A new school year is meant to be a happy time for students, parents, teachers, local communities and the whole nation. In Pakistan, many children are not enrolled and do not have the chance to go to school, and others drop out early before the full primary school cycle has been completed. Parents sometimes take the children out of school because they feel they don’t learn enough, or because the teachers don’t show up regularly, and for other reasons. Some parents may want their children to stay at home when they become older so they can help with household chores or earn money. Sometimes, parents feel that girls need less education than boys – overlooking that most girls do better in their schoolwork and at exams than boys.

It is true that not everything can be learnt at school. Hillary Clinton said that it takes a village, plus a good home, to bring up a child. Much of the foundation for forming and shaping a good human being is laid outside the classroom. Yet, in our time, we cannot do without formal education; we cannot do well without literacy, computer skills and other things that schools are best at teaching children and youth. A person can be wise and knowledgeable, have the right attitudes and be good in many ways without having gone to school, or should we say, without having done more than primary school. But we also know that many are deprived of reaching their full potential in the modern world if they don’t get further and higher education; they are as often found in remote villages, towns and cities in the Global South as in towns and cities in the rich North and West. There is abundance of talent everywhere, and it is important that people are given opportunities to learn and contribute. Education and training are keen foundations for that.

A while ago, I listened to a programme on the ‘VG Podcast’ from the Norwegian newspaper ‘Verdens Gang’ (VG) for 21.02.18. It was an interview with Svein Richard Brandtzæg (62), who for ten years was CEO and Chairman of one of Norway’s largest companies, Norsk Hydro, with 35,000 employees and operations in 50 countries. Hydro is state-owned and one of the world’s largest aluminium companies. After ten years at the helm, Brandtzæg in May this year left the mantel to a woman, Hilde Merete Aasheim.

Brandtzæg grew up in a family running a grocery shop (now a health food shop with several outlets) in a small city, Haugesund, on Norway’s west coast, far away from the financial and industrial power houses in and around the capital in the east. He explained that the foundation for his work ethics and his interests came from his home and local community. He said that at primary school, he was not a very bookish student; it was only in 9th grade and thanks to a good teacher he realized that the school books hid treasures.

He explained that his grandparents were religious, but also believing in the free will and the independent thought of all human beings. Brandtzæg completed his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees at the country’s most prestigious engineering university of NTH (now NTNU). At the same time, he was active in sports and other extracurricular activities. That gave him a more rounded education, or ‘Bildung’, as the Germans call it, along with the narrow, specialized and technical competences. Furthermore, Brandtzæg also spoke about this mother who had always been considered by everyone in her community as a particularly academically oriented and gifted person, but her parents could not afford to give her further education. In addition, it was still a time when girls were not given much choice; they were expected to get married and be homemakers. He and the interviewer, Hanne Skartveit, agreed that this was a ‘loss of talent’.

Today, women have close to equal opportunities to men in Norway. In Pakistan, that is not yet the case, although also here, there will soon be more women than men taking higher education, even at advanced level. The next step will be for women everywhere to get into the powerful sectors of working life.

Interestingly, from the Brandtzæg family’s history, with the CEO’s mother not having had the chance to get an education, there is also the CEO’s father to remember. He spent his life as a shopkeeper; that was a perfect job for him, the son thought, because his father was so interested in talking to people, in seeing every individual and unique person, perhaps giving unnoticeable advice and making the day more pleasant for people from all walks of life. High social intelligence is also important, and when asked if the CEO thought he was more like his father or mother, the good man said that he had inherited something from both. He said that he liked to people, and, he also liked to analyse issues about sustainable aluminium production and other aspects of his world company.

Let me add a few more words about Brandtzæg’s mother, now an old woman but still with all her mental faculties intact, being interested in ‘everything between heaven and earth’. “When I visit my hometown, it is always very interesting to listen to my mother’s views and analysis about all kinds of issues around us, small and big.”

In one way, the talents of Brandtzæg’s parents and grandparents could have been made better use of for themselves and society if they had had the chance to get better education, the way the son had. Yet, they also seem to have made important contributions even without much education - as the son has with education. Thanks to education opportunity, he made a ‘class travel’ from his modest beginnings in his hometown to a top post in his country and the world – yet, still, not having lost touch with his roots and values.

When asked about his faith, Brandtzæg seemed to be a quite typical ‘son of his time’, in his country, coming from a religious, yet, open-minded and happy background; also the strict Christian grandfather was at the same time a liberal man. Brandtzæg said he was not particularly religious himself, but he did believe in God. He said that he did sometimes pray, especially when he worried about his children’s well-being and life. In a way, he believed in God when he needed him. Don’t we all, whether we have much or little education?

The title of my article today says that education is an essential foundation in life for all, giving opportunities for a better and more fulfilled life. As the new school year begins, let us reflect on that, and let us think more about how we can give some form of basic, quality education to every child, also the millions who are not going to school today. There are many in that group, too, who are as clever as Brandtzæg, his mother and father. In Pakistan, we have some distance to go to give opportunity to all the needy and talented children and youth – but it can be done, if not this year, then next year.