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Shugufa: Struggle to Learn (3:30) Excerpt from film "Back to School", September 2006
Shugufa attends school where she studies religion, math, and language with or without books, and she has made it to the 6th grade surpassing the odds.

Country: Afghanistan

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Guiding Questions
  1. Describe Shugufa's classroom. What subjects is she studying in the 6th grade? What surprises you about her schooling?

  2. Predict whether Shugufa will be able to complete her education. What factors work in her favor? What factors work against her?

  3. What are the challenges facing the education of girls in Afghanistan's schools? Suggest a solution for one of the challenges.
Background Essay
Afghanistan has the highest primary school enrollment in its history, yet 74% of girls drop out before 5th grade, and the country faces a huge shortage of teachers for its female students. Shugufa's elementary school is so crowded it can only provide split shifts of three and a half hours a day for its students. What is taught reflects Afghanistan's Muslim society, so religion is taught as a subject in its public schools.

Many Americans assume that free public education is a fact of life, but that is not true for over 100 million children around the world. The 20th Century saw a growing divide as more and more industrialized countries embraced state-supported education, and non-industrialized countries did not. In the non-industrialized countries, education remained bound by traditional practices or was available only to the wealthy.

To address this problem 1,100 participants from 164 countries met in Senegal in April of 2000 to adopt the Dakar Framework for Action, a re-affirmation of the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All. One of the commitments made in the Dakar Framework was to ensure that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality.

While the Dakar Framework states that education is a human right, the reality for children around the world is very different. Education is often restricted by gender and/or income. In some places there is a shortage of qualified teachers. Some children around the world must cope with diseases like HIV/AIDS within their families, schools, and communities. Lastly, there can be a conflict between traditional values and the push toward education.

Securing government and community support for education has not been simple. Looked at historically, education has been a challenge that spans ages. Confined to the secular or religious elite for millennia, it was only at the beginning of the 19th Century that Napoleon introduced the concept of free public education, to foster loyalty to the central government. Enlightenment thinkers and their heirs stressed the importance of education as a foundation for representative government. Later, industrialization created the need for basic literacy for factory workers. At the dawning of the 21st century, quality free public education has now been achieved for the industrialized world. The challenge remains to bring it equally to all the world's children.

To put a human face to the global crisis in access to education, WIDE ANGLE filmed seven children around the world as they began school in 2003. This effort resulted in the documentary TIME FOR SCHOOL. The film crew returned to visit them again in 2006, making a second documentary, BACK TO SCHOOL.

Fully half of the girls in Kapisa province now attend school — more than the national average.

While Taliban pressure is shutting down girls' schools south of here, Shugufa's school has so many students it was necessary to impose a shift system. Now each girl is offered three and a half hours per day.

Hurry up. Go to class. Sit down.

Like schools throughout Afghanistan, Shugufa's school suffers from a severe teacher shortage — especially female teachers, who traditionally teach the girls.

I'm happy when the teacher is here. When the teacher isn't here we can't study. We go to school to learn something. How are we supposed to learn anything if we don't have a teacher?

When classes are in session, the sixth grade studies a basic curriculum of languages, religion, and math — with or without books.

In the name of God, the merciful. I start with the name of God, who is the most merciful and forgiving.

I love all my books but there are four subjects I like best. Religion, because our faith is Islam and it's important to know about it. Dari, which is our language, and history because it brings messages from the past. I also like English as it's an international language.

Despite its problems, Afghanistan has the highest school enrollment ever in its history.

But the drop out rate for girls is staggering — 74 percent of them do not reach the fifth grade.

Life is unpredictable. The future is unknown. I'm always concerned: will she be able to complete school? Will she be able to make something of her life? I'm always concerned about all my children, but especially her.

Shugufa has made it to the sixth grade, so she's already ahead of the curve.

She has her parents' support, her sister's example, and her own indomitable spirit to guide her. And she is personally doing her part to address the teacher shortage in Afghanistan.

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Related Links
Back to School on PBS.org

OneWorld PERSPECTIVES Magazine: Learning the Future

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Global Campaign for Education

CIA World Factbook: Afghanistan

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