Educating Rita is an old yet powerful movie that centres on the stark inequalities of class and gender in a society. It is a story of a vivacious girl, Rita, who embarks on a learning quest but struggles to exercise the power of ‘choice’ in her own life. A vivid contrast to the monotonous field of traditional academia, it is relevant years later, even today.
First, she is a hairdresser and doesn’t belong to the upper class. Second, she is a woman in a patriarchal world and is married. The movie therefore captures the dilemma a woman has to face before she takes a decision for herself, whether it is to pursue her education or exercise her reproductive rights. As a woman, she is made to feel as if her decisions for herself are an act of selfishness. Her husband thinks he is doing her a favour, allowing her to do something she wants. His incessant demands to have a child force her to hide the fact that she is still on birth control that shows she doesn’t have full control over her body or her reproductive decisions. When he finds out, he channels his rage by hurting her physically and emotionally. He burns all her books showing the little value of her passion to him. Not only her husband but her father too ceaselessly bombards her with questions about having children, judges her worth in these terms and labels her a sinner for deciding otherwise.
Further, analysing the movie in an educational perspective shows the diverse ways one can learn. Firstly, education is not only restricted to a classroom environment, it can take place on a one to one level and this individual attention can be greatly beneficial to the learner. The movie implies the importance of active and student centered learning. The student in this case has a passion to learn, that comes from within rather than being mandated. Moreover, she is enrolled in an Open University course that she manages with her job and it shows how driven and motivated she is. Since learning and education should not discriminate, certain initiatives have been taken in the West recently. Universities like Harvard and UC Berkeley offer online courses that are open for all and most importantly they are free of cost, known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
Moreover, another interesting aspect in the film is ‘creativity’. Rita is a student who has a mind of her own and analyses concepts her way that may be contrary to popular opinion, and her professor encourages this versatility. Even though Rita often feels uncertain about herself and her ideas but her mentor does not let her lose faith in herself and what she does. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the role of the teacher is integral in learning. A teacher has the capacity to make or break a student hence educators of today, especially ones dealing with primary school children, should hire trained and qualified teachers that facilitate the learning process.
Furthermore, the movie focuses on how intellect cannot be measured in terms of an educational degree. Rita in a class of traditional classroom learners is just as good, while she learns from not only books and a teacher but theatre plays too. She gives a whole new perspective to the term ‘assonance’ that none of the well-read literature students or professors had ever thought of before. It can therefore be said that for learning to stimulate intellect education has to be a conducive experience for the student.
A message for educators around the world is that learning should not be restricted to a particular age, gender, class or marital status. Along with that, one of the primary goals of educators should be to work towards eradicating social inequalities through education rather than exacerbate them.
The movie ends with yet another powerful notion. It ends where education has empowered Rita to a point where she can exercise the power of ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ over her life — as should be the goal of education and every educator.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2017.