cared to register and turn up would hardly be worth having. So it is with degrees.

Sacrifice makes the prize valuable, and a valuable prize makes the sacrifice worth it. That which comes free and easy is worthless.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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