A wise old African proverb says: “Educate a woman, you educate a nation.” History proves this to be right.
Educating is an act of generosity. It is, in essence, striving to ensure the survival of the family, the clan, the species.
It is, without doubt, a vocation, not a job. This task, in its fullest meaning, is and has been in many societies, a responsibility taken on by women, regardless of the historical period, geographical region or the socio-cultural characteristics.
However, if we take a look into the most recognized education professionals of the last 300 years, we mainly find male names.
In this article we want to homage four women who dedicated their lives to education. Some of them are well known, others not so much. Their stories represent the love that a human being can have for her species and the progress of this society. They are four inspiring lives, full of courage, tenacity and dedication. They are four women who have contributed or do still contribute to the progress of our society, making us therefore more human.
Hypatia of Alexandria (CA. 355-415)
Philosopher, astronomer and teacher, Hypatia is considered the first woman mathematician in history. Originally from Egypt, she lived in a time of turbulent change, where Christianity was making its way as the main religion of the Roman Empire. Her violent death, lynched at the hands of religious fundamentalists, has made of her a historical myth, placing her as the first woman martyr of Science.
Her reputation as a teacher has transcended to the present day thanks to letters from students who considered her “mother, sister and teacher, benefactor and everything which is honored by name and by fact.”
Students from all corners of the Empire visited Hypatia´s house, known as an important center of education and philosophy. Her teaching focused on the work of Plato and Aristotle and her writings on geometry and astronomy do definitely deserve mentioning.
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)
Born in freedom in a family of slaves in South Carolina, Mari McLeod Bethune is known as a revolutionary educator and advocate for civil rights in America. Her duties and obligations as a child in the plantation where her parents worked developed in her a concept of responsibility and commitment to the work that some years later was to be implemented in to her school and educational systems. Mary developed in her students through her educational method not only academic skills, also practical skills for everyday life.
Mary ‘s work has been internationally recognized in the fields of education, politics and the defense of civil rights for blacks and women.
She came to be advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the only black woman who participated in the founding conference of the United Nations.
María Montessori (1870-1952)
Maria Montessori was a visionary of education, who revolutionized the teaching methodologies that were applied in the first half of the twentieth century. Her work stimulated by study, the observation of children and progress made by researchers like Jean Itard (considered the father of the new pedagogy), fructified in creating a unique and innovative educational method.
Maria Montessori method is based on a consideration of children as free individuals able to make decisions in their own education process, as well as in getting the most out of the enormous potential of learning that human beings have in their early stages of childhood.
Montessori did not only develop educational methodologies for children, but was also a pioneer in the creation of learning materials and training methods for teachers, whom she considered key pieces in early childhood education. She assigned them the role of guides, monitors and facilitators of suitable environments for learning to happen.
Maria Montessori developed her career in different countries such as Holland, Spain, India and her native Italy, from where she was forced to exile during the dictatorship of Mussolini.
She was nominated several times a Nobel Peace Prize, and her method is being currently being implemented in many schools worldwide.
Malala Yousafzai (born in 1997)
Malala ‘s story is known by almost everyone . At 14 she was shot by the Talibans because of her defense of the right of women to education in her native Pakistan. But far from ending with her life or her efforts, this fact had the opposite effect. After her recovery in England, Malala returned with more force than ever to keep defending the right of women to education.
It is striking to listen to her at the age of only 11 speak of fear, education, life and death as everyday facts in her community, to hear her defend in front of a camera the reopening of women schools closed or destroyed by the Taliban on Swat Valley region, where she lives.
At that time, Malala was already known for exposing to the world the conditions of education in her native region through a BBC blog in which she wrote under a pseudonym.
Today, at age 16, this girl of clear ideas, direct speech and admirable value, has become the youngest person ever nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the most authoritative voices heard when discussing education as a fundamental right or the driver for change in the world.