Girls' education in Vietnam

“Girls’ education…is a primary issue in terms of breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and CEO of the group Save the Children, and this is especially true of girls’ education in Vietnam. Save the Children works in more than 120 countries to improve the lives of children and young people.

In Lao Cai province, one of the poorest regions in Vietnam, a significant number of girls lack access to basic needs. These needs include clean drinking water, toilets and basic education. Moreover, many women in the province suffer heinous human rights violations and have the highest illiteracy rates in Vietnam. Data show at least half of children 10 years old and older in Vietnam are illiterate. In fact, the illiteracy rates for girls are higher when compared to boys.

In primary school, girls’ education in Vietnam sees a high enrollment rate. However, it also sees a low attendance rate. In addition, many girls ultimately drop out of school. In more rural areas of Vietnam, low attendance rates increase due to lack of transportation. Transportation faces challenges like distance and damaged roads from wars. Furthermore, costs prevent many girls from continuing education in Vietnam. These costs include tuition and fees, plus textbooks, which are not free at secondary and tertiary levels. Instead of sending girls to school, many families more them to work and help the family. As a result, the Vietnamese government has been prioritizing gender equality and strategizing to improve girls’ education in Vietnam.

Making Improvements

The government of Vietnam has shown commitment to prioritizing and promoting gender equality. Nevertheless, the improvement of girls’ education in Vietnam remains a work in progress. To improve this, the Vietnamese government partnered with UNESCO and other developmental organizations. In particular, the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training worked with UNESCO to establish the Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam under the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education.

The Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam gives girls and women a platform in Vietnam to fight for their human rights. For instance, the initiative provides education, raises awareness and teaches leadership training.

As listed on the UNESCO page, the objectives of the initiative are:

  1. “Reinforce gender equality in the Education Sector planning and management to empower girls and women.”

  2. “Enhance the capacity of education officials, teachers and experts to mainstream gender equality in curriculum and teaching practices.”

  3. “Raise awareness of students, parents, community members and the media to support the enabling environment for girls’ and women’s education and gender mainstreaming.”

UNESCO and other development organizations contribute to fostering a supportive environment for girls and women in Vietnam, especially within the educational setting. In Vietnam, UNESCO aims to create a fair environment where males and females both have a future and benefit from an equal-gender system of education.

Fifita Mesui
Photo: Flickr

Open Air School in PakistanIn Pakistan, about 58 percent of the population is illiterate and 11-12 million children are working instead of attending school. But thankfully, a firefighter in Islamabad is working to help change these major societal problems in Pakistan.

For the past 30 years, Mohammed Ayub, affectionately known as “Master Ayub,” has held classes in a park near Pakistan’s parliament to educate poor children who cannot afford an education.

At this “open air” school in Pakistan, the children are taught a 1st to 10th grade curriculum, and are even taught how to speak English.

Ayub felt compelled to start teaching poor children after he moved from the agricultural town of Mandi Bahauddin, to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. In the city of Islamabad he saw small children in the streets doing various types of work such as cleaning cars, selling trinkets or begging.

One day after work, he approached one of these working children and told him that he would give him an education completely for free. The child accepted his preposition, and as word spread of his open air school in Pakistan, many more children began to enroll. Now, as soon as his work finishes at 3 pm, he goes to the park to teach about 200 students with the help of former students and friends.

Ayub himself pays for all of the students’ books, pencils and food.

Ayub believes education is extremely important for poor children because these citizens are especially vulnerable to developing into criminals and terrorists. In an interview with VPRO Metropolis, Ayub said “poor people; they need help. They start thinking negatively. They become thieves or plot bombings. That’s why I want to help them, so that they have an aim in life. They are our future teachers and doctors.”

His students are very ambitious and dream of becoming doctors and scientists. Before exams, they all gather in the park at night to study; when it gets chilly, they bundle up and study harder.

Ayub’s former students have gone on to attend university and secure well-paying jobs, and in the future, Ayub dreams of building a school for his students, especially because he hopes to incorporate computers in his teaching. In an interview with Al Jazeera he says that he wants to leave a facility behind after his death “where these children continue to get the light of education.”

Anna Gargiulo

Photo: Flickr

Noting her country’s unrelenting stance on its budget, musician Shakira will be opening her seventh school to provide better education in Colombia for impoverished children.

Since the 1960s, education in Colombia has changed drastically, with government funding growing ten-fold. In fact, because government funding has increased 5.75 percent in 2015, Colombia’s primary school enrollment has doubled, secondary school enrollment has increased six-fold and university enrollment has increased fifteen times over.

In 2009, the country’s Education Minister, Cecilia Velez, noted that high school enrollment rose from 400,000 to 700,000 in the past five years. However, it wasn’t always like this. In fact, much of Colombia is still catching up to modern times and is still striving to lower poverty that keeps children out of school.

