Shah Mohammad is one of the elders of Takht Roi village in Afghanistan. Last year, when his wife became ill, he had to take her to Herat City to find a doctor. When they arrived in the city, he and his wife waited in an empty building all day, mistaking it for a doctor’s office. Finally, Mohammad asked someone about the doctor’s arrival. He was surprised and disappointed when the man replied, “This is not the doctor’s office. The doctor’s office is over there. Can’t you read the sign?” In that moment, Shah Mohammad wished he were literate and vowed that his daughters would go to school so that they could read.
In a nation ravaged by conflict for over two decades, it is not uncommon to find many adults and children who missed out on the opportunity to go to school and who therefore do not have the basic skill of functional literacy. Fortunately, the international community is increasingly recognizing that children and youth in emergency and early reconstruction situations have the right to education.
A Community-Based Approach
Improving access and equity for marginalized groups is one of CRS’ strategic priorities in education. The agency has made this a priority in Afghanistan since 2002 by supporting an Accelerated Learning program for rural children and youth who had previously missed out on schooling. Today, CRS supports community-based education in villages such as Shah Mohammad’s as part of the Partnership for Advancing Community Education in Afghanistan (PACE-A). PACE-A is a USAID-funded project that CRS implements in collaboration with the Aga Khan Foundation, CARE and the International Rescue Committee.
The program is meeting the educational needs of over 57,000 children (70% of them female) in over 1,000 villages. It is designed to establish classes in rural villages where there is no formal school. This is most important for young children and girls who often cannot walk long distances to attend school because of security concerns and the need to work at home. Establishing a community-based school allows children to be educated in a safe environment, from a teacher known by the community, and with a flexible schedule that does not interfere with other household responsibilities.
The way the model works is simple. CRS meets with the community to see if they would be interested in supporting a school. The community is then responsible for finding a space for the classes and identifying a teacher within the village who has a sufficient level of education. Particular attention is paid to identifying female teachers and encouraging the community to send their girls to school, as girls are still marginalized in many parts of Afghanistan.
Attention is also paid to the quality of teaching and community ownership. Teachers receive training in child-friendly and multi-grade teaching methodologies, subject upgrading, and methods for working with the community. School Management Committees (SMCs) are trained in how to carry out their responsibilities to better support the teacher and the school. PACE-A also works closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure community-based schools and teachers are fully integrated into the Ministry’s planning.
NYU Studies the Impact of Community-Based Education
Ongoing learning is an integral part of all that CRS does. To make sure that we continue to learn from our work and improve it, CRS is working with Professor Dana Burde, of New York University to study the impact of community-based education in rural areas. This research, once completed, should provide important insights into the effectiveness of this approach for children affected by conflict.
For Shah Mohammad, the answer is already clear. His daughters, who are enrolled in the second grade class in his village, have learned to read and write. And the next time he went to visit a doctor in Hirat city, he took one of his daughters with him to read the signs on the buildings. It is this significant change in his family’s life that gives Shah Mohammad the confidence to say, “Literate people are like fruitful trees that always yield. Everyone benefits from their fruits.”
For more information, contact Anne Sellers (email@example.com), CRS Education Technical Advisor.