Is education the key to freedom?

Unless you give equal opportunity to every kid to learn, your purpose will be defeated

In Australia we're largely familiar with the word ‘freedom.' We use ‘freedom' phrases constantly, without blinking an eyelid: freedom of choice, freedom of information, freedom of the press, etc.

Some people think we live in a "nanny state" with too many rules and regulations. But our freedom is still largely intact. It's only when we meet people from oppressive countries that we understand the true value of Australian freedoms. We're free to be creative, to be self-expressive, to gain and to share knowledge and be who we truly are.

The word freedom has sparked many social changes. Take the Freedom Ride of 1965, when a group of Sydney University students rode an old bus through regional NSW towns to draw attention to the sub-standard state of Aboriginal health, education and housing.

Over the last 50 years Australia has become a mature country that values skills, knowledge and innovation. And the right to an affordable education has been big on Australia's agenda. Just how closely is the concept of freedom related to education? Can we have true freedom without an affordable and accessible educational system at all levels?

The ideal form of education can be likened to soccer. This comparison was made by Jesse Jackson, the legendary American civil rights activist who twice ran for the US Presidency and is best known as the disciple of Martin Luther King. "Both sides need an even-playing field," stated Jackson. "Unless you give equal opportunity to every kid to learn, your purpose will be defeated." He was referring to lack of opportunity in the Afro-American communities of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

TED blogger Demetrius Amadeus argues that a level playing field requires four fundamentals to reach freedom.

The first is a constant and secure supply of food. No one can be free with an empty belly.

The second is knowledge. Without it, freedom is just a fantasy. It's like trying to walk in a dark room without bumping into things.

The third is self-discipline. Exercising your freedom without it leads you to self-destruction. Anything from obesity to drug abuse and everything in between.

The fourth is responsibility. A lack of it can lead to debauchery or crime. It can make you harm others in all sorts of ways - from mental to physical.

Can we all educate our children to true freedom? American social blogger Yaacov Cohen recommends teaching them not to look at reality as defining their acts, but to look at their acts as defining reality. A bit like Maslow's hierarchy of needs – only when you've reached self-actualisation and self-awareness can you truly meet your needs and the needs of others.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – founders of Microsoft and Apple respectively - attained their own version of freedom. They empowered everyday people to gain knowledge, to help the oppressed spread ideas and by challenging the notion that education is only for the privileged who can afford it.

Gates and Jobs may not have set out to revolutionise education (they were both college drop-outs), but revolutionising education is probably what they've done. They've built technology empires that put education on your desk (with a PC) and in the palm of your hand (with an iPad or mobile phone).

South African poet Feyisayo Anjorin sums it up this way; "Freedom for me is knowing that you reap what you sow, and then sowing without the fear of the harvest."

The central philosophy of TAFE NSW is that anyone can use education to unlock their abilities and potential, and make a contribution to a better Australia. In the end, we all hope to live without fear of the harvest.