Approximately 30.6 percent of Colombia’s population lives below the poverty line, and Colombia ranks as the tenth most unequal country in the world. Among those most affected by poverty and inequality are children. In addition, of that 30.6 percent, 42.8 percent are impoverished rural people, while 26.9 percent live in urban areas.

Although Colombia has made great strides over the past few years in reforming education, little has been done to accommodate children in poverty trying to go to school. Students have even resorted to protesting on the streets, demanding a better investment in schools and making education in Colombia a priority.

However, Velez noted that achieving higher quality and more accessible education would take a greater investment by the government, and with a strict budget going toward security and defense rather than education, little can be done.

To combat this budgetary issue, Shakira and her foundation, the Pies Descalzos Foundation, have been building schools around Colombia for nearly 20 years. The singer specifically chooses rural, impoverished areas where the government has little to no involvement to give children the opportunity to attend school. She has already built six schools, and this time she’s focusing on her home, Barranquilla, where 25.7 percent of the town’s population lives below the poverty line.

Teaming up with FC Barcelona and La Caixa Banking Foundation, 1.2 million euros will be donated to build the new school, which will be named “Institución Nuevo Bosque.” The Colombian Ministry of Education and the City of Barranquilla have also volunteered to donate the remaining balance of the project.

Shakira noted that by providing education to children shackled down by their economic status, they are being liberated and having their minds opened to things they could never have imagined. In addition, the singer hopes that the opening of a new school will help provide jobs, security and peace to the conflict-ridden town.

With the construction of her seventh school, set to be finished in 2019, Shakira will be providing education in one of the darkest corners of Colombia.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Flickr

Many facets of life in North Korea are kept secret from the world. The business conducted in the nation is very classified, but what about its school systems? How are the youth of North Korea educated?

Education in North Korea is based on socialistic ideals and an efficiency-oriented school system with emphasis on Korean language, mathematics, literature, and the Kims.

Features of the system include 11 free years of education for children from the age of five through 15, no private schools and tight administrative control over the schools by the state administrative system.

Students are given a political education in the “Juche Doctrine” which outlines the Kim Il-sung ideology and revolutionary strategies, illustrating the importance and necessity of collectivistic activities in their nation. Putting these theories into practice are the basis of the North Korean school system.

Not to mention the leader of the communist nation, Kim Jong-un, forces his people to understand the importance of his family. According to a study by the  Korea Institute for Curriculum Evaluation, students learn more about the Kims and their history than any other subject.

Each North Korean student is required to learn about the lives of Kim, his late father Kim Jong-il, his grandfather Kim Il-sung and grandmother Kim Jong-suk for at least 684 hours during the curriculum. Jong-il and Il-sung lessons are roughly 171 hours each, while Jung-suk lessons are only 34 hours.

Why is the combination of Kim’s history and the three bases used? Simple — to help North Korea maintain its oppressive power.

Students as young as four years old are taught about the greatness of the communist ideology and their leaders, past and present, shaping their minds to believe in the North Korean way. There is an emphasis on math in order to help create future technicians, scientists and workers that the government can rely on to help achieve the nation’s goals.

Children are supposed to learn phrases like “Long live Great Leader Generalissimo Kim Il-sung” before “Hello, how are you.”

Uniformity is the most common characteristic among schools in North Korea, comparable to the government. Rather than living up to needs of the youth, education in North Korea more closely relates to the political system. Diversity and creativity in North Korean schools are rarely nurtured.

Overall, instead of producing creative and unique individuals, education in North Korea is based on producing more followers and worshippers of the North Korean regime.

Mary Waller

Photo: Flickr

Education in Yemen
On August 13, 2016, a Saudi-led airstrike killed 10 children at a school in the country’s northern region, and all were under the age of 15. Unfortunately, children in Yemen have become accustomed to this fallout from the civil war that has raged within their country since March of 2015. Currently, education in Yemen has become a crucial subject for the country’s youth, who struggle to continue learning despite the war surrounding them.

