The article, “Invest in girls’ education to break cycle of poverty,” highlights the need for ongoing discussions and innovations to ensure that girls not only attend school, but also stay in school and receive a quality education. A meeting in New Delhi between UNICEF officials and editors in India focused on the fact that in India, 4.5 million girls are not enrolled in school. Rather than discuss failed attempts to improve female education, they shifted the discussion towards innovations in education that are improving girls’ access to school. They discussed community-driven solutions, such as free buses, that provide safe transportation to school for girls.
Like the talks in India, which focused on successful community driven projects, girls’ education in Guinea is improving due to mothers community groups. The article, “In Guinea, groups of mothers work together to keep girls in school,” provides insight into education in Guinea. Only 34% of girls in rural Guinea are enrolled in school and many young girls are forced to work to earn a living. As many of our blog posts have discussed, girls around the world do not attend school because of poverty, distance to school, shortages of teachers, violence, marriage and pregnancies. All of these challenges ring true in Guinea, as well.
To address the multitude of challenges facing girls in Guinea, UNICEF has partnered with mothers in villages to establish comités des mères des élèves filles or COMEFs. The COMEFs are associations of women that work to improve girls’ access to education. In addition to providing education for the girls, the mothers in the association receive training in community mobilization, negotiation and accounting. The associations work to ease parent’s fears about sending their daughters to school, they can address problems that arise in a school and they work with school and community leaders to make education a priority. The COMEFs provide multigenerational educational opportunities, as mothers learn new skills, which can generate income, and female children remain enrolled in school.
The COMEFs program, of course, is not a panacea for education reform, but it is one example of community driven programs that can greatly impact local education. This model, rather than depending on outside aid or increasing material resources by building schools, seeks to build local capacity by empowering mothers and educating their daughters.
Similarly, a UNICEF article highlighted a small group of committed villagers in Sangbast, Afghanistan, a community in western Afghanistan, who worked together to improve the educational outcomes of the girl children in their community. After a village elder donated land, the community constructed an all-girls school in the center of the village. By providing a local solution, the majority of the girls in the village are enrolled in school. While not every village has the money to construct a new school, this project highlights the benefits of utilizing local knowledge, resources and commitment to drive projects.
As I was reading the article, I questioned whether or not the school would have been as successful if it had been organized and built by foreigners. In this case, it seems that the community’s trust in local leaders allowed families to be comfortable with sending their daughters to a new school. Because there are many cultural practices and beliefs that contribute to low female enrollment in school, it is important that community schools respect and reflect the local cultural context.
Each of these articles highlights programs that are community driven. In development, we tend to look for solutions that can be implemented on a larger scale. While there are many benefits to scaling-up projects, it is also important for us to celebrate the small successes. As Dave mentioned in his post, Unrealistic Expectations, education reform is “is a supremely complex issue that requires systemic change across a broad range of issues, governments, cultures, and peoples.” In order for improvements to occur across, we must think globally, but focus our work locally. If we can shift our focus away from making huge changes for everyone, we might be able to implement strong, successful community programs that can greatly improve educational access in one village, town or neighborhood.
The Indian Express (2013, November 8). Invest in girl’s education to break cycle of poverty: UNICEF. Retrieved from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/invest-in-girls-education-to-break-cycle-of-poverty-unicef/1192505/1
La Rose, T., Shimizu, I., & Havyarimana, G., (2013, November 5). In Guinea, groups of mothers work together to keep girls in school. UNICEF. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/guinea_70811.html.
Madhok, R., (2013, October 8). An Afghan community comes together to ensure girls’ education. UNICEF. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/afghanistan_70611.html.