In general, progress against the second MDG,which seeks to ensure that all children will be able to access and complete a full course of primary schooling, has been promising; more than half of the countries analyzed had enrolment ratios of 90%, and only 10 countries had an enrolment ratio below 75%.
But there is still more work to be done in achieving this crucial goal. Perhaps the greatest challenge in achieving MDG2 is convincing government officials, country delegates, and civil society members alike that education matters, not only for the improved development of our nations, but for the empowerment and fulfillment of the people that make up its communities.
Few stories illustrate the vital importance of education to empowerment than the film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.
Precious follows the story of one young woman—Claireece Precious Jones, played movingly by Gabourey Sidibe—who has already endured unimaginable hardships in her life by the time she’s 16 years old. She has one child and is pregnant with another—both presumably conceived while she was being raped by her stepfather—when most of the film’s action takes place. While there are numerous themes at play here (Precious is abused by her mother, raped by her father, poor, overweight, and HIV-positive), education emerges as a key theme to her survival and empowerment.
As in the novel, much of the film is in first-person narration, and the audience experiences Precious’ pain, joy, struggle, and growth in her own evolving words. This presents some difficulty, as in the beginning of the film, Precious is all but illiterate. It’s no coincidence that the film opens with Claireece daydreaming in math class- it’s a symbol of her state of mind. But once Precious begins attending the alternative school, Each One, Teach One, and studying under Ms. Blue Rain, who gives the class a journal and tells them to write anything they’re feeling, her life begins to turn around in meaningful and groundbreaking ways.
In this sense, even in the most extreme and dire of circumstances, it is education which proves to be Precious’ most “precious” asset. It serves as a thread of hope throughout the film, empowering her to find her voice and some degree of peace and distance from those around her who mistreat, abuse, and ignore her. While the film doesn’t have a conclusive ending, it does make it clear that Precious won’t remain in her abusive household, and that she will continue to journal and study under Ms. Rain, two huge steps forward for a character whose life has been characterized by pain, abuse, and lack of agency.
Not everyone faces circumstances as dire and extreme as those that Precious does. But every single person does share something in common with this unlikely heroine—the ability to find empowerment and voice through education. As world leaders gather this week at the UN, hopefully they too will recognize the crucial—and precious—role that education can play in helping children the world over find their own voices.