Afghan Girls Hone Science Skills at IRC Schools
|Classes are in session at this IRC girls school in Peshawar, Pakistan. (Photo: IRC)|
A group of schoolgirls stand before their parents and members of their community in a village in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and conduct a series of chemistry experiments. In many other parts of the world this would be a routine school presentation-but not here.
The girls are Afghan and the public display of their new skills is a major breakthrough. They’re stars of a school, supported by the International Rescue Committee, which is helping Afghan girls make up for lost time and years of learning deprivation.
Many of these girls were born as refugees in Pakistan-their families having fled Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Others are more recent arrivals, whose families fled persecution under the Taliban and ongoing violent conflict in Afghanistan. These girls were barred from going to school during five years of Taliban rule and their mothers were not allowed to teach them or work at all. The IRC is doing its best to help them catch up.
Today was Science Day at the Abdullah Zaid Girls School in a small Afghan refugee community in Peshawar. It’s one of 38 schools and 55 community-based classes that the IRC supports in Pakistan refugee camps and settlements in our effort to keep education alive for Afghan girls.
The significance of the girls openly demonstrating their knowledge of science was not lost on their audience. And the teachers who spoke drew loud applause when they emphasized the contribution these girls would make in rebuilding Afghanistan when they return.
"It’s time for a change in strategy," said the IRC’s Heng Djin Tjik, IRC program coordinator in Pakistan. "There must be an emphasis on gender equity as humanitarian organizations assist Afghans in restoring their education sector."
Educators at IRC schools hope that through science classes, female students will look to careers in professions such as medicine and engineering.
"We’re celebrating Science Day to generate more interest in learning science among young Afghan refugees, many of whom believe it is above them," says Nina Papadopoulas, the IRC Education Coordinator. "We’re trying to promote the fact that science is relevant to their daily lives and we hope to encourage students, especially girls, to take interest in it and to seek careers in the sciences."
Science classes are offered at most IRC-supported primary schools in Pakistan and Abdullah Zaid is one of three schools with a fully-equipped laboratory. The IRC also employs skilled teachers who go through extensive teacher training. The IRC relies on a core group of 50 trained teachers, who in turn, instruct and support some 1,000 teachers in Northwest Frontier Province.
While maintaining its Female Education Program in Pakistan, the IRC is also working with other aid organizations to help revive the education sector in Afghanistan. "The aim is to transition emergency non-formal education programs into a comprehensive and sustainable education system at the heart of Afghanistan’s rehabilitation," says Papadopoulos.
The impact of such a comprehensive curriculum was evident today at the Abdullah Zaid school, where proud and confident young girls demonstrated knowledge not only of chemistry, but also of math, English and poetry writing. They also threw in some songs and comedy acts, and tackled weighty topics such as the relationship between science and religion.
In the coming weeks, more IRC-supported schools will celebrate Science Day - and the newfound freedom of their young female students.