By Schams Elwazer, for CNN
(CNN) - Saudi Arabian girls will be officially allowed to practice sports in private schools for the first time, according to an education ministry announcement reported in the nation's official press agency.
The new regulations for physical education, announced Saturday, require that girls "dress modestly" and have appropriate equipment and facilities, and that female Saudi teachers have priority to supervise these activities.
"(This decision) stems from the teachings of our religion, which allows women to practice such activities in accordance with sharia," Education Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Dakhini told SPA.
This is the first official government sanction of women's sports in schools, but some Saudis say it is not as momentous a decision as it may seem.
"This is not a big deal," said blogger Eman al-Nafjan, who writes about Saudi women's issues. "Private schools already have a physical education program, and the government knows about them. My daughter and niece both go to separate well-known private schools, and they both have sports programs."
Al-Nafjan says that although the announcement will not change anything for private school students, the decision itself could be a barometer for the introduction of sports into public girls' schools that do not have physical education programs.
(CNN) - Cherie Blair, a lawyer and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said her mother and grandmother left school at age 14, and never completed their educations. It was different for Blair and her sister, and the opportunities need to continue to spread, she said.
She's now chancellor of the Asian University For Women in Bangladesh, which has 3,000 students from several countries.
"When you hear the stories of the individual girls, the sacrifices they have to make..." she said. "So may of the girls say to me, 'I realize that by coming here and studying, you know, I'll never get married. Because, you know, I've given up that choice.'"
(CNN) - Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai has said 40 girls in Pakistan will be the first to benefit from a fund set up in her name after she was shot in the head by the Taliban for her efforts to promote girls' education.
She announced the $45,000 grant for education in the Swat Valley - the Taliban stronghold where she's from - in a video played at the Women in the World summit in New York City on Thursday.
"We are going to educate 40 girls, and I invite all of you to support the Malala Fund," she said.
"Let us turn the education of 40 girls into 40 million girls."
Actress and U.N. special envoy Angelina Jolie spoke movingly of Malala's courage in the face of the Taliban's attempt to silence her, saying there was "always something special" about her.
Editor's note: Share your story on iReport! We invite you to share your personal experience about a challenge you faced in getting an education, or to interview a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother – any girl or woman in your community – about her biggest challenge, and how she overcame it.
By Jason Hanna and Saskya Vandoorne, CNN
(CNN) - For the first time since the Taliban shot her five months ago, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai has done what made her a target of the would-be assassins: She's gone to school.
The 15-year-old on Tuesday attended Edgbaston High School in Birmingham, England, the city in which doctors treated her after she received initial care in Pakistan, a public relations agency working with her announced.
It was her first day at school since the Taliban shot her in the head in October for campaigning for girls' education.
"I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school," Malala said, according to a release from her representatives. "I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity.
"I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much, but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham."
On October 9, the teenager was riding home in a school van in the Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan, when masked men stopped the vehicle. They demanded that the other girls identify Malala, and when they did, the men shot Malala in the head and neck. The gunmen also shot another girl, wounding her.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
(CNN) - Arguably the most important and innovative idea proposed by President Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night was his call for high-quality, universal pre-school education.
“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on, by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” Obama said. “In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”
He’s right. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that the United States now does worse in terms of social mobility than many European countries – especially those in Scandinavia – as well as Canada. What does this mean in practice? It means that a poor child born in the United States is much more likely to remain poor than one born in Canada or Denmark.
The Pew Charitable Trust’s Economic Mobility Project found last year, for example, that “more than 40 percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of the family income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle.” OECD research, meanwhile, found that while “at least 40 percent of the economic advantage that high-earnings fathers have over low-earnings fathers is transmitted to their sons,” the comparable figure for Nordic countries, Canada and Australia was less than 20 percent.
The main reason for this, I believe, is that many of the countries with higher mobility invest a great deal in children of all backgrounds, early in their lives, in terms of daycare, nutrition and education. And what the research increasingly shows is that if a child has missed out in the first few years of life in terms of nutrition, in terms of attention that adults pay to them, in terms of cognitive stimulation, then it is very difficult for them to catch up because they have been so disadvantaged – some of them neurologically. Countries with strong programs for the very young, in contrast, tend to have an advantage.
(CNN) - In a stunning story of survival and recovery, the Pakistani teenager whom Taliban gunman shot in the head in October has been released from a hospital.
Malala Yousufzai left Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, on Friday. In the past two weeks, the girl famous for advocating that girls in Pakistan be educated - which stoked the ire of her attackers - proved her incredible strength by enduring two operations to repair her skull and restore her hearing.
The gunfire caused swelling in Malala's skull and a break in the delicate bones that help turn sound into sensory impulses to her brain.
