There is a man who sits by the shore, weaving nets for fishermen. Early in the morning he’ll collect the grasses from the wild, open fields. Then he’ll sit, and painstakingly weave strands of grass together, making strong knots that are so small the naked eye can’t see them. Each strand of his net is perfect, not one kink, not one tear. Not one imperfect knot. Each gap in each net is the perfect size to catch the fish that swim in the deep blue ocean. Not too large, otherwise they could swim right through, but not too small, otherwise they might be crushed.
All this might seem very normal, but really, this fishing village isn’t anything like the fishing villages in our world. In this village, fish are caught, but not for the same reasons that we catch fish. In this village, fish are caught for their protection. The ocean is a dangerous place, with dark depths where monsters of all kinds lurk. So the fish, the beautiful, colourful fish, they have to be caught, you see. They have to be taken to reservoirs where they’ll be safe from the lurking monsters in the dark depths of the ocean. Where they can grow up together, not at risk, but in safety.
So the man who sits by the shore, weaves nets for the fishermen to catch the fish. And every day, the fishermen catch the fish, and take them away to the reservoirs.
The man who sits by the shore makes big nets for these fishermen who spend all day floating on the deep blue ocean in their wooden boats. He makes little nets too, for the boys and girls who fish in the shallows of the ocean, and get excited when they rescue even one tiny minnow.
All the fish in the ocean are equally precious, and all need to be cared for. This is why the man who sits by the shore makes such perfect nets. And this is why the fishermen spend so much time out on the ocean, catching the fish.
Fish in the ocean come in all shapes and sizes. All are born from similar tiny eggs, but grow into darting fish, none of which look the same as another. Some are covered in beautiful rainbow scales. Some are shining silver. Some are dark, and blend into the depths of the ocean. Some have long whiskers, whiskers longer than their entire body. Some are round, and some are long and skinny.
The man who sits by the shore makes his perfect nets with their flawless strands and their perfectly sized holes. Every day, he makes these nets. New ones so that the fishermen never have to use a broken net. The fishermen come to him, and ask. And he gives them away, day after day.
One night, the man has to leave. He has a home faraway that he must return to.
But, before he leaves, he knows he has one last thing to do.
The man who sits by the shore sits at a big bonfire with the fishermen. The grownups, and their little boys and girls. Sitting with them, he tells them how he weaves his perfect nets. He teaches them the secret to making a net that will catch all the fish, and will leave none behind for the monsters in the depths of the deep blue ocean.
‘Into each tiny knot you must weave love, so that all the fish understand that the net is a safe place to be. Into each strand you must weave equality, so that all the fish know they are welcome in the net. Make each gap just big enough for a little playfulness, so that the fish know they have freedom. Make each gap just small enough for health, so that none of the fish are hurt in their travels.’
The fishermen listen, and work. They work with the man all night, practicing their net making, until the man who sits by the shore is satisfied they can make perfect nets.
When the sun rises over the ocean, and the bonfire is nothing but glowing embers, the man who sits by the shore stands up. He says one last thing to the fishermen, ‘I’m leaving now, but I’ll always answer you when you ask for help.’
And then the man who sits by the shore becomes the man who sailed away across the great blue ocean.
At first, the fishermen are excited to work on their own nets, and carefully follow the man’s instructions, weaving love, equality, playfulness, and health into their nets. Making each knot strong, and each gap the perfect size, so that no fish slip through.
But gradually, the fishermen get tired. It’s a lot of work to fish all day, and then come home and make new nets. The fishermen start to wonder if it’s worth it. They forget what the point is. Some fishermen stop making new nets every night. Some fishermen make nets that aren’t as perfect as they used to be.
The nets grow less and less perfect, and the fishermen catch fewer and fewer fish. Fish slip through the gaps in the broken, imperfect nets. Many fish, nearly half the fish, are left in the deep blue ocean, where monsters lurk in the dark depths.
Some of the fishermen notice they’re catching fewer fish. And a few of those fishermen feel sad to know that so many fish are stuck with the monsters in the dark depths of the deep blue ocean. They catch fewer and fewer fish, and feel sadder and sadder, but don’t know quite what to do.
And the man who sailed away across the great blue ocean hopes that soon the fishermen will start working properly on their nets, and maybe even ask him for help.
Education allows people to keep themselves and their families healthy. Education teaches people their human rights. Education protects people from trafficking, war, exploitation, early marriage, and unwanted pregnancies.
There is a net that exists in our world, that is designed to catch children, educate them, and protect them. 258 million children are currently not in school. That’s 258 million children who fall through this net.
At this point in time, as schools all around the world are closed and impacted because of COVID-19, the world has the unique opportunity to repair this net, and reconsider how education in the 21st century might catch and protect more children than ever before.