The Marzia Education Initiative aims to provide girls a new future in Afghanistan through technology and both community- or home-based basic education for reading, writing, numeracy and the joy of children’s literature. This is necessary because Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are not allowed to attend school. Nor are women allowed to leave the house. This robs them of a most fundamental human right: the development of all their gifts, talent and human potential.
Who was Marzia?
On September 30 in 2022 58 girls were killed in a suicide bombing at their school in Kabul. 17-year-old Marzia was one of the victims. In her diary she described her dreams. She wished to meet writer Elif Shafak, visit the Eifel Tower, have a pizza in Italy, listen to music on a bike, walk through a park at night, play the guitar, visit other countries and, finally, writing a novel. She lost her life and cannot fulfil all these lovely dreams, but they live on in millions of other girls. The Marzia Education Initiative aims to provide girls with education through e-learning, thus enabling them to dream again.
Self-guided, home- and/or community-based education
In many parts of Afghanistan, girls and women are deprived of basic human rights, among which access to education. According to UNICEF the education ban for girls has already caused a material loss of at least $500 million to Afghanistan’s economy in the past 12 months. The more than three million girls of high school age who cannot complete their schooling would contribute at least $5.4 billion to the Afghanistan’s economy over time. The exclusion of women has since broadened to include sports, employment and the public domain. As a result, girls are mostly deprived of any form of an initial qualification to enjoy the same opportunities of their male counterparts. And this only covers the material and economic damage alone.
Within all the limitations and impossibilities, the Gilgamesh Foundation, an Afghan-Dutch NGO, can be a helping hand and source of hope to these girls and women. Gilgamesh Foundation can do this by providing them a self- and home-based education, using existing technology and a learning application developed especially for this purpose by: OneBillion.org.
By enabling them with educational means through tablets and even smartphones, girls and women can learn to read, write and achieve numeracy (at European level, starting qualification for Secondary Education) within 14 months at home. Within these 14 months the four-year curriculum (reading, writing and numeracy) of primary education is completed. In addition, this self-education method also provides access to children’s literature filled with universal values in the form of stories and tales where the true diversity of Afghanistan is celebrated. Such tablets can be used by at least five people per day.
It is also conceivable, bearing in mind the imminent food security crisis in the country, to offer modules in the areas of agriculture, micro-gardening and entrepreneurship, thereby promoting the self-sufficiency of Afghan families. By offering additional modules, optimal use is made of the hardware provided and infrastructure developed.
The learning app OneBillion.org, which is localised by KCIS (Keep Children in School) provides personalized education for young people. By now some 366,000 children have used the software. The application, also usable offline, has cost about three million dollars in development and is made available open-source. OneBillion received the “Global Learning XPRIZE (supported by WFP, UNESCO and Elon Musk) for their innovative model and approach. The Persian diaspora in the U.S. had the basic application translated into Persian. This current version needs only a further localisation into the proper Persian lingual usage of Afghanistan. The final step of contextualizing is the translation of the application into different local languages within Afghanistan, such as Uzbek and Pashtu, so that each target group is addressed in its own language for the first time.
A similar e-learning approach that has proven its value in a number of African and Arab (developing) countries is ‘Can’t Wait to Learn’, an initiative of WAR Child. This application focuses on reading and numeracy. Through this approach, 90,000 children have received primary education. ‘Can’t Wait to Learn’ however is not available in spoken languages in Afghanistan.
On this basis the Marzia Education Initiative is a project of Gilgamesh Foundation in partnership with SPARK and KCIS (Keep Children in School). The investment required for a pilot-initiative in northern and central Afghanistan is one million euros. This will allow some 41,000 girls to access primary education and children’s literature annually. With such a one-time initial investment some 280,000 girls will have access to primary education until 2030, as every 14 months these tablets are redistributable to new groups. This means that this initiative and its educational results, over a ten-year period, will amount to a cost of about three euros per girl and her basic education.
Most European governments have signed on onto the commitment not to forget the girls and women of Afghanistan. Most recently 23 Foreign Ministers worldwide expressed their concerns as well as their willingness to stand with the women and girls of Afghanistan to regain their deserved and uncompromisable position in society.