The Power of Potential

Absolutely everybody has at least one thing they really enjoy and are good at. I am convinced of this.

But we have a problem, as a planet and as societies. So often, these skills go unused.
And yet they are so diverse and so potentially life-changing.

I love reading, writing, learning about history, languages, philosophy and how societies work. I have been able to speak in a national parliament and be on TV. I have been really, really lucky.

My brother doesn’t like learning about those things, but give him a change to learn more about how to make Hobbit houses on Minecraft or create intricate cardboard replicas of World War Two planes, and he will invest a lot of time, energy and brain space in getting it perfect. He can draw to a level that has won him many art contests and gained him an enviable playground reputation (he sells the WWII planes and comic drawings to his school friends, for instance). But his difficulties with school work and tests mean that art school can’t happen for him, and he is at a loss as to what he should do when school finishes.

We all have things we like to do and things we like to learn more about. But we can’t always do anything with them.

But what do our skills have to do with anything? Especially the things I blog about?

If it’s a problem in a fairly well-off and advanced European state that people’s potentials aren’t being fulfilled and used, then think how much less likely it is that kids out there in the middle of Sierra Leone who have amazing technology skills, huge imaginations or the potential to become neuroscientists and amazing teachers and brain surgeons will get to do what they potentially could.

They can’t, because they lack the opportunity. They don’t have the necessary guidance, or their country has terrible medical systems and they die before they are old enough to realise their potential. Think how much better off their countries, not to mention the world, would be if all those hidden genii got to do their thing.
This is a problem, a hole in our systems, and it’s absolutely world-wide.

I will be able to go to a top-tier university not just because they think me academically able, but also because I have had encouraging parents and teachers and friends, people around me who have done well academically and plenty of excellent resources. Without those, I would never be so well on the way to fulfilling my potential as I am now. My brother doesn’t get that, because his abilities aren’t academic and therefore not seen as ‘useful’ by his educators. The kids living in countries with messy politics and no money don’t get that, because their talent is never spotted, probably not even by themselves.

I can’t see a problem without trying to find a solution, so I’ve been thinking this one through. My ideas aren’t unique and they aren’t world-changing, but they are a start and they involve stuff we can all do.

First off, every kid needs equal opportunities. I’m not talking about every kid in America or Europe, but every kid world-wide. This can’t be done in a day, obviously, but it’s the only actual long-term solution. We need education systems that work, that find those sparks of potential and creativity we all have and tell us how to use them.

To do this, we need excellent teachers, mentoring programmes, more scholarships, more schools, even. There are kids out there who have never seen a book, and people who have so many books they’re chucking them in recycling bins. (Which is, you know, extreme sacrilege, but this isn’t just about that). So those books, these materials need redistributed. There are schools that need money and time, and even just people who need someone to give them that hint, that oh-you-have-a-skill-and-this-is-how-to-use-it.

That’s still way too general, though. What do we actually do, right now?

We donate to charities helping move education forward. We donate not just our money, but our time (and our books!). We spot things wrong with our education system, and we write to those responsible who may not know. These people aren’t all-knowing and our help is needed, our hints respected. I’ll put links, just as ideas, under this post.

We look out for people who need a helping hand, who don’t take their skills seriously, and we encourage them to make use of them. We listen to our own kids and siblings, helping them even if the thing they are good at is something that we don’t like much or which doesn’t fit to our family (hullo, ballet-dancing Billy Elliot).
Those who have a say- and I don’t mean ‘is President of the US’ but rather anybody who chooses how to use their money on a day-to-day basis- can keep this whole thing in mind and make sure that whenever they have a chance, they further the cause of education and equal opportunities in learning.

Last, but certainly not least: Don’t waste your own skills. Write that book, join that evening class, practice your cooking or knitting or singing, and teach other people the things you know.

Knowledge- and potential- is power.

Do you agree?

(Also: if you have any ideas regarding careers for my brother, then that would be awesome!)

Think Global
Education Concern
SOS Schools


2 thoughts on “The Power of Potential

  1. Education truly has the potential to lead to an equality that allows us all to use what skills we have. I am working towards becoming a teacher and I agree that things need to change. Not just engineering students are doing great things, where would we be as a planet if we didn’t have writers helping us to synthesize the world and help us to grow as people. Where would we be without educational theorists who struggle each day to come up with a system that doesn’t work. Activists who fight to make the world a more inclusive and happy place, are essential. We absolutely need to find a way to cherish and promote what students want to learn while giving them the skills to do absolutely anything they want later on.

    1. You are absolutely right. There are so many skills of so many kinds, and it’s very wrong to place more weight on one particular skill (such as engineering), rather than another, thus disadvantaging those with other unique skills. Now to change it 🙂 Best of luck with your teaching career!

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