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While Afghanistan has made great strides toward development in recent years, access to education remains a challenge. According to statistics from the American Central Intelligence Agency, less than one-third of Afghans are literate. The figure drops to about 12 percent among women. A lack of access to education remains a primary hurdle for young boys and especially girls. Cultural friction also prevents young women from attending classes and forces them to do so either secretively or not at all.
In order to confront some of the barriers to education for both girls and boys in Afghanistan, BRAC, a civil society organization, has developed a few key programs over the course of the last 13 years. In order to address cultural concerns, for example, BRAC has teamed with community shura leaders and Afghan government officials to shift norms, such as early marriage and a culture that does not push education for girls.
In 2002, BRAC began providing educational programming in Afghanistan through two dozen schools that provided access to education for nearly 800 young women who did not previously have the opportunity to attend classes. The courses help young women to catch up sufficiently to rejoin public school at the fourth and fifth grade levels. BRAC also understands that training teachers is necessary to ensure students’ success. The organization has worked with public school teachers across the country to train them in the latest advancements in math and science curricula. The two-week training classes prepare teachers to return home and train other instructors in their districts.
BRAC’s Community-Based Approach to Education
Many students in Afghanistan cannot attend classes simply because they are physically too far away from the nearest school. Students must often walk long distances to attend school, which has become a major concern among young girls, who are vulnerable to being attacked. BRAC has developed a practical program to address this issue. First, BRAC workers identify those villages that need a school because there is none nearby. Then, a representative from the organization travels to the village or contacts its leaders to discuss the advantages of having a local school. With permission from the leaders, a census is taken of children who are not enrolled in school. During this census, program representatives address the concerns of parents.
As the community begins to agree on the importance of creating a learning facility, village leaders nominate a teacher, who is then trained by BRAC. The training that the teacher receives depends on the particular needs of the community. BRAC has two models of community-based learning. The first involves Community-Based Feeder Schools, which target boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 9. Over the course of three years, the children receive the necessary instruction to enter the fifth grade. The second option, Community-Based Accelerated Learning, is designed for older girls who have never attended or dropped out of school. The program, which is taught in a small classroom setting, condenses five years’ worth of material into three years. In addition, BRAC provides reading material and school supplies.
The community-based learning model also includes Adolescent Reading Centers, which provide a safe place for young girls and other students who have completed their formal education to socialize with one another and continue to learn in an informal setting. At these centers, which are located in buildings rented by BRAC for this purpose, girls meet twice a week in the afternoon for two-and-a-half hours.
BRAC Continues to Expand Its System of Afghan Schools
BRAC is continually opening new schools for the benefit of students around Afghanistan in both urban and rural areas. Most recently, the organization inaugurated the Arabhai Paghman primary school in Kabul in July 2015. Students can now attend school in their own neighborhood, the Paghman district, without traveling great distances, which can be especially difficult in the hot summer months. A lack of access to education affects not only students in remote areas of the country, but also young men and women living in the capital city of Kabul. BRAC has worked in the Paghman district for seven years, primarily by training district teachers on various subjects, such as math and science. This sort of involvement has a ripple effect, empowering both individuals and whole communities to overcome poverty and push for advancements in social justice.
Prior to opening the Kabul school, BRAC inaugurated the Shaheed Mohammad Rasul Khan primary school in Jamali village, part of the Behsood District in Nangarhar province, in May 2015. The institution will provide continuing education opportunities for students from five community-based schools in the area.
BRAC’s Impact Outside of Education
Education is just one prong in BRAC’s efforts to fuel development in Afghanistan. The organization believes that any effective approach to development must work across a range of sectors and tackle multiple causes of poverty. Other programs include work in health, microfinance, national solidarity, and capacity building. Since 2006, the organization has operated BRAC Bank Afghanistan, which has supported thousands of Afghans through small business loans. By addressing some of the most fundamental barriers to wealth, this multidisciplinary approach to ending poverty has positioned Afghanistan for continued growth for years to come.