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Education for All

In Southern California, many girls are taught that it is more important to dance like a girl in a rap video or dress like Paris Hilton than to head to college like Michelle Obama. During my time in college, I taught in low-income neighborhoods, where I met underprivileged elementary and high school students being taught by teachers who could not do long division, or taught the high school students that, since they wouldn’t be able to break away from their communities and were never going to contribute to society, there was no real point in teaching grammar or literature or geometry anyway.

Children are perceptive. They sense when someone is being condescending, or when someone doesn’t believe in them. This affects their self-esteem, their schoolwork, their futures. Children want to succeed, but they’re often restricted by what authority figures tell them their limitations are. It was a genuine surprise to many of the students I taught that they could actually learn their multiplication tables and, once they understood that, division. My high school students were only allowed to address me in class if they spoke grammatically correctly. This had the benefit, at the beginning of the courses, of keeping the classroom quiet, but as the weeks progressed, and they began to feel confident in their understanding of verb tense and pronoun case, the classroom became boisterous again.

Without fail, boys were always the first to pipe up, to have an answer to a math question, or pose a question in not-always-perfect grammar, but I noticed the boys were less afraid of being wrong. As a female teacher, I could insist that the girls engage. I could call on them when their hands were raised or push those whose homework showed they were grasping the concepts we were learning in class to speak up. But we need a way to instill confidence in our girls to show them it’s alright to be wrong and learning is a messy business, in which we all need the freedom to make mistakes, that it’s all part of the learning process.

Women whose voices receive an amplifier here at World Pulse face serious difficulties with even access to education; many of the girls within their countries do not even have a class to stay silent in. This is in some ways comparable to the lack of resources many girls in the inner cities of the United States face. In an age where the internet can provide free learning courses and free textbooks, there is a greater access to knowledge itself. Web 2.0 creates our communities, where anyone can find others to buoy her spirits and help guide her in her search for resources or opportunities. You just have to know where to look. The worldwide web can both create the problem, by providing access to just those demeaning videos and cultural stereotypes that hold girls back, and the solution, by granting anyone with a connection access to the tools to supplement their knowledge base.

But these online tools are remedies for the go-getters, for those passionate and connected few who are actively looking for solutions. We need to educate those who don’t even know how to ask, don’t know where to look. Dedicated teachers and community builders must find ways to put feet on the ground, in ways the Teach for America program in the United States or FAWE (Forum for African Women in Education) Centres of Excellence do. In classrooms with properly trained teachers who are prepared to help all children flourish, we can sow the seeds of equality and prepare girls for real life decisions. We can help them meet whatever goals they set for themselves, to help them live fulfilling and meaningful lives. Get girls into the classrooms, so we can get them into the boardrooms, government assemblies, and international forums of tomorrow.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Potter's picture

Thank You, Atzili!

It is interesting that many of the constraints on girls in their education seem to be the same in the United States as elsewhere. Thsnks for pointing that out. I'd like to hear how you think an American education might compare to education in Israel. As a former teacher I really appreciate how you point ourt the value of taking a chance to be wrong...and to celebrate the benefit of learning from mistakes. So wise of you! Your conclusionn, "get girls into the classroome so we can get them into the boardrooms, government assembl;ies and international forums of tomorrow" is both accurate and inspiring!

Hi Atzili,

I, too, really liked how you pointed out the importance of helping young women develop such confidence that they can feel free to make mistakes and learn from them. So many people, male and female, are held back by the fear of being less than perfect. I include myself (though I am happy that I have made progress on this).

At the same time, I liked how you also pointed out the opposite necessity: to teach people who expect that they can't succeed in academics (or whatever field) that it IS within their capabilities. Your piece nicely embraced these complexities - like the blessings and dangers of connectivity.

Are you continuing to teach? I enjoyed hearing your stories from the classroom. Thank you for sharing them!

keep well,

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