Editor's note: Lauren E. Bohn is a multiplatform journalist and assistant editor of the Cairo Review whose reporting is made possible in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Qena, Egypt (CNN) - In a deserted playground a few hundred miles south of Cairo, 13-year-old Asmaa Ashraf fiddles with a broken rusted slide. She is waiting listlessly for a lesson with her math tutor.
The bright-eyed teenager lives in a sepia-toned village in the province of Qena, a place of rural poverty and neglect. But she has big dreams about education. She wants to open a school one day.
"At my school, we'll learn," she says, brushing her hands longingly over the slide. "Teachers will show up and we'll be allowed to ask questions. We'll be allowed to draw with color."
Such aspirations, however, amount to fantasy for most youth in a country still struggling to land on its feet after being turned completely upside down.
Two and a half years after the country's uprising began, Egypt's fledgling democracy is stillborn, stubbornly stuck between its past and future. And as the government struggles to wade through the country's protracted political problems, Egypt's festering education system is orphaned - even though, with a growing youth population, it's key to the country's future.
In the World Economic Forum's latest report on global competitiveness, Egypt ranked near the bottom - 131st out of 144 countries - for quality of primary education. Egypt's literacy rate is 66%, according to a 2011 United Nations report. Meanwhile, a report by London think tank Chatham House says just $129 a year is spent on each Egyptian student; the United States, for example, spends 40 times as much.
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CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world.
(CNN) - What's the one thing you would tell girls about education?
Think carefully about your answer; after all, it can be the most important factor in lifting a girl from poverty, mistreatment and drudgery into a fulfilling and rewarding life, for both her and her family.
This is the question we asked people from around the world to share with us as part of the premiere of CNN Films' "Girl Rising," airing in June, which follows remarkable young girls from Peru to Afghanistan in their brave quest for an education.
CNN received dozens of responses, many from people sharing moving personal stories of their own struggles or those of mothers and grandmothers who had sacrificed so much so that future generations of girls would grow up enriched by knowledge.
'Never stop trying'
In a small town called Sivakasi in southern India, poverty and hardship meant many young girls would trudge every morning not to school but to work in the city's matchmaking and firework industries.
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(CNN) – Shweta Katti was raised in Mumbai's largest red-light district - the only place her family could afford to live. Men would sometimes ask her to sleep with them. But her mother always wanted her to learn to read and write, and Kranti, an organization that works with girls from Mumbai's red-light areas, helped her apply to college.
This fall, she's heading to Bard College in New York.
Learn more about "Girl Rising" and how girls of the world are fighting to get an education
CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world. Watch June 16 on CNN
By Betsy Anderson, CNN
(CNN) - Eulalia goes to school on a motorcycle.
The 10-year-old girl lives in the Puno region of Peru with her parents and six siblings. There is no school near Eulalia's home, so on Mondays, her father gives her a ride down the mountain on his motorcycle to a boarding school run by the humanitarian organization CARE. She attends school during the week and comes home on the weekends.
For Eulalia, this ride to school is a journey into a promising future that is hard to come by in Peru. She is one of nearly a million indigenous children who struggle to get an education.
According to CARE, 73% of indigenous kids in Peru are behind in school for their age and nearly 30% don't go to school at all. Most people in the Puno region live in poverty and parents have no choice but to have their children work to help support the family. Child labor is often used for illegal gold mining in the area.
Eulalia's father is a poor alpaca shepherd, but he wants his daughter to have a better education than he had and he has made it a priority. The school doesn't charge Eulalia's family for school fees, but her parents try to contribute in other ways such as with crops or labor. Soon, her little brother will also be attending the school.
CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world. Watch June 16 on CNN.
By Julie Hays, CNN
(CNN) - Thirteen-year-old Rose Matrie lives in a cracked house.
The light that streams through the narrow slit in the concrete wall is an ever-present reminder of the earthquake that struck her home in Haiti in 2010 and devastated the already impoverished country. Still, Rose Matrie has big dreams for her future.
"I want to go to a big school in order to develop my talents," she says.
Her mother fastened a large chalkboard on the outside of their home to cover up the crack, and every day Rose Matrie does her homework there. Her teacher says she is very bright and excels in literature.
"When I let my imagination go, I think of extraordinary things," Rose Matrie says.
Her father lost his job after the earthquake, and though her mother works as a seamstress, there is little demand for her skills. Like many families in Haiti, her parents are struggling to pay the school fees to keep her and her five siblings enrolled.
In Haiti, public schools only meet about 20% of the demand for basic education in rural areas, and education costs, particularly for private schools, remain very high in relation to family income, according to the nonprofit Plan International USA.
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(CNN) - Purnima lives in Nepal. She wants to be a nurse. But because she is a girl instead of a boy, she is more likely to go to work than go to school.
In Nepal, government schools start charging tuition in the sixth grade. But Purnima was selected to be part of the Girls Education program with the nonprofit Room to Read and was able to continue her education.
"I am the first person getting an education in my family and my brother and sisters did not get the chance due to our family background ... we are from a poor family so we cannot afford to go to school," says Purnima.
Purnima lives with her family in a room above the carpet factory where her older sister works. Her father is paralyzed. Her mother became blind when Purnima was 2 years old. All her siblings stopped going to school after the fifth grade.
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Purnima is 17 and has just finished secondary school at the top of her class. In fact, she was at the top of her class every year.
Purnima is about to start two years of Nepal's post-secondary school and she plans to go on to college. For a long time, she wanted to be an eye doctor. Now she says she is going to be a nurse and she may have a good chance to do just that. According to Room to Read, about 76% of its graduates go on to some kind of university, college or vocational training after secondary school.
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.
CNN’s Schools of Thought blog is a place for parents, educators and students to learn about and discuss what's happening in education. We're curious about what's happening before kindergarten, through college and beyond. Have a story to tell? Contact us at email@example.com