|© Aga Khan Foundation|
30 April 2004, Dushanbe – Ministry of Education officials, teachers, representatives from a parents and teachers association, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and school children attended a two-day conference (27 and 28 April) at the Central In-service Training Institute in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
The conference aimed to discuss the results of a qualitative survey on girls’ education and to determine how to improve the situation of girls’ education in Tajikistan.
In her opening remarks, UNICEF Tajikistan’s Head of Office Yukie Mokuo told conference participants that the aim of the survey was to address the alarming situation of girls’ education in Tajikistan.
“Tajikistan used to enjoy high achievements in education for both girls and boys. Unfortunately, this situation is changing, and that is very alarming because we hear that approximately 20 per cent of girls do not complete the nine-year compulsory education,” said Ms. Mokou.
“This is the main reason that UNICEF supported the conduct of this survey, which seeks to examine the factors behind girls not attending school or completing the nine-year compulsory education,” she said.
Key survey results
Information for the survey was defined in a way that included all those involved in girls’ education at school and at home. Surveyors collected information from focus groups, individual interviews, as well as from observations made in schools, in homes and in neighbourhoods of girls who had dropped out of school. Other informal interviews were conducted with local authorities and selected community leaders.
During the conference UNICEF Programme Coordinator Niloufar Pourzand presented highlights of the survey results, which are as follows:
• forty per cent of girls do not believe that education would impact the quality of their lives
• fifty-seven per cent of parents think that it is more important to educate boys than girls
• the number of girls dropping out of school increases correspondingly with grade levels
These three important factors account for the declining attendance of girls in school and their failure to complete compulsory education.
The many reasons girls are left behind
In Tajikistan more than 80 per cent of families live below the poverty line and a majority of them face difficulties in meeting the education costs for all their children, but the survey found this is not the main reason for the drop in attendance of girls in schools.
Analysis of the survey discovered that most families spend money on their sons’ education over their daughters, especially when families are confronted with economic difficulties.
Gender socialization at home and in school is another reason that leads to exclusion of girls from school. For example, in many Tajik families, a son is the family name bearer and is expected to be responsible for the parents’ care and security at old age, while daughters are expected to marry and to care for a husband and children. Consequently, parents tend to invest more in their sons, particularly in their education given the role that they would have later in life.
According to survey results, the gender socialization found at home is also reinforced in the classrooms by teachers.
The survey also shows the important role of religion for many Tajik families and how that affects decisions on girls’ education. Religious schools or a class with a religious teacher or bihatun is often sought as an alternative form of education for girls, especially as girls can go free to these classes or in exchange for gifts that the family can afford. Bihutan classes are centred on readings from the Quran and also offer some life skills training, which the families often find valuable to prepare the girls for marriage.
UNICEF continues to improve the state of girls’ education in Tajikistan
During the two-day conference there were several recommendations presented to improve the situation of girls’ education in Tajikistan, and UNICEF, according to Ms. Mokuo, will continue its cooperation with the Ministry of Education and will work with NGOs, parents, teachers and the school children to bring girls back to the classrooms.
In addition the 2005-2009 Country Programme will seek to improve the base information about girls at risk of dropping out of school, mobilize the support of local leaders and women of the community, enhance the child-friendliness and relevance of the school learning environment and strengthen the commitment of parents to provide positive support for their daughters.