A view from Malala’s classrooms

On Malala Day, the International Rescue Committee takes a look inside its education programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a chance to remember that education is not a luxury — but a right.

Girls attend class at one of several small schools that were established as part of the International Rescue Committee’s community-based education program in eastern Kabul. Photo by Andrew Quilty/IRC

By Chiara Trincia and Frankie Parrish

Malala Day: Malala Yousafzai’s 20th birthday, and the international day instituted to honor this Nobel Laureate and international activist’s tireless fight for universal education ever since she was shot by the Taliban simply for going to school.

Today, five years after Malala dared to learn, 62 million children around the world remain out of school in countries affected by crisis. That’s 1.5 million empty classrooms, millions of pens and paper never used, millions of futures on hold.

In refugee settings, the situation is even worse: only half of refugee children have access to an education. The truth is, education is a life-saving activity, providing children with a safe place to learn and play — and providing them with essential life-skills. Most of all, providing education to children caught in crisis means making sure they have the tools to survive and thrive — to take advantage of critical opportunities for a brighter, more prosperous future for themselves, their families, and their communities. It also means investing in the peace, stability, and economic growth of their home countries today and tomorrow.

Boys attend class at one of several small schools that were established as part of the International Rescue Committee’s community-based education program in eastern Kabul. The majority are recent returnees from Pakistan. Photos by Andrew Quilty/IRC

From the Chibok girls in Nigeria to Malala and her peers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, girls’ education remains under attack worldwide. Girls are disproportionately affected by a lack of education in times of crisis: the first to be pulled out of school when a crisis strikes, and over two times more likely to do so than their male counterparts. But one year of primary education increases a girl’s income by as much as 20%. Educating girls — half of the world’s population — breaks cycles of poverty, boost social and economic development, health and good governance. That makes it one of the most valuable and effective investments a country can make.

Despite this great need, and the huge returns on investment education brings, it is woefully underfunded in conflict zones. In recent years, education has repeatedly received less than 2% of all humanitarian funding. What’s more, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2018 foresees a massive 53% cut to education funding, which means that millions of boys — but especially girls, combined with the halving of gender funding — will be condemned to a limited future. At least 2 million girls would miss out on an education if the administration’s funding proposal for 2018 is enacted as proposed.

Young girls in the classrooms established as part of the IRC’s community-based education in Kabul. Photos by Andrew Quilty/IRC

In Pakistan, Malala’s homeland, nearly half of all children are out of school and the majority of these are girls. In Afghanistan, three million children — a third of the school-age population — are out of school and only one-fifth of girls ever complete primary education. Three decades of conflict has led to the education of successive generations of Afghan refugee children in particular being disrupted or forgotten. The future of these countries depends on the education of its young constituents.

That’s why the International Rescue Committee is working across Afghanistan and Pakistan — and dozens of other countries worldwide — to make sure that every child in crisis has a chance at a quality and life-changing education.

A student shows the storybook she received during a Mobile Bus Library visit. The Mobile Bus Library program provides access to quality reading material and library services, particularly to children from low-income families, to enhance their reading skills. Photos by Shahzad Fayyaz/IRC and PRP/IRC.

In Pakistan, the IRC has our largest education program: the Pakistan Reading Project (PRP), funded by USAID. This program aims to teach over 1 million children across Pakistan to read by 2020, including through the use of mobile bus libraries, that bring over 5,000 children’s books in English and Urdu to 300 communities in need — bringing the joy of learning and reading to those out of its reach. “One child, one book, a pen, and one teacher can change the world,” says Zakir Hussain, a primary teacher at one of the PRP-supported schools in Kashmir.

Girls attend one of the IRC’s community-based education programs in Kabul. On the right, Amir Jan and his daughter Farzana, 9, a student supported by the IRC in Kabul. Photos by Andrew Quilty/IRC.

In Kabul, Afghanistan — as well as Nangarhar and Herat provinces — we are working with the Ministry of Education on Afghan Children Read, also funded by USAID, expanding early reading and creating community-based education for Afghanistan’s children. As Afghan refugee returns from Pakistan and Iran increase — with as many as half a million returns expected in 2017 alone — providing essential services like education is as important as ever. “I like to learn the alphabet,” says Farzana, 9, a student in one of the IRC-supported community-based schools in Kabul. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she does not hesitate to answer. “A teacher.”

These programs are a lifeline to millions of vulnerable children — and a reminder that education is not a luxury, but a human right, with life-changing impact.

Learn more about the IRC’s work in education, and how to support us, at www.rescue.org.

A young girl at the entrance of an IRC classroom in Kabul. Photo by Andrew Quilty/IRC
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