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Image by Shaun McCanna, Afghanistan, 2009.

Introduction
Article twenty-six of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies education as an inalienable human right. The Declaration calls for free and compulsory elementary education and higher education opportunities for all qualified youth. Additionally, the U.N. states that all parents have the right to select the type of education they wish their child to receive. Yet, in communities in conflict areas, education is far from guaranteed.  This lesson investigates the daily struggle faced by many Afghan students seeking an education, and the danger faced by teachers and schools working to provide these children with an experience many Americans take for granted.

After completing this lesson plan you students will have:

  • Reviewed the political history of Afghanistan and the impact various social movements have had on the education of Afghan youth.
  • Used Pulitzer Center, BBC News, and Al Jazeera English resources to explore the current state of education in Afghanistan through videos, articles, and photo slideshows.
  • Compared educational opportunities and the condition of schools in the United States to those in Afghanistan.
  • Considered the long-term impact of conflict on the social, emotional, and academic development of children.

Specific Subject-Area Connections, Social Studies

  • Civil rights
  • Prejudice, discrimination and stigma
  • Modern-day conflicts
  • Post-war reconstruction
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The political and social conditions of developing nations

Common Core State Standards: Social Studies
Key Ideas and Details

  1. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and idea.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  1. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media in order to address a question or solve a problem. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Background Information
Afghanistan

Have students review the timeline and country profile below and consider the questions that follow.

Questions to Consider
Overview

  1. How has Afghanistan’s strategic location led the country to near constant occupation and conflict?
  2. How did the Taliban begin? What political and social conditions in Afghanistan contributed to the group’s rise?
  3. What international events further isolated Afghanistan from the international community?
  4. What impact has Afghanistan’s drug industry had on the Taliban insurgency?

Leaders

  1. How did Hamid Karzai first come to power in Afghanistan? Do you feel his affiliation with the Pashtun tribe played a role in his selection? Why or why not?
  2. Describe the criticism surrounding Hamid Karzai’s re-election in August of 2009.
  3. Why did the Afghan Parliament reject Karzai’s cabinet in January 2010? How have claims of corruption impacted Afghan relations with the international community?

Media

  1. Describe the media landscape in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
  2. Does freedom of the press exist in Afghanistan in the same way it exists in the United States? Explain your answer.
  3. What, do you think, has prompted the growth in newspaper readership? Why do you think newspapers are able to express more dissenting opinions than broadcast media?
  4. What impact has the use of social media by different groups, including the Taliban, had on media and communication in Afghanistan?

Statistics
If you would like to offer students a reference point from which to understand the statistics on Afghanistan offered in the country profile, you may choose to include this activity in the lesson plan.

Ask students to use the CIA World Factbook to compare the following statistics provided on Afghanistan with the United States:

 

Population

Area

Major Languages

Major Religion(s)

Main Exports

Afghanistan

 

 

 

 

 

USA

 

 

 

 

 

The Taliban
To begin examining the issue of Afghan youth and education, provide students with some background information on the Taliban: their beginnings, their beliefs, and the impact the group has had on Afghan politics, culture, and society.

Have students review the timeline and article below and consider the questions that follow:

  1. How did the Taliban exploit the insecurity that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan to expedite their rise to power?
  2. Describe how the Taliban implemented and enforced Sharia, or Islamic law throughout Afghanistan.
  3. What impact has Sharia law had on Afghan youth and their education?
  4. What international events prompted the U.S. and its allies to take action against the Taliban in Afghanistan?
  5. Was the U.S-led offensive in Afghanistan successful? What are identifying traits of the Taliban insurgency following the shift of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan from combat operations to reconstruction?
  6. Do you agree or disagree with President Obama’s willingness to reach out to moderate factions of the Taliban?

Examining Youth and Education in the United Sates and Afghanistan

Pre-Activity
Before your students start the main activity have them record and share their thoughts about their own experiences in the U.S. education system. Below are some prompt questions:

  • What do you like/dislike the most about school?
  • What do you appreciate about your school experience?
  • Why do you go to school? What motivates you?

(If completing this lesson with older students, include the following pre-activity questions.)
After discussing students’ personal connections to school, have them consider the long-term impact of education and the extent to which politics influences education in the U.S. Encourage students to share their answers and discuss why they answered as they did.

