“Education – A powerful weapon which can change the world”

10 February 2022
“Education – A powerful weapon which can change the world”

Sally Barter has worked in Traveller education for over 25 years. Sally tells the Travellers' Times why she believes education today is important for the future of our children.

 Children begin to learn from a very early age, learning opportunities can be found all around us and not everything is learnt from a book ... Writes Sally Barter

As Traveller children we are brought up to observe and respect our parents and families. We are taught to listen, respect their wisdom and words and learn from them when we can.

Through them, our rich and unique culture is passed down to us via word of mouth, in the form of our own language and by virtue of the authentic learning opportunities that are woven throughout a Traveller childhood.  

 I have always considered myself to be lucky as some amazing childhood experiences have given me the memories I now cherish as an adult. These memories, of being with family and at fairs, celebrations, weddings and even funerals, are all important to us. These are all positive affirmations of our Traveller roots and identity.

One thing I have learnt in my 25 years of working in Traveller education is that formal schooling is not a trade-off or dilution of our culture or its integrity, but instead a broadening of it and an empowerment that can lead to new horizons and possibilities. Education brings opportunity and change as well as freedom of choice and power. I would never trade my Traveller identity and the respect of my community for any academic success or achievement but why can’t both be as equally valued and prized?

 Some of the cleverest people I know never had a formal education, never went to school and couldn’t read and write, but in today’s modern world lack of literacy skills is a definite disadvantage. In my own close family, I have a much loved and respected aunt and at 86 years of age she tells me the biggest regret and sadness in her life is that as a young Traveller girl she wasn’t allowed to go to school, and she was never given the opportunity to learn to read and write.

Today that right is there for our children, a right that every child is entitled to. No one can take that away from us.

 I like, many Travellers, have experienced prejudice and discrimination but I know that education can bring about change and break down barriers. No racism can prevent us from being what we choose to be if we put our minds to it. Our children today have the advantage of being media-savvy and familiar with the written word and a mobile phone is a window to the world now days.  

Times have changed and I believe that we can channel and use the determination, strong will and sense of pride, which has been instilled in us from birth and helps us overcome the casual anti-Traveller racism that we have encountered for generations, to make change, be the change and be whatever we want to be.

By Sally Barter

the biggest regret and sadness in her life is that as a young Traveller girl she wasn’t allowed to go to school
'The biggest regret in my Aunt's life is that as a young girl she wasn’t allowed to go to school'. Gypsies and Traveller protest approx 70 years ago.

(Lead photograph: Sally Barter taken by Mike Doherty for the Travellers' Times)

This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of the Travellers' Times Magazine. To see PDF versions of our magazines and subscribe to our next edition in May 2022, please follow this link: SUBSCRIBE