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Why is remote learning a challenge for a girl?

By Pashtana Durrani

When we talk about girls’ education. We often think of girls dressed in black uniforms white headscarves and backpacks. But that was a trend a year ago. Today we are a country facing the second wave of COVID-19. Students are advised to stay at home self-study or learn remotely. Now advising that is something we need to consider before we recommend remote learning as to what is the ground reality? 

Afghanistan as a country has been challenged on the educational front. Girls are unable to enroll in public schools for multiple reasons. The ones that do drop at some point in their life due to any social constraint. According to UNICEF  3.7 million children are out of school, 60% of them being girls.But today let’s go through a day to day life of a girl who needs to learn remotely cause she cannot attend school due to COVID-19 or insecurity. 

Girls usually help out their mother with daily chores at home(which is a good thing only if we made boys do the same duty too). But apart from chores girls look after children in their house and an Afghan household always has children. Now let’s get back to the fact there is this inequality in our households that we don’t like to address. Boy v/s girl. A son has to go out so he needs a cell phone, can have a Facebook account to connect with his friends and have what we call “digital freedom”. But for a girl well that’s sensitive. USAID claims 80% of women have access to cell phones. But let’s evaluate it: imagine being in Helmand where networks don’t work after 6 pm. How can women access phones, even if they do, how do they access networks to learn remotely. 

A girl shouldn’t have a phone, a digital tool. What would she need a phone or tablet for? Why would she want to connect with her friends? She has to marry someday. Good girls don’t use phones (I have heard that a million times on my field visits). Now a girl who is told to learn at “home”. How would she access learning via digital tools like a phone/ tablet? 

Our system is good at proposing plans and ideas that work in a setting where gender isn’t the leading factor in accessing learning opportunities. As an activist one has to understand you cannot approach people and tell them what to do. They have a perfectly working plan in place for their life. They don’t need you or your views to direct them. All you need to do is focus on gaps that we can find a solution for. 

A girl is 4 times less exposed to learning tools than a boy. One needs to understand that the context Afghanistan works in. We need to connect with communities on grassroots levels. Talking to them addressing their needs before implementing “your donor-focused projects”. Our agenda is always how to qualify for more funding. More “different approach”. We forget that people who are supposed to be served nobody asked them their needs. Nobody focused on if a girl can afford a digital tool to learn remotely. Nobody focused on the fact that the girl needed approval to even use the tablet. Girls accessing learning materials through TV or tablet should be kept in mind before we present our great or “different ideas” to find a solution for the current educational crisis. Next time we approach the “international community” using girl pictures to get funds to keep in mind we are responsible for those girls. Their needs to learn in a safe space or remotely. 

We have been adjusting our needs according to donor specifications. It has led to neglecting and ignoring our community-level needs. Not only that challenges the literacy rate in Afghanistan but also challenges development in the long term. Using pictures to just get funding won’t help us when there is no chance to innovate or use the funds to maximize its impact. Afghanistan struggles with corruption but most importantly with limited vision and no pragmatism we can beg for schools. But we barely answer the question that students who enroll in school learn nothing. The majority don’t even know how to write their names.FOCUS on community needs instead of donor needs.

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