Shakira has captivated fans from all corners of the world with her music ever since she was a teenager. When she is not on the world’s biggest stages, the Colombian shines a spotlight on a cause very close to her heart: education, whether it’s through her Pies Descalzos foundation or pushing for early child development and universal education in the media.
“Everything starts the same way – with one small moment. For me it was the moment that my family experienced a level of financial loss and hardship that we never had before and that was difficult for me to process in my youth,” Shakira told MediaPlanet. “It was the first time I gained a real sense of perspective.”
She continued: “I saw that just past my door there were children suffering extreme poverty who didn’t even have an education to count on to improve their situation. Even at a young age, seeing that gave me a profound sense of the injustice that something so arbitrary as the place you were born could determine your fate for the rest of your life.”
Shakira, who is pregnant with her second child, believes that education has an incredible return on investment and if there's a universal level of education achieved, the playing field to success becomes level.
“Human potential is limitless, but not if it remains untapped,” she said. “The earlier in a child’s life that they understand the value of education and how it can change their lives, the earlier they form habits that end up yielding exponential benefits.”
To promote education, the “Hips Don’t Lie” singer is part of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence of Hispanics, which pushes to reduce or eliminate disparities in education, health and wealth among the Latino population in the United States.
The key, Shakira said, for Hispanics to be successful in the U.S. is learning English fluently while maintaining their native fluency in Spanish.
“Being bilingual is a competitive business advantage,” she said. “Particularly for Hispanic students – which make up the majority of the English learner population – limited English proficiency in the early years is associated with low achievement and other poor school outcomes.”
Shakira, who speaks Spanish, Portuguese, English, some French and Italian and is picking up Catalan, said languages open the doors to other cultures in a way that nothing else can.
Hispanic students in the United States have that advantage, but it needs to be fostered from an early age.
“Latino students need to be empowered for academic success, starting from early education,” Shakira said. “It is time to get stronger in our commitment to reduce inequity by expanding educational opportunities for all. Their success or lack of success will have enormous consequences in the future of our society as a whole.”