Communities Prioritize Girls’ Education

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.

Sources:

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.

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Free school buses: a practical and transformative solution for Indian girls

As the 2015 MDG target approaches, nations are increasingly concerned with achieving universal primary education. Since the Millennium Development Goal 2 states the need for universal primary education, many states and aid agencies have focused their recent attention on young children. While primary school serves as the educational foundation, it is critical that states and organizations also focus on improving access to secondary school and beyond.

The article, “Educate girls to alleviate poverty” highlights the fact that primary school enrollment rates have improved, but girls continue to face challenges in accessing secondary school. The article further explains that gender gaps tend to increase as students age, citing estimates that women in South Asia have about half as many years of schooling as their male counterparts. Even though more girls are enrolled in primary school, it is critical for them to have opportunities to further their education in secondary school. The piece calls for greater emphasis on improving access to education, specifically post primary schooling for females.

The article, “Bringing education to girls, on buses,” focuses on a practical solution to the issue of access. Pranab Saikia explains that many girls from rural villages surrounding Gurgaon, a city near New Delhi, were forced to leave school early because lacked a safe way to travel to school. Recognizing that it is not necessarily practical or realistic to build schools in every village for teenage girls, a local resident, Rakesh Daultabad raised money to provide free buss services for the young women. To date, three buses transport approximately 350 young women from their rural homes to their school in the city. This article highlights the fact that sometimes in education, the solution can be as simple as providing a school bus in order for students to safely travel to school.

After reading this article about buses, I was first struck by how such an obvious and simple solution can have a dramatic influence on a young woman’s life. While bus services are a practical solution, I would have liked to know how the founder, Rakesh Daultabad gained the trust of parents to transport their children. I would imagine that many parents would be skeptical of permitting their daughters from traveling to the city with strangers, especially males.

Additionally, while I agree that access to education and school enrollment is important, it is only one aspect of education reform. Attending school is not enough. It is imperative that students receive a high quality education in school. Simply transporting to student to school is not enough to ensure that they develop the necessary skills to become successful adults in the future. Schools must be improved and teachers must deliver quality lessons and learning opportunities. The Azim Premji Foundation is working to address the issue of quality in India through teacher training programs, curriculum building, school leader training and examination reforms.

In order for us to truly reform global education, and specifically education for girls, we must value and implement both practical approaches, such as Daultabad’s buses, to increase access, as well as the Azim Premji Foundation’s approach to improve the quality of schools, teachers and administrators. If we can focus on both access and quality, then there will be potential for true reform.

Sources:

Chelala, Cesar (2013, October 19). Educate girls to alleviate poverty. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/19/educate-girls-to-alleviate-poverty/.

Saikia, Pranab (2013, November 10). Bringing education to girls, on buses. Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-10/gurgaon/43885288_1_20-villages-girl-students-higher-education.

New all female university in Saudi Arabia

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

In 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia created the Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh, the largest women’s university in the world.  The article, “This gorgeous campus is the world’s largest women’s university – and it’s in Saudi Arabia,” highlights the many design features of the 32 million square foot university.

The campus includes sporting facilities, a medical center, research centers and a K-12 school and because of its architectural design, women are permitted to de-veil on the campus. The buildings were designed to meet the structural needs of modern learning with an emphasis on flexible space and environments that are conducive to team-based learning. The university’s design combines modern design elements with a traditional aesthetic to ensure that women can learn in an environment that respects cultural practice.

While the university is celebrated as a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s push for improved female education, simply providing high quality education does not immediately lead to change for women in the workforce. Abeer Allam in the article “Saudi Arabia’s women graduate’s hit ‘walls of tradition,’http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020619/this-gorgeous-campus-is-the-worlds-largest-womens-university-and-its-in-saudi-arabia#1” highlights to challenges that face female university graduates in Saudi Arabia. Despite a recent emphasis on increased female participation in the economy, he explains that “educated women, whether graduates of local or overseas universities, face a daunting mismatch between their skills and available jobs when they return home or leave education.” Often times, female graduates are not hired due to traditional cultural norms, as well as the high cost to employ women due to gender segregation accommodations that companies must implement. In order for women to become fully integrated into the economy, steps must be taken to ensure they are employed.

