Education: A basic human right



Students gather in protest of tuition hikes at the University of Cape Town.

Melissa Johnson, Writer

How hard would you fight for your right to an education? Students at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand answered with a series of year-long, nation-sprawling protests. Recently, these protests have become militant.

Since the end of October, hundreds of students at universities across South Africa have blockaded roads and clashed with police. Students are protesting for the right to free education and against deeper inequality in a movement that has come to be known in the twitterverse as #FeesMustFall. University students brought a number of campuses to a standstill, protesting a proposed eight percent increase in tuition that many students cannot afford. This comes after a failed ten percent tuition hike proposed by South African President Jacob Zuma. Students say the current system is not only anti-poor, but anti-black as well.

As some may or may not remember, Northeastern had its own season of financial discontent last spring when Governor Rauner cut funding to all public state universities, resulting in the closure of Chicago State University amongst others. This disproportionately affected those with a black student majority population. Hundreds of students and faculty  across Illinois brought signs and counter-arguments by the busload to the capitol building for protests that lasted several days.

Chicago is over 13,000 kilometers away from Johannesburg and yet they are both faced with the same existential grievance: the price of an education. This is an issue that is  frustratingly philosophical to understand, as it is to deal with, in a practical sense. It’s not just a matter of money, it’s what the money implies about those who are not fortunate enough to have a lot of. “Education is a basic right for everyone,” says Sinawo Tambo, a second-year student and protest leader, “So the issue we have with fees is that they exclude the majority of people in this country, because it puts a price tag on education.”  

It’s easy for an official such as a president, a governor, or just a wealthy person with power who has already completed school, to dismiss a tuition raise or a budget cut as trivial business. From their particular standpoint, education is always affordable. In a way, they need to be educated too.

An education is more than just a diploma with your name on it. Education is freedom. Freedom from ignorance and fear. Freedom from poverty and oppression. Freedom from a society that actively promotes one class of people to neglect another.  It’s why dictators, past and present, try to keep their populaces as uneducated as they can possibly be.  if the masses are uneducated they are much easier to control. Education is a basic human right, because humans have the right to be free.