Here are some features of what education in Yemen looks like for millions of children today:

  1. On any given day, the number of children in Yemen who miss out on school exceeds 2 million. Reasons range from lack of textbooks and chairs to the destruction and militarization of school buildings.
  2. Children in Yemen often face grave danger both in and out of class. Students have been killed on their way to school as well as while attending classes, raising questions within families as to the safety of pursuing education.
  3. Staying home, however, raises further concerns. The fear of child recruitment is very real — children as young as eight have been counted by the U.N. as some of 1,200 enlisted to fight in the conflict. Education proves an effective tool for keeping children from the violent arms of war.
  4. According to the U.N., more than 3,600 schools have closed in Yemen since the beginning of the conflict in March 2015. Bombings destroyed many of these buildings, while many others are now used as training facilities for military forces. UNICEF currently estimates that it needs $34 million for its Back-to-School campaign to help rebuild Yemen’s education system, which includes building restoration, training, textbooks and provisions.
  5. In the 14 years leading up to the conflict, education in Yemen saw an incredible period of growth and improvement. Yemen’s enrollment rate rose from 71.3 percent to 97.5 percent during this time, an incredible stride, according to The World Bank.
  6. In July 2015, UNICEF and Yemen’s Ministry of Education trained 50 teachers and social workers to help children deal with the psychological fallout of living in the country torn apart by civil war. Specialized training in psychosocial approaches offers a healing hand to children growing up in war zones and helps equip them with the tools to deal with the violence.

In the midst of such difficult times, both teachers and students have proven that education in Yemen is a valuable thing. Although a large number of children currently struggle to find ways to learn, their path is becoming increasingly clear due to the hard work and resolution of educators in their country.

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr

 Female Leaders She's the First
She’s the First is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing scholarships for girls in developing countries.

The organization allows donors to directly sponsor the education of girls in low-income areas around the world. Research shows that girls at the secondary school level are particularly vulnerable, but thankfully She’s the First focuses on these girls and partners with local organizations to find potential secondary school level scholars based on academic merit, personal hardship and potential to contribute to the community following graduation.

The founders of the organization — Tammy Tibbetts and Christen Brandt — were inspired by their personal experiences with education and the power of a woman’s support network.

The education offered by She’s the First leverages these support networks to stretch beyond basic academics. The organization connects girls with support systems and mentors who teach them how to apply their newfound skills in their everyday lives, hoping that by being provided with such scholarships, the girls will be able to delay marriage and childbirth, avoid domestic violence, secure better wages and ultimately break the cycle of poverty.

Scholarships for girls are part of an overarching goal to achieve gender equality on all fronts. The United Nations recognizes the importance of girls’ education and have listed equitable education for all as one of its Sustainable Development Goals.

Research shows that investing in education for girls is not a futile effort; it increases both women’s earning potential and countries’ economic outputs. According to She’s the First, “only one in every five girls in the developing world finish primary school, and only one out of every three countries (37 percent) has as many girls as boys in secondary schools.”

Already, the United Nation’s previous Millennium Development Goals have made great strides in providing education for girls around the world. According to the 2015 MDG report, in Southern Asia, 74 girls for every 100 boys attended primary school in 1990. That number has now risen to 103 girls for every 100 boys.

She’s the First, meanwhile, has provided scholarships for over 750 scholars in 11 countries. According to their website, She’s the First has one main goal with their scholarships for girls: “We can transform a girl’s life if we help her be the first to reach her high school graduation, changing the trajectory of her entire life.”

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr

Makeshift school serves Calais refugees
When refugees imagine the amount of time they will be living in an encampment, they probably do not anticipate staying long — their minds already drift to a possible future beyond the camp’s makeshift walls.

However, as more refugees flee from conflicted countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Africa, these supposedly temporary living arrangements are beginning to become communities of their own. For a camp in Calais, France, mosques, churches, shops, a barber and, as of last month, a school can be found in the encampment for those passing through.

According to an article by the global campaign A World at School, the largest camp in the northern part of Calais and Western Europe is known as “the Jungle,” housing as many as 3,000 immigrants who wait in the hopes of gaining entrance into the United Kingdom.

Near the Jungle is the English Channel tunnel, known for its connection between France and England, which serves as a potential point of entry for migrants. Despite the danger and increased security around the border zones, migrants are willing to risk everything for the chance to jump on trains and lorries bound for the UK.

Meanwhile, refugees attempt to include aspects of normalcy into their everyday schedules by attending school or passing the time playing a game of dominoes. Makeshift tents and poorly constructed buildings make up the encampment, which is filled with people who have already survived the dangerous trek from their homes in the Middle East and Africa.

Today, it is not uncommon to see a school inside of a refugee camp, so when refugees started asking how to say French words or numbers, a makeshift school was created by Nigerian Zimarco Jones. It was soon up and running, staffed with the help of French volunteers.

Constructed from materials such as branches and wood panels, the makeshift school seats 20 students and faces a blackboard. Since its establishment in July, it has been given the name L’Ecole Laïque du Chemin des Dunes, which translates to The Secular School of Dune Way.

Mostly young men attend the school to learn both English and French and other subjects, but Jones plans to build an additional school for the more than 20 children and 200 women who live in the camp.

