A New Perspective on Back to School

By Elizabeth Suneby

If your kids are like most, it’s hard to get them fired up about going back to school.

Who wants to trade lazy morning breakfasts; days at the beach, pool and park; and evenings eating ice cream under the stars for the 7:00 a.m. wake-up, structured days sitting indoors at a desk and hours of nighttime homework? Not me.

Kids and grown-ups living in developed countries understandably take education for granted. But, try to get your children to imagine if they were never allowed to go to school. Never allowed to learn to read or write or calculate numbers. This is reality for 69 million school-age children around the world — more than the number of people living in the states of Texas and California combined and more than double the population of Canada.

Almost half of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than a quarter live in Southern Asia. There are many reasons children are not able to go to school: poverty, political instability, regional conflict, natural disaster and local traditions. Instead of learning in the classroom, the children often must help to support their families, usually by working in jobs that earn very little money.

My new book, Razia’s Ray of Hope, gives kids a glimpse of girls more than 6500 miles — and in many respects several centuries — away, living under Taliban influence. It is based on a true story of a girl determined to get an education at the Zabuli Education Center for Girls in the conservative Afghan village of Deh’Subz, just north of Kabul. The school was started by Razia Jan, recently honored by CNN as a 2012 Hero of the Year. Razia was selected from a pool of over 40 000 applicants to a group of Top 10 “everyday” people changing the world.

An Afghan native, Razia spent her adult life in a small town outside of Boston raising her son and running a tailoring shop. Convinced that “education is the key to positive, peaceful change in the world,” Razia moved back to Afghanistan in 2007 to start a school for girls. After only five years, the school enrolls over 400 girls who have not previously had the opportunity to learn. In fact, many of the students’ parents are illiterate. One of the first things Razia has the students learn is how to write their fathers’ names. This simple exercise helps them see their daughters’ education as an asset to their families.

Formal learning for girls has been scarce in Afghanistan since the Taliban outlawed education for females in 1996. Although no longer the official policy, cultural biases persist. Only 14 percent of school-age girls attend school, and only 18 percent of those complete primary school. Today, 13 percent of Afghan women are literate, compared to 43 percent of Afghan men.

So, when your sons or daughters complain about the end of summer, ask them to consider the repercussions of never going to school, of not being able to read a book, a map, their favorite websites or, heaven forbid, a text or Facebook post. And even worse, never being able to get a license to drive or a good job, or earn a decent living to support a family. Show them a copy of Razia’s Ray of Hope. It may be just the thing to get your children excited to step back into the classroom.

Elizabeth Suneby is the author of Razia’s Ray of Hope, published by Kids Can Press in their CitizenKidTM series, designed to inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens. Learn more at www.elizabethsuneby.com/books/razia

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