The article further explains that Saudi Arabia is increasingly emphasizing female education as a means for modernization and economic diversification. While the idea of modernization is typically viewed as a positive step for development, we must tread with caution to make sure that modernization is not a movement to become more western. PNU, in its architectural design and services, seems to be providing students with a quality education that considers local practices, though despite this, women continue to face issues with unemployment.  Hopefully, by equipping females with marketable skills and knowledge, PNU will serve as a catalyst for change by enabling women to become not only employed, but at a level that matches their training.

Too often education and literacy (which can encompass a broad range of skills) are viewed as a panacea for change. While improving girls’ access to education is critical, education is simply a means for achieving change. Education enables change, but does not automatically fix problems. In the case of Saudi Arabia, by establishing a world-class female university, the country is taking a step towards increased female opportunity in the formal economy. As Schwartz stated, “PNU is both beautiful and a place from which larger things might spring.” If Saudi Arabia truly wants increased female participation in the formal economy, further steps must be taken to make their education worthwhile.

Sources:

Allam, Abeer (2013, October 20). Saudi Arabia’s women graduate’s hit ‘walls of tradition.’ The Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fd900f22-1af5-11e3-87da-00144feab7de.html#axzz2jsaaBwnA.

Schwartz, Ariel (2013, October 29). This gorgeous campus is the world’s largest women’s university – and it’s in Saudi Arabia. Co.Exist. Retrieved from http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020619/this-gorgeous-campus-is-the-worlds-largest-womens-university-and-its-in-saudi-arabia#3

Deceptions in Educational Statistics

As 2015 quickly approaches, nations are seriously examining their progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Cameroon has been highlighted for their success in increasing primary school enrollment to 88%, though further investigations indicate that this figure does not accurately capture the gaps between male and female enrollment rates. The article, “Cameroon’s girl-child education efforts limping” sheds light on the challenges facing young girls in Cameroon.

Currently, a large imbalance in enrollment persists. 94% of boys aged 6-14 are enrolled in school, compared to 80% of girls. This inequality increases in rural areas of Cameroon, specifically the Far North Region where only 17 in 100 girls are enrolled in primary school. These glaring inequalities pose a great challenge for Cameroon to overcome before they can meet the Millennium Development Goal for universal primary school. These statistics indicate that Cameroon may not be on track for meeting the Millennium Development Goals and the Education For All goals, both of which emphasize universal enrollment.

Many cultural factors impact girls’ access to education. In cases of extreme poverty, where family resources are limited, parents often will choose to educate sons over daughters. Many young girls in the region marry early and the belief that girls do not need schooling exists in many rural villages in the Far North Region. In order to increase girls’ access to primary schools, the government of Cameroon has partnered with the government of Japan and UNICEF to build “female-friendly” primary schools. While it is important to create educational environments where girls can thrive, simply providing girls with a schooling facility does not address the underlying cultural beliefs that prevent girls from attending school.

MTN Cameroon, one of the largest telecommunications companies in Africa, has launched an initiative in the Far North Region to address lagging female enrollment in primary schools. Through a series of fundraisers, the company plans to sponsor 2,100 girls age 6-15 for the next six years. By sponsoring their education, the company seeks to ease the financial burdens that prevent families from enrolling in school.

While the intentions behind this project might be good, it is critical to examine how development projects are implemented, rather than simply thinking about why they are implemented in communities. If development projects are not implemented well, they can cause unintended harm to communities.

The MTN project, while it provides a short-term solution, is not sustainable in the long run. After the six-year sponsorship ends, how will these girls (and future girls in these communities) access education? By simply providing funding, the program is not building local capacity to ensure that the project continues after the outside organization departs. After six years, these communities may not be better off, as girls many drop out causing enrollment rates to plummet. We must work with local communities to build projects that will thrive and continue without building dependency on outsiders.

Sources:

BizzCommunity (2013, October 30). MTN Cameroon sponsors over 2000 girls’ education. Retrieved from http://www.bizzcommunity.com/Article/38/98/102630.html.

Voice of America (2013, October 29). Cameroon’s girl-child education efforts limping. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/content/cameroons-girl-child-education-efforts-limping/1779044.html.


Beyond Access to Education

Despite recent gains in girls’ enrollment in Afghan schools, much needs to done to ensure that girls not only have access to education, but more importantly, access to a quality education.

