Five years ago, at the age of 38, I went back to school. I had played football for 20 years for some of the best clubs in the world but had never had the chance to finish my education. So I moved to Florida and enrolled at Devry University. I am majoring in Business Administration and will be graduating next summer with a bachelor’s degree.
I am one of the lucky ones; I can afford to pay for my education and can travel to the United States to get an education. It was not always like this for me. When I was growing up in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, I sold doughnuts, popcorn and cool aid every day after school so that my family had some money and I could pay my school fees. It was a tough life. My father died when I was young and I was raised by my grandmother, Emma Klonjlaleh Brown. We could afford to eat chicken just once a year, at Christmas.
Football gave me a chance that few other Liberians have had. Around 80 percent of Liberians are unemployed and only half of all children go to primary school. Just one in 20 go on to secondary school. Young children are on the streets instead of in the classrooms. We are not giving them the opportunity to learn and they will struggle to get jobs when they grow up. Without proper education, Liberia will not progress.
It is a similar story across the continent. I believe education should be a right for every child but tragically in many parts of World it is a privilege for certain kids whose parents have money. There are 72 million children in the world who don’t go to school and many of them are in Africa.
There is nothing as important as education. It prepares you for your long term goals. It helps you comprehend the world around you. But the challenges in Liberia are many. Too many families cannot afford to send their children to school. They are being left behind and it will damage the country.
This is why I have joined 1Goal, a campaign to ensure that every child around the world has the opportunity to go to school. Our campaign is backed by some of the world’s best footballers, the biggest clubs and the sport’s governing body, FIFA. 1Goal aims to get 72 million people around the world to sign up to the campaign; one for each child who does not have that basic right of education.
This summer the Fifa World Cup will be held in South Africa, the first time it has taken place in Africa. It is the world’s biggest single sporting event and more than half the world will be watching. It is an opportunity to come together in the name of football to fight for those who do not get the chance to go to school.
An education summit, which will bring together world leaders, will take place in South Africa during the World Cup.
Every government has the responsibility to educate its children but some governments in Africa do not spend enough on schools. We are calling on African leaders to pledge 20 percent of their budget on education but we also need help from the West. If rich countries gave an extra $12bn a year then every child could finally get an education.
This can be done.
In the past 10 years 40 million more children have gone to school but we need to do more. The World Cup provides a unique opportunity to make education a reality for all children.
It is not just about building schools, the schools we build must be of a high standard. In America, where I have been studying, every school I have seen has a library where students can read books and study hard. How many schools have a library in Africa? In America there is a public library in every community. How many public libraries are there in Africa? Every day there are new books coming out and new ideas being discussed. But these new books and ideas don’t reach Africa and we are being left behind.
We also need more teachers. With well-trained and well-paid teachers we can create good learning environments in schools which will help more children. Smaller class sizes will make it easier for teachers to teach.
These things are crucial. Africa has to adapt if our future is to be better than our past. Everywhere in the world should have high standards of education, not just Europe and America. There is no reason why Africa should not reach for the same standard. A lot of people, like me, leave Africa to study in America or Europe. If our standards improve they can stay in Africa and get a good education here.
From my own experience I know just how important education can be. I went to America in 2005 to return to education, after passing my high school exams and a university entrance exam I was accepted onto the degree course which I am now completing. The course is going well and I hope to graduate next summer.
Education has given me new opportunities and made me a better person. I hope I can use the skills I have learnt to help others in Liberia and across Africa.
Football has opened many doors for me and given me the opportunity to work with great personalities like Claude Leroy, who spotted me in Cameroon, and Arsene Wenger, who signed me for Monaco and treated me like his own son. I have the challenge to give back what I have acquired.
Every African should have the opportunity to go to school like me. Africa’s future depends on education for all. If we come together we can make that dream a reality. 1Goal for all.
(George Weah – the 1995 World, Africa and European Footballer of the Year – is a 1GOAL Ambassador).