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.

 

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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.