  • Do you think school is a right or a privilege? Should every child have to attend some form of school? Why or why not?
  • In the United States, how does an individual’s educational background influence their employment and earning opportunities? Do you think the same relationship exists for workers in other countries?
  • In the United States, to what extent do the beliefs and priorities of politicians (school board members, governors, congressmen and women, senators, the President, etc.) influence how schools are run and the material that is taught?

Access to Education in Afghanistan
Once your students have thought about their own access to education, and the long-term benefits of a quality education, allow them to explore the following two pieces by Pulitzer Center journalist, Shaun McCanna. As students view the video and read the article, have them reflect on their answers to the pre-activity questions.

If you are working with older students, encourage them to consider the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which education is identified as an inalienable right. Ask students to compare their own school experience with that of the children at the school profiled in this reporting. Are the experiences comparable? Does that matter? Should it matter? Does the United States (and other wealthy countries) have a responsibility to improve education in countries around the world?

Video:Students and Legacy of War” By Shaun McCanna, Untold Stories, December 16, 2009

After your students watch the video, have them read the article linked below.  Students can read the article individually, in small groups, or as a class.

Article:After the Taliban: Afghanistan’s kids ready for education, but schools not” By Shaun McCanna, Christian Science Monitor, December 11, 2009

Post-Activity
Have your students reflect on Nassar and his daily life. Have them discuss the following questions:

  • Why does Nassar go to school?
  • What are Nassar’s responsibilities?
  • What do you think would happen if Nassar didn’t work?

Look back at the responses you recorded earlier about your school experience.

  • How do you think an Afghan student would answer those questions?
  • How would their responses compare to yours?
  • Compare your typical day at school to Nassar’s, what are the differences, the similarities?

Note: The following information can be used to lead a discussion on the differences between the United States’ educational system and Afghanistan’s educational system:

U.S. Education Facts: (from the U.S. Department of Education website)

  • In the 2007-2008 school year an average of $10,297 was spent per each elementary and middle school student in the United States.
  • In 2000, about 75% of 18-24 year olds had a high school degree (or equivalent certification)
  • The current nationwide student to teacher ratio is about 15 students per one teacher
  • 52% of teachers in the United States have a Masters degree or higher

Additional/Related Reporting
Afghanistan: Children of Balkh
, by Anna Badken, Untold Stories, June 20, 2011

In-Depth: Education in Afghanistan

Once students have discussed Shaun McCanna’s reporting, encourage them to further investigate the condition of education in Afghanistan. Help students understand the impact the Taliban’s imposition of Sharia Law and how their presence has influenced Afghan education systems, by reading and discussing “Education Under Fire” from Al Jazeera English, December 8, 2008.

  1. Why do you think the Taliban and other insurgent groups are choosing to target teachers, students, and schools in their attacks? Why do you think these attacks are more prevalent in rural areas?
  2. Do you agree with the Afghan government’s plan to expand curriculum at Madrasas (religious schools) to include math, science, and languages in areas where they are the only education option available? If so, do you feel this is a viable long-term solution? If not, what possibilities do you believe should be pursued by the education ministers?
  3. Imagine attending school in rural Afghanistan. Do you think Afghan students are able to accomplish as much as their peers in more peaceful regions/countries? What do you believe motivates someone to become a teacher in Afghanistan? What risks do teachers face? Encourage students to click on the interview with Torpekai, a teacher who has worked in Afghanistan for over 25 years for a first-hand account of teaching in Afghanistan.
  4. For a powerful, in-depth look at schooling in Afghanistan, show students the fourth, and final segment of the Al Jazeera English series Lessons in Conflict. The series examines the impact of violence on the youth of Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan and how conflict hinders the education of youth in the three countries. You can help students draw connections to similar struggles in American communities by investigating the challenges facing students attending school in urban areas.

Additional Resources/Reporting

Extension Activities:

  1. Have your students write journal entries from Nassar’s point of view about his daily life.
  2. Have your students share Nassar’s story (and the plight of other students in Afghanistan) with other classes at school. If students are interested in further exploring the experience of children living in conflict-areas, consider reading one of the novels below as a class, or encourage them to seek these books out in the library.

Middle school readers

  • The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
  • Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
  • Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticat
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

High school readers

  • Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider by Ishmael Beah