The need for sola

 
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The State of Girls' Education in Afghanistan.

 
 

Afghanistan has made real and tangible progress in improving children's access to education since the fall of the Taliban regime, when just 600,000 children were in school. However, the number of children not receiving an education is on the rise for the first time since 2002: 3.7 million children -- nearly half the children in the country -- are out of school; 60% of these children are girls. In this report, we present an overview of the challenges confronting Afghan girls and their families, and demonstrate how SOLA's model meets these challenges by delivering an education unlike any other in Afghanistan.

 

Data referenced in this report were compiled by Human Rights Watch, The World Bank, and the Afghan Ministry of Education and UNICEF.

The numbers are stark, and they are only where the story begins.

 
 

Nearly 3 million girls out of school. A 63% illiteracy rate. 33% of girls married before their 18th birthdays. More than 40% of Afghan schools operating with no buildings more permanent than tents. An underqualified female teaching force. Girls at risk of violent assault -- with fists, with weapons, even with acid -- as they walk to and from school.

This is the state of girls' education in Afghanistan today: a reality driven by fragile security conditions, high poverty rates, a lack of well-trained female teachers, and persistent cultural norms that inhibit women's visibility in public life.

The past several years have seen a slow erosion in public support for girls' education: only 81% of Afghans agreed in 2016 that women should have equal educational opportunities with men, down from 91% a decade earlier, Many families, particularly in rural areas where the percentage of female students can be as low as 15%, must struggle against both this downturn in public opinion as well as the continued strength of traditional family practices that celebrate early motherhood and child-rearing.

In many cases, a girl who wants to attend school must first receive permission from her male relatives: not just from her father and brothers, but also from members of her extended family such as uncles and grandfathers. A girl (or a father) who chooses to ignore a relative's prohibition against education runs very real risks: SOLA has direct experience with a student whose father was warned that his life would be in danger if his daughter continued her education. This warning was delivered by the student's uncle -- her father's brother.

The nature and qualifications of Afghanistan's female teaching force is another impediment to equal educational opportunity. Seven out of Afghanistan's 34 provinces have less than 10% female teachers; in 17 provinces, less than 20% of the teachers are women. The impact of this lack of female teachers is most felt in a girl's adolescence, when many families (particularly in rural areas) will refuse to allow their daughters to be educated by men, preferring instead to withdraw them from school.

Afghanistan's small female teaching force is often extremely inexperienced, with many teachers having only completed a primary education. Classes may also be conducted in far less than ideal conditions: 41% of Afghan schools have no buildings, and classes are held in tents or completely outdoors. 60% of schools have no toilets or sanitation facilities, effectively making them off-limits to girls, particularly teenage girls.

Assuming an Afghan girl is given permission to attend school, and assuming she can find one with quality infrastructure and qualified teachers, she will still be at risk of physical harm during her travels to and from her classes. The risk of abduction is high in provinces where the security situation is tenuous, and cases of physical and sexual harassment in city streets are well-documented. There is also the very real danger of acid attacks: dozens of girls have been severely disfigured or even blinded by men or boys throwing acid into their faces, as a warning to other girls against pursuing their educations.

 

41%

the percentage of afghan schools with no buildings

60%

the percentage of schools without toilets; 30% lack safe drinking water

 

1%

the percentage of female teachers in paktika Province; in 17 provinces, less than 20% of the teachers are women

33%

The percentage of afghan girls married before age 18

 

91%

The percentage of afghans agreeing with the statement "women should have equal opportunities like men in education" in 2006

81%

the percentage of afghans agreeing with that statement in 2016

SOLA's boarding school model: safe, unique, and effective. 

 
 

SOLA’s boarding school model, unique in Afghanistan, is specifically structured to overcome the barriers to girls' education identified above.

Our students board on our campus in Kabul throughout the March to December academic year, thus mitigating the risks inherent in traveling to and from school daily. Our residential faculty provides round-the-clock guidance and supervision, and our intensive training program for our all-Afghan teaching staff ensures that each student learns from qualified teachers throughout her academic career.

SOLA begins the boarding school experience in 6th grade. This is a strategic decision on our part: not only is early adolescence a time of profound cognitive, physical, and social development, but a girl who remains in school throughout adolescence is much more likely to marry and have children at a later age. By giving each student the opportunity to focus on her studies, rather than managing a household for her parents and siblings, we increase the chances that she will successfully complete her schooling.

Our students come to us from 23 provinces, and at least 12 languages of Afghanistan are spoken on our campus. This diversity in our student body also reflects a strategic choice: addressing ethnic and religious tensions which contribute significantly to Afghanistan’s political instability. Our boarding program allows for student recruitment across all ethnicities, regions, and cultures. Our students are members of all of Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups and religions, and our intent is to enroll students from all 34 of the country’s provinces by the year 2022.

We intend that, when our students return home to their families and their birthplaces, they will be empowered to begin to break down the barriers to women’s visibility that exist within Afghanistan. We also intend that, in the long term, our students will graduate SOLA and attend regional universities where they will continue to develop their leadership and life skills. We instill in them the belief that they can impact their country; it is our hope that, once their educational careers are complete, they will return to lead Afghanistan into a prosperous and peaceful future.

 

SOLA Applications & Acceptance

Applications rose from 70 in 2016 to 130 in 2018; increased selectivity in admissions led to a 12% acceptance rate in 2018, down from 34% in 2016

In the Pashto language, the word "sola" means "peace". 

 
 
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In 2016, our first year as a boarding school, SOLA received 117 inquiries from Afghan families and 70 applications. In 2018, we received 800 inquiries and 130 applications.

These numbers, an increase of 685% and 185% respectively, inspire us: they demonstrate our successful growth, but they do much more than that -- they document a desire within Afghanistan to create a new path for a new generation. They document a desire to let girls learn.

We see this desire in the faces of each 6th grade student as she steps onto SOLA's campus for the first time. We see it in our older students who welcome their young classmates like sisters. We see it in our teachers and our staff who devote hours to rigorous training so that they can provide an education for girls that is unrivaled in Afghanistan. We see it in the mothers who put their children in our care, and in the fathers who accept personal risk so that their daughters may have the chance to grow.

In March 2019, the new school year will begin. We will welcome a new group of girls as 6th graders -- and as we do, our inaugural class of 6th graders, the girls who came to SOLA in 2016, will enter the 9th grade: the first 9th grade class in our history. 

"I will use my education to teach other girls how to be brave, and that they are very important in society. Today, I am here, I am brave, tomorrow another girl will be here and she will be brave like me." These are the words of one of our students, and she speaks for every girl at SOLA, now and in the years to come. They are the ones whose bravery has the power to change the world. We hope you will join them, their families, and us as we work toward "sola" in Afghanistan -- as we work toward peace.

 
 

You can make a difference in our students' lives.

 
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