Education is a Girl's Best Friend
Imagine you are a 8 year old Malien girl. Chances are you spend your days helping your mother pound
millet or working in the fields. The thought of going to school never crossed yours or your parentsí minds.
The closest school is over 8 miles away, and you'd have to cross through 2 streams and 3 villages to get there. A few of the boys in your village make the long journey and come back with little books that they scribble in, but there seems to be no major change or reason for more children to go as well. The boys that do attend only go until the age of 12, since the schools only reach up to the 6th grade. After that they go back to the usual daily life in the village or some leave all together to look for more schooling in bigger cities.
Sample lesson plan that is simple and needed for the whole village:|
Water pollution is a big problem in most villages who depend on the streams for all their water needs. The SAGE workshop developed posters illustrating basic connections that people don't normally think of. When villagers allow their cows and sheep and dogs to graze near or drink from the streams, their excrement is carried off into the water. Many people also use the stream banks as a toilet since they don't have toilets of their own. This is the same water that they use to drink, to bathe, and to wash their laundry and dishes. The lesson simply illustrates the problems and how they are caused. It then suggests simple alternatives people can use. For example one of the main problems of water in Africa is bilharzia (remember that blood fluke I thought I had caught during my trip to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe?) This blood fluke is transmitted by blood in the urine, and lives in rivers and lakes all over Africa. Something as simple as using a latrine instead of urinating in a river can help stop the transmission of this disease. Even though these lesson plans are being developed for the schools (which only go up to 6th grade), SAGE encourages students to share what they learn with their parents and friends who have not attended school.
My friends that I met when I went to visit the Peace Corps house in Sevare told me that only about 10% of the girls in the villages actually go to school. That must be why we've had such a hard time communicating with most of the women we've met in Mali. Most don't know how to read or write, let alone speak in French (the national language).
Basic education and girl's education are the responsibility of the public, private, and other sectors. Investing in girls' education benefits the individual, the family, the community, and the nation. These are the premises upon which SAGE (Strategies for Advancing Girls Education) is based. SAGE is an Academy for Educational Development program funded by US A.I.D. and an attempt to form international, national, and local alliances to combat the problems of girls' education. They have started projects all over the world from Guatemala to Peru to Southern Africa (hey, sounds like the world trek!...). Now, they are starting to tackle the issue here in Mali.
My new friend Kadiatou, or "Kadi," has agreed to take on this huge challenge by becoming the coordinator for SAGE here in Mali. Kadi got her PH.D from the University of Oregon in education policy management and was excited to read about the job offer. Here's an opportunity to work with something she believes in and be at home at the same time!
In just 3 months, Kadi, along with a group of local and international advisors have come up with an ambitious plan they will test in 60 community schools around the country. Community schools are schools built with the help of private volunteer organizations like Save the Children and World Education in villages where no schools exist nearby. Each village is required to hire a teacher, who is usually a local villager. Often, other villagers will work in the teachers' fields, as that is the only form of payment they can afford.
Kadi and her associates visited some of these community schools in order to develop a list of priorities for improving their education systems. On June 1st, they held a workshop where they invited the Malien Minister of Education to help develop models for the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. During the 3-day workshop, the team was able to develop 97 lessons.
The lessons are simple and basic so that they can be easily understood (see Sidebar). They have also developed color posters to go along with the lessons to help visualize their messages. In September, Kadi is planning a workshop to train people who will in turn go out to the villages to train the local teachers and how to use the lessons. The lessons are basic tools that everyone, not just the children in the village, can benefit from, explains Kadi. They cover such themes as the environmental, health, hygiene, nutrition, adolescence, and child development.
This is going to be a very challenging thing to change, says Kadi, looking at the next years of work ahead of her. But you can already see things improving. At our community meetings, the girls that have started going to school sit right up front with the boys and are just as vocal as they are. After this model is tested, hopefully it will spread to public schools all over the country.
For more information on SAGE contact:
SAGE Project Director and Senior VP
Academy for Educational Development
1825 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20009-5721
For more information on the project in Mali contact:
Ms Doucoure Kadiatou Coulibaly
c/o World Education
SOCIAL CHANGE IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
One of the main problems with development projects that we've come across during our travels numerously is that despite the good intentions, all too often the projects are ineffective. This is often a result of cultural differences and poor planning. Here in Mali it is very hard not to notice the overwhelming presence of foreign aid groups. The United States, Canada, England, Denmark, and a number of other European countries have aid projects geared towards improving the way of life for people in this poor nation, but it seems like they are far from achieving their goals. They don't address local needs, remarks Kadi in reference to the foreign development groups. Instead, they use their own plan, developed in their own countries.
Take Kadi's program for example. SAGE is funded by US AID. One of the many ambitious goals SAGE is hoping to achieve in the next 22 months is to empower female PTA members to be more vocal. In my opinion it's going to be really hard to try this. It is a cultural issue. When women and men are gathered together in a meeting place, the women will not speak up, Kadi explains. When we went to the villages to develop our topics for the community schools, the women always sat in the back during the meetings. To find out their concerns we had to approach them alone after the meetings. Some of the PTA meetings are held in the chief's hut, which women are not even allowed in. Her apprehension arises not because she doesn't believe in empowering women, but because SAGE has already admitted that there is not enough time to cover the other goals. For example, curricular revisions to include life skills from a gender perspective, girls mentoring and life skills, girl-friendly classroom practices, female teacher support, and community school and equity are those uncovered goals. Although Kadi is grateful that foreign aid groups want to help improve Mali, she agrees that development should be more bi-lateral. Even when you suggest an improvement or change in the plan, they still don't listen. I told them (the SAGE directors in Washington) that we shouldn't try to tackle the issue of women's empowerment in the little time that we have. They didn't listen. They responded positively, "Oh no, the women just don't know any better yet. When we teach them of their rights and train them as leaders, they will change." Okay, this I'd like to see! Kadi laughs.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
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