At Teach For All we're committed to expanding educational opportunity for all children, regardless of background, gender, or postal code. Yet current events highlighting the particular challenges facing girls in countries around the world lead us to reflect on both the progress we have made to expand girls’ access to quality education, and the heartbreaking stories that show just how much there is still to do. The world came together to bring back the Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014—but, despite recent hopes of their imminent recovery, most of them are still missing. In the wake of that tragic incident, the global community has united to make historic investments in education, including a commitment to girls’ education that Teach For All joined along with 30 other international organizations.
We know that educating girls unlocks more than their individual potential. Educated girls have an outsized effect on the health of families and communities: If all mothers had an additional year of schooling, 160,000 fewer children would die from pneumonia. For every additional year of school they attend, girls earn 10 to 20 percent more when they're adults. And when girls and women earn an income, they’re likely to reinvest 90 percent of it in their families.
The global community has made considerable progress increasing the equity of access for boys and girls, but an enormous amount of work remains to be done in order to ensure that all girls are not only enrolled in school, but are getting the kind of education they need to achieve their true potential. An extraordinary investment—of not just money, but of human capital—is necessary to accelerate the pace of change. We need more leaders—in classrooms and schools and in the health, policy, business, and economic development sectors—who are deeply invested in eliminating educational inequity.
Our partners are doing remarkable work on this front. Their stories are numerous—here is one that our partner Teach For Pakistan shared with us:
Two fellows from Teach For Pakistan, Maha Arshad and Aroob Iqbal, taught English to ninth and tenth grade girls in a patriarchal community where it is not uncommon for a woman to go years without ever leaving her home.
The girls they taught are in many ways like teenage girls anywhere – enthralled with cell phones, dressing up under their burkas, curious about the world beyond their boundaries – but they face a plethora of restrictions that suppress their dreams to attend college and work for their community and country. Most expect to be educated only enough to be easily married off, often without their consent.
Maha and Aroob set out to show the girls and their families what could be possible for them. They invited female doctors, journalists, painters, and pilots to speak with their classes. They worked hard to improve their students’ academic proficiency and their confidence, and they introduced them to entrepreneurship, creative writing, art, and robotics. Finally, they invited their students’ parents to talk about their futures – first the mothers and then the fathers.
Aroob and Maha were overwhelmed by the emotion of the mothers. Many of them had not gone to school themselves and desperately wanted their daughters to be educated, but feared that their husbands would consider it a waste of time and money.
So the teachers called on the fathers and brothers of their students, asking, “What do you envision for your daughters?” The fathers’ responses surprised and moved them. Having witnessed their daughters become more confident and accomplished in Maha and Aroob’s classrooms, the fathers aspired for their daughters to be doctors, dentists, teachers, and religious scholars. For most, the only barrier was financial. Later, many of these fathers would follow up with Maha and Aroob to assure them they were working to keep the promise of getting their girls to college.
“We were sure we had witnessed nothing short of a miracle,” Maha expressed, “a true transformation in the community.”