Is Free Education the Solution?

By Maria Rossana Ramirez-Avila

I have been an educator for about 20 years. I have wondered how I can help citizens in my country, especially those with low resources to access education and take advantage of all its benefits. Even though education is free and compulsory, there are many children that start and stop, do not start, or if they stop they do not return to educational institutions. Reasons vary, two of them are poverty and family problems.

In one documentary funded by the US embassy in Ecuador, three soccer players were shown. The researchers had followed their lives for a period of eight years. They were all from a poor rural community in the high lands. Two of their stories had happy endings. They succeeded at soccer. They were recognized and had good salaries because of their performance. I cannot tell if the three continued their studies. But for sure, two of them did not.

The first was so good that he played in the national team. When he retired, politicians took advantage of his popularity and offer a position as congressman. He accepted, voters trusted him, and thus he won the election. During his period, he supported his village through various projects regarding health, and sports. Villagers were thankful. It was great to see how he understood the real purpose of politics.

The second faced different difficulties in his life. When he was a child, he had to take care of his sick father. This made him quit school. He even had to cook for the family because his mother worked. This was what made me see that even though education is free, he could not attend. His father died because they did not have the economic resources even to go to the hospital. However, he was brave to continue with his training. His perseverance made him good at soccer and gain a place in a well-known team. Nowadays, he visits his father at the cemetery and remembers his words. But, he did not succeed in his studies.

The last soccer player did not continue his studies. He attended the training sessions, but was not good enough to be part of a big team. To make story harder, he fell in love and his girlfriend was expecting a baby. Thus, he needed money for his new family. He had not studied, but his intention of being a famous soccer player did not pay off. He needed to decide to continue with soccer with no money or work. He started working with his family in the plantation, and later for construction companies.

During the documentary, parents recognized the importance of studying and learning English. They told their children to go to school. They wanted them to work and gain a good salary to support the family. These two stories are heartbreaking. Even though parents’ place emphasis on the importance of education, why did these two teenagers did not believe in education? It seems they considered soccer as the panacea, but they did not know that soccer is just a short-term profit. Once they retired from this sport, what could they expect. There are several stories of soccer players that were wealthy when they were active. When their soccer careers were over, they did not have the skills to work in any other field. They did not know how to manage their finance. This was also observed in a soap opera from another Latin-American country. In the story, soccer players were cheated by “so-called” experts in investing money.

Is free education a solution? From these stories, the answer is negative. What needs to be done to have children undergo a nice learning experience that motivates them to keep learning? What can make them choose learning as their first choice – before than any other activity?