"God has given me this new life," she recently said, speaking for the first time on camera since the shooting. "I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated."Though the gunshots to her neck and head made many doubt that she would walk again, Malala continued to improve over the past several months.
"I can walk a little bit and I'm feeling better," the 15-year-old said on February 6.
At that time, she said she hoped to be fully recovered in a month.
Her medical team decided she was well enough to be discharged Thursday. The teen will continue her rehabilitation at her family's temporary home in Birmingham and will visit the hospital occasionally for outpatient appointments.
Malala has credited her survival to "the prayers of the people."
Her story captured worldwide attention, moving Pakistan to vow that it would more vigorously fight for girls' rights and against the Taliban. It also prompted global leaders to put pressure on the country to make good on those promises.
"Because of these prayers, God has given me this new life and I want to serve and I want every girl, every child to be educated," she said.
Tokyo (CNN) - On the surface, it resembles just about any other high school in Japan - or any high school in most places around the world.
Students sit quietly studying math, science and English; some struggle to stay focused, looking at the clock and waiting for the bell to ring. When the school day ends, some move out to the sports fields for rugby or soccer practice, while others study music in emptying hallways.
What makes this school different is the pictures of two men scattered throughout the building - portraits of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung and previous leader Kim Jong Il.
The Tokyo Korean Middle and High School, which is currently home to 650 students, is one of 10 high schools in Japan with long standing ties to North Korea.
It's something the school's principal, Gil-ung Shin, is very open about.
"Yes, North Korea has given us financial support over the years, sending us money and textbooks," he says.
The school also organizes annual trips to Pyongyang, where students are given highly orchestrated tours of the reclusive North Korean capital.
But the students we spoke with laughed at suggestions from some quarters that they are being trained as spies.
"People think we're being brain-washed. We're not. We just want to study Korean culture and language," 17-year-old Kyong Rae Ha says.
In the midst of civil war, Syrians face political upheaval, starvation, bombings and violence – nearly 40,000 people were killed in the civil war last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday. But one thing hasn't changed: a generation of children hoping to learn, to feel a sense of normalcy.
At one school in Damascus, 1,600 children come in two shifts. Educators say any child is welcome, regardless of political affiliation. Some students are new to the school, displaced from other areas. This school isn't entirely safe either, though. Within a few weeks late last year, 35 students and two teachers from the area were killed.
"We keep the school open and help with their fears," head teacher Abdul Kader Amouri told ITN's Alex Thomson. "We can't do as much as before, but the key thing is to try and deal with their anxiety."
By Alexis Lai, CNN
(CNN) - Jay Lin is the embodiment of the American dream - and what is increasingly a Chinese dream.
Originally from Wenzhou in eastern China, he moved to New York City as a teenager. After earning degrees from Ivy League universities - Cornell and Columbia - he secured a comfortable job in a bucolic town in Connecticut.
Now he is helping others in China follow his path, where the desire for elite U.S. education is alive and well.
In the last decade, mainland Chinese have reshaped the international student body at U.S. colleges and universities, notably at Ivy League institutions. In the 2009-2010 academic year, China surpassed traditional "study abroad" heavyweights like Canada, India and South Korea, to lead international enrollment across U.S. higher education, according to the Institute of International Education. The U.S.-based institute's most recent figures reveal that mainland Chinese students increased 23% to more than 723,000 in the 2010-11 academic year.FULL STORY
By Gordon Brown, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Gordon Brown served as Britain's prime minister between 2007 and 2010 after a decade as the country's finance minister, or chancellor of the Exchequer. In July this year he was appointed as a United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) - Pakistan has a new heroine and a new cause - a girl's right to education - and after Friday's announcements from the Pakistani government that they will adopt new measures to get every child into school by end 2015, that cause has a timetable and a deadline for delivery.
Everywhere you go in Pakistan you find people talking animatedly about the 15-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban last month.
A rickshaw touring the streets of Islamabad has a slogan posted on it: "Malala for education and peace." Go to the local girls' school and every girl seems to have written either a poem or a song, a letter or a card to Malala.
Listen to the politicians and every speech is laced with references to the courage of Malala. Meet civil society organizations and they will tell you that the audience for their educational demands has risen markedly over the last few weeks.
It seems that Malala's courage has awoken Pakistan's silent majority who are no longer prepared to tolerate the threats and intimidations of the Pakistan Taliban.
Can Pakistan convert its momentary desire to speak out in support of Malala into a long term commitment to getting its three million girls and five million children into school? Can the politicians, long-criticized for a failure to deliver, find the teachers, the classrooms and the reading materials to give millions of children a basic education?