Building capacity in Afghanistan – 40,000 more troops or 40,000 schools? Girls education.

BBC SarwaryShazia
BBC Sarwary

‘Good girls’

“I am Shazia and I am the only daughter of my parents. They always tell me that they want me to be educated because my parents work in the field all the time. We have a house in the mountains, but we don’t have water, wood and food most of the time. I have learned a lot. In my village everyone tells their children, ‘please learn from Shazia and attend school’.

“I love my school friends – they are very good girls.”

We know that investing in education, particularly for girls, can help re-buld a society.

There are several compelling benefits associated with girls’ education, which include the reduction of child and maternal mortality, improvement of child nutrition and health, lower fertility rates, enhancement of women’s domestic role and their political participation, improvement of the economic productivity and growth, and protection of girls from HIV/AIDS, abuse and exploitation. Girls’ education yields some of the highest returns of all development investments, yielding both private and social benefits that accrue to individuals, families, and society at large.

Lets think about arguments for investing more in education or increasing the number of troops in  Afghanistan. The following  is an article by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times
Dispatching more troops to Afghanistan would be a monumental bet and probably a bad one, most likely a waste of lives and resources that might simply empower the Taliban. In particular, one of the most compelling arguments against more troops rests on this stunning trade-off: For the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there.

It’s hard to do the calculation precisely, but for the cost of 40,000 troops over a few years – well, we could just about turn every Afghan into a Ph.D.

The hawks respond: It’s naïve to think that you can sprinkle a bit of education on a war-torn society. It’s impossible to build schools now because the Taliban will blow them up.
In fact, it’s still quite possible to operate schools in Afghanistan – particularly when there’s a strong “buy-in” from the local community.

Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea,” has now built 39 schools in Afghanistan and 92 in Pakistan – and not one has been burned down or closed. The aid organization CARE has 295 schools educating 50,000 girls in Afghanistan, and not a single one has been closed or burned by the Taliban. The Afghan Institute of Learning, another aid group, has 32 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with none closed by the Taliban (although local communities have temporarily suspended three for security reasons).

In short, there is still vast scope for greater investment in education, health and agriculture in Afghanistan. These are extraordinarily cheap and have a better record at stabilizing societies than military solutions, which, in fact, have a pretty dismal record.

Already our troops have created a backlash with Kabul University students this week burning President Obama in effigy until police dispersed them with gunshots. The heavier our military footprint, the more resentment – and perhaps the more legitimacy for the Taliban.

Schools are not a quick fix or silver bullet any more than troops are. But we have abundant evidence that they can, over time, transform countries, and in the area near Afghanistan there’s a nice natural experiment in the comparative power of educational versus military tools.

Since 9/11, the United States has spent $15 billion in Pakistan, mostly on military support, and today Pakistan is more unstable than ever. In contrast, Bangladesh, which until 1971 was a part of Pakistan, has focused on education in a way that Pakistan never did. Bangladesh now has more girls in high school than boys. (In contrast, only 3 percent of Pakistani women in the tribal areas are literate.)

For roughly the same cost as stationing 40,000 troops in Afghanistan for one year, we could educate the great majority of the 75 million children worldwide who, according to Unicef, are not getting even a primary education. We won’t turn them into graduate students, but we can help them achieve literacy. Such a vast global education campaign would reduce poverty, cut birth rates, improve America’s image in the world, promote stability and chip away at extremism.

Education isn’t a panacea, and no policy in Afghanistan is a sure bet. But all in all, the evidence suggests that education can help foster a virtuous cycle that promotes stability and moderation. So instead of sending 40,000 troops more to Afghanistan, how about opening 40,000 schools?

And some quotations from students trying to study in Afghanistan,on the BBC site

‘I want to be educated’

 

BBC Sarwary
BBC-Sarwary

Zarmina, 8, lives in the remote Sherzad district, south-west of the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. Sherzad is not far from the Tora Bora cave complex near the Pakistan border.

“I travel every day for an hour from my village to school. I am in class one and I can write my name. I have made a lot of friends.

“However, we can’t study most days because it’s rainy or windy. I want to be an educated Afghan girl.”

Yasamina, 14“I fetch water every day – it takes about an hour. But, I also go to my school. I walk with my friends for four kilometres every day but I like walking to my school with my friends. I want to be a nurse when I finish my school here.”

BBC SarwaryYAS
BBC Sarwary

Stories

“My name is Lema and I am from that village in the mountain. I walk for a long long time with my friends. I like coming to school because we tell stories among ourselves. “I don’t like it when it rains or is windy because we can’t sit outside, so we walk all the way back to our village. I don’t know what I want to be in the future, but I like teaching a lot.”

 

Lema BBC Sarwary
BBC Sarwary

Is it worth creating schools and giving girls an education? Just revisit the benefits:

  • Reducing women’s fertility rates. Women with formal education are much more likely to use reliable family planning methods, delay marriage and childbearing, and have fewer and healthier babies than women with no formal education. It is estimated that one year of female schooling reduces fertility by 10 percent. The effect is particularly pronounced for secondary schooling.
  • Lowering infant and child mortality rates. Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care, ensure their children are immunized, be better informed about their children’s nutritional requirements, and adopt improved sanitation practices. As a result, their infants and children have higher survival rates and tend to be healthier and better nourished.
  • Lowering maternal mortality rates. Women with formal education tend to have better knowledge about health care practices, are less likely to become pregnant at a very young age, tend to have fewer, better-spaced pregnancies, and seek pre- and post-natal care. It is estimated that an additional year of schooling for 1,000 women helps prevent two maternal deaths.
  • Protecting against HIV/AIDS infection. Girls’ education ranks among the most powerful tools for reducing girls’ vulnerability. It slows and reduces the spread of HIV/AIDS by contributing to female economic independence, delayed marriage, family planning, and work outside the home, as well as conveying greater information about the disease and how to prevent it.
  • Increasing women’s labor force participation rates and earnings. Education has been proven to increase income for wage earners and increase productivity for employers, yielding benefits for the community and society.
  • Creating intergenerational education benefits. Mothers’ education is a significant variable affecting children’s education attainment and opportunities. A mother with a few years of formal education is considerably more likely to send her children to school. In many countries each additional year of formal education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining in school for an additional one-third to one-half year.
  • As Obama reflects on a new approach to Afghanistan, I hope some of these stories become part of the ‘armoury of the arguments’ for a more humane and constructive policy review.

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