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.