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Nanavi (2:48) Excerpt from film "Time for School", 2003
Nanavi, a young girl in Benin, has a rare opportunity to go to school.

Country: Benin
Related Lesson Plan:
  • Girls Speak Out

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    Guiding Questions
    1. Where does Benin rank in terms of literacy rates? How severe is Beninís educational gender gap? What steps is the government taking to increase female literacy?

    2. Without the government program, how would Nanavi have been educated?

    Background Essay
    Benin, in West Africa, has one of lowest rates of education in the world. It also has one of the worst educational gender gaps, with many girls out of school. For every 100 boys in school in Benin, only 75 girls were in school as of 2003. Nanavi, a young girl in Benin, would typically not be in school. In her village, girls usually worked for the local priests (the religion in her area is called vodou, sometimes spelled voodoo) rather than going to school. Now, because of a nationwide effort to educate girls in Benin, the head priest decided that one girl from each family may go to school.

    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.

    My name is Todénou Nanavi.

    I hate stealing and I always like to tell the truth.

    Once upon a time, girls in Koutagba, West Africa, were destined to spend their school years being initiated into the voodoo cult.

    Here in the French-speaking country of Benin, nine-year-old Nanavi would have spent at least five years under the voodoo priest's guidance and readied for marriage.

    But just this year the priest gave his permission for at least one girl from every family to go to school. Nanavi is that girl.

    The oldest of four siblings, Nanavi is the biggest help on the farm. Given the demands of work at home and the decree of the priest, it's unlikely that any of her sisters will ever join her in school.

    Since I work mostly on the farm, I want my daughter to choose a respectable job.

    I want my child to look like those nurses we see around here.

    Because there's no school nearby, Nanavi must leave her family during the week to live in her great grandmother's village about a mile away.

    Nanavi has been recruited as part of a nationwide effort to educate the girls of Benin, a country with one of the worst illiteracy rates (and biggest educational gender gaps) in the world.

    Key to this effort is the mediatrice. These mediators, all women, have to convince families of the importance of this mission.

    In Koutagba, the mediatrice is Regina Guedou.

    Now that your daughters are going to school -- aren't you happy?

    (sound of agreement)

    You're not going to overwhelm your daughters with all the household chores, are you?

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