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Leaders for Education Series - Sir Ben Kingsley

©David Shankbone
Sir Ben Kingsley

Academy Award winning actor, Sir Ben Kingsley speaks with us on the impact education has in and out of school, the inspiration and knowledge he found in his own schooling and the need to teach and learn at all stages in life as a vital  means to a peaceful world.  

You are one of the world's most renowned and respected film, television and theatre actors and have received a knighthood for your contribution to the arts.  As an Oscar-winning actor, and a father, what does education mean to you?

I think that a huge amount of education is passed from an adult to a younger person, whether that person is a very young adult, an adolescent, or an infant. The adult has to share with the child, the listener, the student, something of the past to give them balance and perspective. That to me is education - the handing on of something extraordinary.  It is giving a child a better place to stand with tremendous perspective on what has come before that child and what has come afterwards. Very ambitious I know, but that is what education is to me.

What elements in your education inspired you and helped forge your career path?

I went to a really good school. It is one of the top schools in England - Manchester Grammar School.  When I joined the school, Eric James, who became Sir Eric James, who then became Lord James of Rusholme, was the headmaster.  And he was an extraordinary figure.  Firstly he was most articulate, secondly he was an educationalist as well as a teacher, thirdly he was absolutely charismatic. It was rumored that he knew every single boy’s name in the school - over 1000 boys - and when he walked into a classroom you could feel that something inside the students’ ribcages stood to attention. He was held in awe and respect. He was a mighty force in education and he was my headmaster for the first two or three years of my education. I will never forget him. He was the first real star I ever met.

In your opinion, what happens to a girl or boy who does not receive an education?

An angry, hungry child that is ignorant of the world’s history, perspective and grandeur, grows up embittered and violent and if we do not reach that child with the right lessons, and the right perspectives, that child could be abducted into the military, into drugs, into prostitution.  When I was in Pakistan after the earthquake with Relief International, we knew we had to get into those earthquake zones quickly to give relief and comfort, and an ear to the communities, because they thought they were ignored, that nobody could hear them or see them.   Where there is a vacuum, it will be filled.  And a vacuum in our education is extremely threatening because if we do not fill that vacuum, it is going to be filled with hatred and violence.  And we’ll have millions of disenfranchised, angry, uneducated young people around the world, who will give the wrong contribution to our evolution, through no fault of their own, because of their anger at being ignored.

An inspiration to many, what is your message to children, especially girls, about education and gender equality? 

I went to Afghanistan in 2005 with Save the Children just after the girls’ schools were reopened after the Taliban had receded.  The way we were greeted by the girls was very moving. The girls lined up, some of them for two hours, to sing their songs to us. The gratitude young women share with those who give them a good education is very touching. It is absolutely vital that the females in our societies reassert themselves through education, and through gaining perspectives.  It is very, very important for young women to become the molders and makers of our future. 

Is there anything else about education and your work that you’d like to add?

Education does not stop when you leave school.   I would not have had a career had I not been accepted by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Now Shakespeare could seem ancient and irrelevant to many children, but he is the backbone of my work. This has empowered me. It has given me a place to stand. It has given me my language and my confidence. We should look to these older voices from hundreds of years ago who tapped into something beautiful and enduring.  If any child has the opportunity to tap into that beautiful and enduring mythology and oral history of how they got here and whence they came, I think it is a great gift. I would be nowhere without this. 


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