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World: Education -- In East, Poverty And Women’s Status Keep Drop-Out Rate High (Part 2)

Students in Tehran In many countries around the world, children are preparing to go back to school soon or have just started classes. But as parents send off their children with high hopes for their success, it also has to be noted that some students never complete their education. There is much debate over who is responsible: students, parents, or teachers. But in eastern countries like Afghanistan and Iran, the reasons seem most often to lie in a family’s poverty and a woman’s place in society.

Prague, 25 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Since the fall of the Taliban more than three years ago, there has been a significant increase in the number of children attending schools in Afghanistan.

Today, about 4 million pupils are enrolled in schools across the country.

But at the same time, the number of children who leave school prematurely is very high.

Edward Cawardine, a spokesman in Kabul for the UN children’s organization UNICEF, told RFE/RL that most dropouts take place towards the end of primary school.

He says only about 25 percent of children attend secondary school.

“We estimate at UNICEF that probably only about 25 percent of children complete the first five years of school which means that they are dropping out by the age of about 14 or 13 years old,” Cawardine said.

Boys are mostly forced to quit school because of poverty. Many school-age boys must work to earn money and support their family.
“They see the school environment as a prison, the method used by teachers, which is very much like a monologue or recitation, is not attractive to students."

About a third of children attending school in Afghanistan are girls. Keeping them in schools is a major challenge.

The UNICEF spokesman says the number of girls who drop out of schools is far higher than boys. He says girls are forced to leave school for several reasons.

“One of the main problems is the distance between the child’s home and the nearest school building. This is particularly a problem for adolescent girls because families quite understandably don’t feel comfortable allowing the girls to walk long distances unaccompanied to the classrooms,” Cawardine says.

Cawardine adds that lack of female teachers and inadequate school facilities are among other reasons for the high drop-out rate among Afghan girls.

“Particularly for adolescent girls, the need for proper sanitation facilities in schools is very important to respect the girl’s privacy and her dignity and unfortunately, because of lack of investment over so many years in Afghanistan, these types of facilities in schools have fallen into disrepair and that’s another obstacle to girls continuing their education beyond the primary grade,” Cawardine says.

UNICEF has launched a program in remote areas of Afghanistan that provides learning opportunities for girls who cannot attend public schools.

In Iran, most children drop out of school after completing primary school or after completing the first three years of secondary school.

Shirzad Abdollahi, an education expert in Tehran, says the drop-out rate among girls in rural areas is high.

“After completing elementary school, usually most of these pupils have to go to other regions or provinces to be able to continue their education. Because of cultural reasons, families prefer to send their boys to school, and keep their daughters,” Abdollahi says.

Abdollahi says most boys leave schools because they don’t find the school curriculum attractive and don’t have a hope that their studies will guarantee them a good future.

“They see the school environment as a prison, the method used by teachers, which is very much like a monologue or recitation, is not attractive to students, the content of textbooks does not attract them either. The courses are more of a theoretical nature, rather than being more practical and related to day-to-day life. There are limited possibilities for sports and few laboratories. Furthermore, the students do not see any prospect for finding a good job after completing secondary school or gaining money or respect in the society,” Abdollahi says.

The diploma that students receive in Iran after completing secondary school does not guarantee them a good job. Unemployment is a major issue in Iran (unofficial estimates put the unemployment rate at about 20 percent) and passing the entrance examination for universities is a major challenge.

Abdollahi says most boys prefer to leave school as soon as possible and learn a skill that will enable them to earn some money and make their living.

See also:

The Role Of Religion In Classrooms

Bologna Process Opens Opportunities To Study Abroad
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.