Thursday Feb. 27th, I went to hear a “Conversation” at the The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat on Sussex Drive. The conversation was called Education at the Margins: Reaching Children in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.
Here's a summary of the notes I took; I've been asked to report back to the Ottawa-CFUW UWHAW group later this week. Only three UWHAW members were at the event but the others are bound to be interested. I'm restricting my report to the points relevant to Afghanistan, though several other parts of the world were mentioned during the discussion.
A force for transformation
A force for transformation
The event was introduced by Khalil Shariff, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation: "The Aga Khan said this morning [on Parliament Hill in Ottawa] that education has a great transformative potential and is a force for pluralism and peace, especially in an environment of conflict."
Lois Brown, M.P., mentioned in her speech at the event that the P.M. had just signed a "protocol of understanding" with the Aga Khan. She said, “Canada has been among the top donors to Afghanistan, and education remains one of Canada’s largest sectors of investment in the country. It accounts for 25 percent of our development budget there."
"The importance of education is immeasurable," he said. "It is a vital tool for unlocking potential and for the evolution of mankind. Over 60% of Afghanistan’s population is made up of girls and women under the age of 30, who face overwhelming challenges." He said that education is "a powerful force for transformation that has an immense effect on improving health and gender equality and enabling peace." In 2001 less than a million children––and no girls!––went to school. Over 10 million children are now in school in Afghanistan, 41% of them girls, and this is a “prerequisite for peace.”
Investment in the future
Sharif Ghalib knows that there are long-term repercussions to what we do now. He felt that the more the Afghan people can get an education, the smaller the likelihood of insurgency. In some of the remote areas with a lack of access to schooling the population is “totally gripped by despair” and this provides fertile ground for terrorists to recruit their suicide bombers.
Protecting the girls at school
In her speech, Lois Brown said that quality education for children in safe and secure schools is “a building block we cannot afford to ignore.”
Diane Jacovella asked what could be done about the safety and security of children going to school in Afghanistan.
Sharif Ghalib spoke of his country's “gloomy past.” Insurgency lingers; low-intensity fighting has never gone away and takes its toll on basic services. There are limits as to where you can build new houses and schools. However, the international community has come to the rescue, and Afghanistan has benefitted from global solidarity and the long held consensus that things must change.
Alice Albright pointed out that we need to work with the parents to make them see the point of their children’s education, especially if there’s a choice between sending their children to school and sending them to work. But you also need a proper infrastructure, with schools not too far to reach on foot, with adequate washroom facilities for girls, security from harassment, etc. The GPE will help to fund these things.
Structure and planning
David Morley recently met a Syrian refugee girl who had forgotten how to read. UNICEF has initiated the “No Lost Generation” campaign, also relevant to Afghanistan. He also spoke about the choice of a curriculum being "highly political." He added that there’s a need for both “hardware and software” in education, i.e. investment in teacher training as well as in the buildings. Secondary (“quality education”) as well as primary education in these countries has to be a shared goal.
Sharif Ghalib told us that the Afghanistan government is now insisting on a nationwide education system with a common curriculum.
Alice Albright pointed out that what you don’t measure you can’t manage. There needs to be an investment in tools that define the target outcomes and in data management. This is the new focus of the GPE. She said that the focus in future has to be on tertiary education, and in general there must be a “holistic approach.”
Diane Jacovella, summing up, said that we need to be ambitious, we need to protect children, we need to foster a true partnership between all the players, we need to shift the outcomes and measure what we do.