New horizons for Afghan girls
Community-based education opens doors to brighter future
By Sohaila Khaliqyar
PANJSHIR, Afghanistan, 30 October 2016 — “My parents argued a lot and wanted me to get married. That was before I came to school,” says 16-year old Hasiba who recently transferred from an Accelerated Learning Centre to a formal school in Panjshir province, about 120 kilometres northeast of the capital Kabul.
Like many other provinces in Afghanistan, the isolated mountainous terrain in Panjshir has complicated access to schools and harmful traditional practices have long impeded girls from getting an education.
“At first, my parents were not eager to send me to school because our home is 30 minutes away by foot from the closest school. Also, I had to do house chores,” says Hasiba. “But luckily, when an [accelerated learning] centre opened in the village close to my house, I was eventually allowed to attend.”
In 2011, UNICEF Afghanistan, with support from the German Committee for UNICEF, established more than 380 Accelerated Learning Centres in 12 provinces across the central region of the country. They were accompanied by community outreach activities that emphasized the benefits and importance of girls’ education to encourage families and communities to send them to school.
In Panjshir, more than 90 per cent of the students in the centres were girls and most of them have since transitioned to the formal school system. Hasiba is one of them.
Located primarily in remote areas, Accelerated Learning Centres are part of UNICEF-supported community-based education programmes that give children and adolescents a second chance at education closer to home in under-served communities that have been affected by insecurity, lack of transportation, displacement, or inadequate education infrastructures.
Bridging the gap
For Hasiba, attending the centre was a game changer.
The education she received and the personal growth she demonstrated convinced her family to allow her transition to a formal state school.
“When I was studying at the centre, I used to come home and share what I had learned during the day with my family. There was also a positive change in my behaviour at home and with my neighbours, so my parents, especially my father, actually ended up encouraging me to continue my studies in the formal school system,” she explains.
This has benefited her family and community, too.
“My younger sisters are seven and eight years old. I teach them reading and writing every night to prepare them for when it’s their turn to join the learning centre,” says Hasiba, who still also helps with the housework at the end of every day. Her mother works on the farm and her father is a shop owner.
Many of Hasiba’s classmates have similar stories to tell.
“Since I joined the formal school, I have bigger dreams and now, finishing 12th grade will not be enough for me. I really want to continue to get a higher education and hopefully become a doctor,” says 17 year-old Zohra who integrated the formal school system two years ago and will graduate in four years.
Because Zohra transferred from an Accelerated Learning Centre, she is older than some of her classmates who have been in the formal school system from the start, a common pattern among children and young people from remote areas This doesn’t seem to bother her in the least.
“I am happy here. There are so many girls and I’ve made a lot of friends in my class,” she says.
The German Committee for UNICEF currently supports 108 Accelerated Learning Centres in hard-to-reach areas in six provinces in the central and western regions of Afghanistan, with an enrollment of about 2,700 students. The programme in Panjshir province was completed last year with the majority of students transferring to the formal school system.