Young Champions for Education
Young people, working at the community level, are tackling factors that prevent children in South Asia from enrolling and completing their basic education. These "Young Champions" are uniquely positioned to tackle these challenges, by reaching out to the hard-to-reach, and helping to change community attitudes through individual and group initiatives at the local level.
Since the completion of the first Young Champions for Education Training programme organized by the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA) in May 2007, activities underway include the establishment of a forum of Young Champions in Pakistan, and identifying of pockets of out-of-school children in one of the provinces of Pakistan. Young Champions in Afghanistan are also setting up community radio stations. This training event brought together over 30 committed young people from South Asia who are now actively working to champion the cause of girls' education.
There is a gender gap in equitable quality education in South Asia. Out of the estimated 42 million children not attending primary school in the region, 24 million are girls. The major factor keeping girls out of school is gender discrimination, which is further compounded by the caste system, class, religious and ethnic divisions that are inherent in the region.
Women in South Asia make up 21 per cent of the world’s female population but 44 per cent of the total number of illiterate women.
All countries in South Asia are signatories to various international agreements and commitments guaranteeing free and compulsory elementary education. However, education for all, especially girls, falls far short of government commitments undertaken in the Declaration of Human Rights (1948), as well as the more recent Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
Young Champions is an innovative concept adopted by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) as a way of working with young people at the global, regional and country levels to help achieve MDG and EFA goals for Girls’ Education. UNGEI is working to develop a culture of learning in South Asia by mobilizing a coalition of partners to promote and support initiatives, as well as knowledge sharing to advance girl’s education.
Many South Asian countries have already achieved gender parity and have made substantive advances in girl’s education. Sri Lanka has an enrolment rate of over 98 per cent and school completion rates of 97.7 per cent for primary school and 83.8 per cent for secondary level in 2003/2004. In Sri Lanka, as in Maldives, there is little gender disparity in enrollment and attendance.
The Millennium Development Goals calls for 100 per cent enrolment in primary schools by 2015, and also eliminating gender disparity in all levels of education by that year. India has the highest number of children out of school, with 26.8 million of its primary school-age children out of school, which account for 23 per cent of global absentees. Pakistan accounts for 7.8 million children not attending primary school while Bangladesh accounts for 3.8 million children not in school.
The UNICEF ROSA Training workshop in Kathmandu focused on developing the media and communication skills of the Young Champions as well as sharing and learning from presentations by various groups on activities that are taking place in countries throughout South Asia.
Many of the groups explained how they make use of community radio and other media outlets for spreading their message, while some presentations included the well known comic character Meena, and India’s Girl Star initiative. Other presentations ranged from artists’ workshops in Bhutan to Boy Scouts in Pakistan, and peer educators and paralegal women's groups from Nepal. The presentation from Bangladesh can also be viewed here.
These Young Champions have taken their newly learned skills to act as trainers in their own countries to help spread the message of girls' education, and to mobilize other young people in new initiatives. Following the workshop, the Young Champions established an electronic resource centre so that members can stay in touch, discuss issues, and share experiences through an e-group to develop new ideas for enhancing girl's education.