The current state of conflict in the world has displaced an astronomical number of children from their homes, wreaking havoc on their childhoods and robbing them of their education. Fortunately, there are opportunities that can be found in those temporary homes and stops along the way to their final destination — some place they earnestly look forward to one day calling home.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: A World at School, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: Al Jazeera America


The effort to educate the world’s poor is making strides with the United Nation’s new commitment to education, as well as the resourcefulness of people who see a need for their communities. The U.N. proposes that 90% of children have been reached. However, the majority of students are boys and many children who do not attend school are girls.

Getting to school is not the only challenge for girls. Part of the problem are the curricula’s textbooks that depict gender inequality. This is evident in countries like Thailand, Pakistan, Bengal and Kenya.

The stories, images or examples either do not include women or describe them in submissive, traditional roles like cleaning, cooking and serving men. The men are depicted as the ones who hold positions as political leaders, drivers, teachers or doctors. Often, history books leave out influential women in history or do not accurately portray the lives of women. For example, a Thai book shows only a man receiving a land title, when in reality a large portion of the women hold their own land titles. While these biases are subtle, studies have shown that they still reinforce negative stereotypes of women.

Rae Blumberg, who has done extensive research on gender relations in textbooks, insists that “When girls don’t see themselves in textbooks, they’re less likely to envision themselves doing great things.” There are already low percentages of women working in government and leadership positions in these poor nations. The textbooks only “reinforce, legitimate and reproduce patriarchal gender systems” that keep women out of these positions.

The lack of accurate portrayals of women in these positions can discourage young girls from getting an education or trying hard in class. However, educating women and young girls is the key to raising communities out of poverty. For instance, by keeping young girls in school, child marriage can be reduced. There are links between education and lower birth rates and birth mortality. Education can also protect children from diseases and malnutrition through the provision of health information, such as prevention techniques. With an education, girls can make a living and be positive contributors to their community, the economy and their family.

It is important to keep young girls in school. While changing cultural norms that prevent girls from attending school will take time, addressing bias in textbooks is a reasonable start. By replacing the textbooks or having conversations about the bias, more girls can succeed in getting an education that will hopefully eliminate gender biases.

– Katherine Hewitt

Sources: The Guardian, NPR, UNESCO Reuters Blogs
Photo: Fabius Maximus

In Pakistan’s largest province only 1.3 million children have access to schools. Balochistan is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran and known for being rich in natural resources. This area of Pakistan is also known for its extreme poverty and sectarian violence that has plagued the region for years. Recurring violence, along with other social issues, and deficits within the education department prevent children from attending school.

The failure to get these 2.3 million children back into schools will have disastrous consequences for their future. The main concern is that without an education, the cycle of poverty that has devastated Balochistan for years will continue. The Education Secretary for the province, Ghallum Ali Baloch also said that children in his jurisdiction also “score poorly on other social measures, including literacy, health, sanitation and access to safe drinking water”.

The Pakistani government released data saying there are over 12,000 schools and 56,000 teachers spread out across the province. Secretary Baloch also added that 2,000 schools are not functional and 3,000 teachers do not show up for work. To make matters worse, independent sources say that the government numbers are not accurate and the problem is actually much worse. Mujeebullah Gharsheen is the president of the All Government Teachers Association and he claims that closer to 6,000 schools are not functioning.

He also added that it is closer to 5,000 teachers that are not showing up to work. Gharsheen also brought attention to another issue: teachers, who lack qualifications, working with fake degrees. He was quoted saying, “A large number of teachers in [the provincial capital city of] Quetta and other parts of Balochistan have been working [with] fake degrees in educational institutions. Even in Quetta city there are 700 teachers working [with] fake degrees. They enjoy complete impunity.”

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: IBT, UPI
Photo: RAWA

Illinois Wesleyan University Addresses Human Rights
Each year Illinois Wesleyan University students have the option to participate in a May Term course, which is a one-month course intended to give students an opportunity to explore areas they normally couldn’t in traditional fall and spring semesters. Along with the classes, there are several other opportunities for students to get involved and learn more about a specific theme.

This year, the May Term theme is making human rights real. Through a series of activities, students can learn more about the topic. One such activity is a poverty simulation workshop, which gives students a genuine view of how those in poverty and extreme poverty live each day and also encourages action by discussing solutions to community problems.

Another activity promoted during this term is a “Mini Course on Community Action,” which is led by community leaders to teach students the basics of founding a successful community action campaign, including how to overcome obstacles and encourage others to participate and give back to society.

May Term also offers many volunteer opportunities to give students a better sense of giving back, including the Adopt A Meal program to prepare meals for a local homeless shelter, and Titan2Titan, a program designed to allow current IWU students to work with retired university alums for a day of service.

While May Term is often considered the “play term” by students at the university, it has potential to change lives and encourage a lifetime of service by allowing students to experience new activities related to human rights and giving back.

Katie Brockman
Source: IWU