I stepped into a class today that was disturbing, to say the least. It was not one of my own classes- I was taking over from their regular teacher because she was busy with something else. The first thing that struck me was the general atmosphere in the class of barely concealed boredom and distraction, which, as tenuous as it was, evaporated the moment the regular teacher left the class. It was tough getting them to do the work they were supposed to do, and I was frankly surprised. In this day and age, when education is so badly needed to get ahead, when the future for the less educated is so uncertain, when private education costs an arm and a leg, when your country educates you practically for free, when there are children in the world who work in mines and construction sites and even brothels- why would anyone throw away the chance to learn and secure their future in an environment where someone actually cares whether they do well or not? I grew even more concerned when I noticed that among the noisy many who were doing their best to prove how powerful they were in manipulating the classroom dynamics, there were the quiet few straining to hear what I was saying and to respond to my questions. It was because of them that I kept going. This is the pity of it. While I think there are definite social benefits to making education compulsory for all, I also think we need to find a way to ensure that people who want to learn get the attention they deserve, instead of dumping them in among a group of people who clearly have other pursuits they would like to follow. I don’t think there is a magical cure-all for this, but I refuse to believe that there is nothing that we can do.