In the article, “Despite gains, future of Afghan girls’ education remains uncertain,” UNICEF highlights the success of the Zarghona Girls School in Kabul. During Taliban rule, school founder Shaima Alkozai secretly taught girls in her home. Following the fall of the regime, she founded the school to provide females with an education. Currently, her school serves 8,000 female students ranging from first to twelfth grade. Many of the girls show high levels of commitment, enthusiasm and dedication to their schooling, but their experience in not the norm in Afghanistan. While Alkozai’s school is a picture of success in Afghanistan, UNICEF reports that many girls in Afghanistan lack access to an education, especially girls from marginalized populations, such as the homeless or disabled. While there is much to learn from successful programs like the Zarghona Girls School, we must continue to push policy makers to ensure that quality is an aspect of all schools, rather than a select few.

Similarly, NPR published a piece, “Are Afghanistan’s schools doing as well as touted?” to critically examine education across the country. The story highlights the challenges facing education in Afghanistan, specifically challenges facing Afghan girls. Cultural barriers, such as early marriages, continue to prevent girls from attending school, but even for girls who are enrolled, there are severe limitations to the quality of their education. Many schools lack female teachers as well as trained and qualified teachers, making it impossible for older girls in all-female classes to learn. Schools lack permanent structures and resources and some schools continue to face security threats and challenges. In order for the Afghan education system to have lasting effects, the system must ensure both access and quality for all students.

The push in the past decade to meet the MDGs and the Education For All targets have placed emphasis on school enrollment, and specifically increasing enrollment for girls. While getting girls to attend school is the first step, it is imperative that we shift the focus towards ensuring quality. Often times, schools are viewed like a black box, with little regard for what takes place in schools. Policy makers operate with the mindset that as long as students attend schools, individuals and society will reap the benefits of education. This mind-set is unacceptable because it essentially gambles educational outcomes and children’s futures.

In order to ensure that Education For All does not simply mean universal enrollment, we must make sure that students have access to high quality programs. Curriculum must reflect the local cultural context, schools must prepare students for future success in their communities and education must be equitable for all children. As the articles suggest, the work towards improving Afghan girl’s education is far from complete. Simply attending school is not sufficient. Until all girls, in both rural and urban areas, have access to high quality, equitable and fair educational opportunities, we must continue to examine, evaluate and improve on what is taking place in classrooms.

Sources:

NPR. (2013, October 24). Are Afghanistan’s schools doing as well touted? Retrieved October 27, 2013 from http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/10/24/240482395/are-afghanistans-schools-doing-as-well-as-touted.

UNICEF. (2013, October 28). Despite gains, future of Afghan girls’ education remains uncertain. Retrieved October 28, 2013 from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/afghanistan_70759.html.

 

Malala’s teacher fights for education reform

Recently, Mariam Khalique, a teacher in Pakistan and spokesperson for the Global Monitoring Report, spoke about her dedication to girl’s education in Pakistan.

In the article, “Malala was right to fight for her education,” Khalique discusses her views on education and her support for her former student and education activist, Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban.

At the start of her teaching career, Khalique explains that her school enrolled 1,000 students, of which 300 were females. While poverty and conflict contribute to low enrollment for female students, Khalique believes that many girls in her community do not attend school for cultural reasons. Khalique further explains that many families believe that a female’s place is in the home and as a result, girls do not have equal access to education.

Despite these cultural challenges, Mariam Khalique is working to change perspectives and practices in her community, stating, “These are crimes against humanity, that I have no choice but to decry.” Khalique approaches education as an innate human right. Education transforms lives and by providing all children with equal education, they will be able to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to improve their lives. By giving individuals the ability to make changes, society will experience greater long-term benefits.

While education typically refers to improving reading, writing, and mathematics, we must expand upon this tradition definition to make education more practical and valuable to communities. Education programs can also target issues such as citizenship, maternal and child health, nutrition, and sanitation.

The Global Monitoring Report states that “Education’s unique power to act as a catalyst for wider development goals can only be fully realized, however, if it is equitable…Education empowers girls and young women, in particular, by increasing their chances of getting jobs, staying healthy and participating fully in society – and it boosts their children’s chances of leading healthy lives.”

As we approach the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, it is important for us to consider the positive impacts that girls’ education can have on societies across the globe, but we must keep several points in mind: Are we creating educational programs that are culturally relevant to the specific communities they target? While Mariam Khalique explains that cultural perspectives in her community need to change, it is imperative that educational reforms and programs respect and reflect the wants and needs of a community. In order for education to have meaning and value to people, it must provide them with relevant skills and knowledge that will enable them to improve their lives. Whether it is health, nutrition or sanitation information, more job specific training, or literacy programs, we must move beyond the idea that one model of education will work across the globe and move towards increasing a community’s participation in the reform process.