Depending on a child’s geographical location, formal education is either required by the law or nearly impossible to obtain. Unfortunately, this latter option is the sad reality for many young girls who live in areas of the developing world today.
Early this year in Sierra Leone, Minister of Education Minkailu Bah enacted a ban that made it impossible for pregnant girls to take their exams, effectively putting a halt to their education. Female students face additional hindrances concerning their schooling, which range from family and societal disapproval to bullying and sexual harassment that often takes place at school.
All of these factors contribute to the high drop out rates of girls in developing countries. When laws and customs openly discriminate against female students, what hope does an adolescent girl have of completing her education and reaching her full potential?
Luckily there are many who believe in the importance of female education and are actively providing it to empower every young woman, no matter where she lives or what barriers stand in her way. According to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder and chairperson of BRAC, “Educated girls turn into empowered women, and as we have seen […], the empowerment of women leads to massive improvements in quality of life for everyone, especially the poor.”
BRAC is a developmental organization that focuses on alleviating poverty by empowering the impoverished predominantly through educational programs. This organization is the world’s largest private, secular education system, and 1.14 million children are currently enrolled in their 38,000 pre-primary and primary schools. Operations began in Bangladesh in 1972 and services are now provided in eleven additional countries.
Unfortunately, the traditional model of school is no longer adequate for the large number of girls who have been forced to stop their education, and BRAC has formulated an innovative new approach to circumvent this challenge. Instead of trying to convince girls to return to their old schools, which can be extremely difficult and financially costly, BRAC provides “study clubs” for girls to continue their education in a safe environment.
This pilot program in Tanzania already has 150 study centers in place, and is currently reaching almost 2,000 girls who have either dropped out of secondary school or who have not passed the primary school exit exams. Clubs meet five times per week, and lessons consist of academic tutoring as well as life skills classes. The academic portion focuses mainly on Mathematics, Science and English while life skills sessions educate the young women about hygiene, sexual and reproductive health, HIV, and pregnancy and marriage, and more.
The clubs are located within walking distance of the girls’ homes, and a community tutor — a recent female graduate of secondary school — leads the groups. BRAC has also begun to conduct meetings with the community members as well as the parents to stress the importance of female education and ensure the success of the program.
BRAC financially contributes to the study clubs by providing stipends to the community tutors, who are selected from the organization’s existing microfinance groups and livelihood programs. Monthly refresher courses are also offered to them. Self-taught textbooks are provided, along with educational materials for the students to use.
Although the program is still young and statistics have not yet been collected in order to test its success, Rafiath Rashid Mithila, senior manager of education at BRAC International, believes that these study clubs are having a positive impact in the area. Mithila stated to the Guardian that BRAC aims for “a holistic approach that will give the girls a second chance at education and make them more aware of their capabilities. The combination of education and life skills along with parental awareness will help them reach their potential.”
Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, girls in the developing world are still managing to receive an education, thanks in part to programs such as the study clubs sponsored by BRAC. In the future, clubs could be implemented in other countries where girls have been shut out of the formal education system, still giving them every opportunity to succeed.