by Stephanie Cheung
Before the war in Afghanistan in 2001, who would have thought that mobile phones could be important tools for local education?
Today, in Parwan, Afghanistan, these new media are used to reach boy and girl students in rural areas under an innovative pilot project called GREAT IDEA.
When the Taliban lost power in 2001, the Ministry of Education began to put tremendous resources into improving access to quality primary and secondary education. The measures have made many improvements, yet Afghanistan’s average rural school enrolment rates remain low, and the gender disparity high: 27% of girls go to school, and 44% of boys.
Oxfam Hong Kong supports GREAT IDEA because strengthening the education system and improving its quality is crucial to the development of Afghanistan, which has faced decades of conflict, instability and insecurity. Three decades of war, civil unrest, poverty and repressive governments destroyed most of the country’s formal education system. The Taliban, for instance, forbade girls from going to school and women from being teachers.
The application of new media and technology into the field of education in the development context is surely on the rise, such as the Yoza cell phone project in South Africa, and I am excited that Oxfam is involved in this initiative in Afghanistan.
Another project component is the production and telecasting of video lessons by qualified teachers in rural areas. Students get a high quality education and at the same time, teachers get training. The following video illustrates how GREAT IDEA’s distance learning and consultation works.
Having female teachers is important in many ways. Given the repressive context of Afghanistan, women in a professional context can serve as role models for girl students and enable them to aspire to have a career, such as a teacher. (In recent interviews, most students want to be doctors.) This idea is working really well. At present there are three master teachers doing the recordings, two of whom are women and they do serve as role models for the girl students. Their lessons are broadcast on a daily basis in the 21 pilot schools.
GREAT IDEA does not aim to build more schools, but to raise the quality of secondary education in existing schools. It aims to reduce dropout rates through introducing interactive distance learning and the use of new media. One of our partners, the Dutch organisation Butterfly Works, has provided creative support and helped facilitate effective communication among all stakeholders.
To ensure that the educational content is suitable and useful, the teachers and students create the materials together, and the project website and other project information uses simple language to effectively explain what GREAT IDEA does. Fun learning makes effective learning. Since the project’s launch last year, measurable progress has been made: the teachers manage to get through the curriculum and students are having better grades.
I am happy that this project receives full support from the Ministry of Education. Should GREAT IDEA prove to be effective in the 21 schools where it is being piloted for two years, it can be expanded to reach more students around the country. That would make me even happier.
Oxfam Hong Kong has been supporting GREAT IDEA since March 2011. Stephanie Cheung is Special Projects Officer with Oxfam.