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2008 – Afghanistan

Establishing and Supporting Safe Community-Based Schools for Girls in Afghanistan

Partner: UNICEF

Our Foundation’s funding of $100,000 for this project has ensured that 1,300 girls would be able to go to school through the establishment and support of 37 community-based schools and the training of 80 female teachers in child-centred and a gender-sensitive new curriculum. With this focus on training female teachers in Afghanistan and getting girls in school, the Foundation helped to spearhead the educational future of a whole generation. The focus provided access to education for girls who live in the 8 provinces of Balkh, Jawzjan, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Saripur, Logar and Kabul. These provinces are free from any Taliban-led insecurity.

The popular belief that Afghans have cultural constraints against educating girls is a myth. Instead, the 3 major barriers that prevent girls from attending school are:

    • Lack of adequate and appropriate learning spaces;
    • Shortage of female teachers;
    • Insecurity and safety considerations.

afghan_map

Background

Afghanistan has one the highest proportion of school-age (7-12) children in the world: about 1 in 5 Afghans is a school-age child. Afghanistan adopted a policy of free and compulsory education in 1964, but its implementation was interrupted by years of conflict. Under Taliban rule, girls were banned from schools. In 1999, only 3-6% of girls were in school. As soon as the Taliban rule was over, UNICEF supported the Back-to-School programme which continues today.

Between 2002 and 2007, more than 6 million children have been enrolled in school – 36% of them girls – the highest number of children ever to  attend school in Afghanistan. Despite the tremendous increase in net enrolment rates, close to 50% of children 6-12 years of age are still out of school. Primary level enrolment of boys is nearly twice that of girls. The ratio becomes even more dramatic in rural areas.

Currently, there are a total of 8,276 official government schools in Afghanistan. Of these, 4,054 are male-only schools and only 1,353 are female-only schools with another 2,869 being mixed schools. The number of schools that girls can access compared to boys keeps girls at a disadvantage. In many rural areas, no learning facilities exist at all and this remains a major constraint for school enrolment.

Today, education is a powerful tool for rebuilding the country. Education is the single most vital element in combating poverty, empowering women and promoting human rights and democracy. The people of Afghanistan recognize its value. They know that education is their best chance to shake off their legacy of civil strife, poverty and despair. They know it is their only chance to realize the hopes they have for their girls and boys. The Afghanistan Ministry of Education is particularly committed to tackling the barriers that prevent Afghan girls from getting into and staying in school.

Community-based schools

With formal schools few and far between, community-based schools offer children who live in hidden mountain villages or isolated communities in the desert an opportunity for education. These community-based schools will be supported with learning materials and curriculum texts recognized by the Ministry of Education, as well as basic supplies such as floor mats and stationery provided to the students and teachers. The project will also ensure that adequate sanitation facilities are available for girls. These schools will enable girls to access education immediately until a permanent local school is built.

The classes may take place in a mosque or a community hall but most often they’re held in rooms provided by members of the community.

Children who attend community-based schools are following the same curriculum as their peers in formal schools – including reading, writing, comprehension, math and science – just in an informal setting.

The quality of instruction in schools is largely dependent on the skills of the teacher. Afghanistan is faced with a drastic shortage of teachers, especially female teachers who are required by society to instruct girls beyond grade 4. The community plays an active role in identifying the persons most suitable to teach, usually a respected, educated woman who will receive additional training through our grant.

On average, each of these schools will have space for approximately 35 students. 75-100% of students in these schools will be girls aged 6 to 10 years.

Community support and involvement in promoting girls’ education is an essential element of ensuring access to education. Part of the cost of setting up the community-based school will go towards setting up and supporting the parent-teacher association. The project will work with community elders who have direct contacts with their respective school children parents and influential members of communities.

Working in shuras (councils), these councils are made up of community elders who represent the community. The education councils are important as they can make or break a school; if the school is to be successful, it needs to have the support of the community. If the education council is strong and supportive, the education programmes in the area will succeed. The education representatives also attend the jirgas (district council meetings) where they are given the opportunity to voice their concerns about the situation of education in their communities.

Safety issues in attending school: the community

There have been attacks on rural schools and of course they are of great concern; several hundred have been targeted in the last few years but these schools represent a minority of about three per cent of the total number of schools in the country. Schools are a visible sign of reconstruction and progress, and there are those who perhaps fear such progress. Even in communities that have been attacked, Afghans want the education of their children, including  that of their girls, to continue.

UNICEF works very closely with the government of Afghanistan and community education councils in each district to ensure the safety of school children, teachers and the school itself.

Why choose UNICEF as our partner in Afghanistan?

60 million girls chose to partner with UNICEF on this specific education project in Afghanistan for a number of reasons. UNICEF is the Afghanistan Ministry of Education’s lead partner in implementing its education strategy. One of UNICEF’s priorities is to remove the barriers that keep girls from enrolling in and completing school. UNICEF believes that removing the barriers to girls’ education is more complex than simply building schools and training teachers. It means addressing the wider issues within the community. UNICEF is a well respected organization in Afghanistan and its ability to work at the highest levels to strengthen systems, provide stability and build solid infrastructure that benefits children ensures accountability and results in the fulfillment of long-term commitments. This complements the effectiveness of programs at the local level.