May 30th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Life in a cracked house in Haiti

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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May 24th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Going to school, instead of work

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) - 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.

Follow @CNNschools on Twitter and CNN Living on Facebook.

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.

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Saudi government sanctions sports in girls' private schools
Sarah Attar was one of two Saudi women allowed to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games.
May 6th, 2013
03:30 PM ET

Saudi government sanctions sports in girls' private schools

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.

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My View: Teach girls to be more like boys
Women need to feel authorized to take leadership roles, Rachel Simmons says.
May 3rd, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: Teach girls to be more like boys

By Rachel Simmons, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Rachel Simmons is cofounder of Girls Leadership Institute and author of "The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence." Follow her on Twitter: @Racheljsimmons

(CNN) - Phillips Andover Academy, one of the most elite and selective boarding high schools in the country, failed again to elect a girl to its top student position - the school presidency.

Since the Maryland school went co-ed in 1973, only three girls have held this office. In a letter that launched a fiery debate across its campus, senior girls implored their peers to look hard at the school's "staggering gender imbalance" in student leadership.

Headmaster John Palfrey responded by telling The New York Times, "Girls have not had equal access to top leadership positions." Yet, access for girls is rarely the problem when it comes to pursuing leadership.

Feeling authorized to take leadership roles is the problem.

It starts early. From childhood to adolescence, girls face mixed messages about displaying power and authority.

The girls at Andover and elsewhere are socialized to be likeable, to please others, to not tout their own successes and to speak softly like proper girls. As a result, they face powerful psychological barriers to attaining leadership roles.

The impact of what I call the "curse of the good girl" effect first appears in friendships, when young girls take pains to avoid direct conflict with peers. "I want to tell her how I feel," a typical girl would say in my research interviews, "but what if she hates me or turns other people against me?"

Read Simmons' full column

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Filed under: Gender • Girl Rising • Private schools • Voices
April 19th, 2013
02:35 PM ET

Cherie Blair: It's not enough to give girls primary education

(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.'"

April 8th, 2013
12:35 PM ET

Malala's first grant will educate 40 girls

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

(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.

"They shot her at point blank range in the head and made her stronger," she said.

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March 29th, 2013
11:35 AM ET

Drill team keeps kids in school, off deadly streets

By Erika Clarke, CNN

(CNN) - Camden, New Jersey, is not an easy place for a kid to grow up in.Just ask 15-year-old Destinee Williams."Camden has this reputation of being dangerous because you can walk outside at 3 in the afternoon and hear gunshots," Destinee said. "Gangs and drugs are a huge deal. Kids get into gangs to feel safe so they won't get killed."

Unfortunately, Destinee has had to deal with too many killings in her young life.

"My father was murdered in Camden last year, and my cousin was murdered (last month)," she said. "In the last month, I know of at least three people getting killed. In Camden, I expect it to happen. I'm not surprised anymore."

For many people, the violence in Camden can make it feel more like a war zone than an American city, but the battle doesn't end there.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 42% of Camden's population is living below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest cities in the United States. The New Jersey Department of Education reports that nearly 90% of Camden's schools are in the bottom 5% performance-wise in the state.

About 42% of Camden's population is living below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest cities in the United States.

"For too long, the public school system in Camden has failed its children," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday, when he announced the state would be taking over the city's schools. "Each day that it gets worse, we're failing the children of Camden, we're denying them a future, we're not allowing them to reach their full potential."

Camden may seem like a city without hope, but one of its native daughters is on a mission to change its downtrodden reputation and empower its youngest residents.

Tawanda Jones started a dance team, the Camden Sophisticated Sisters Drill Team, to entice young girls to stay off the street and do something positive with their lives. Over the years, she has incorporated boys into the team and also started a drum line program.

"People perceive Camden and its kids as garbage," Jones said. "We have so many gifted kids. They want more out of life. There's just nothing in our city to do. Therefore, what happens when a child has idle time and no positive way to channel that energy? They have to find something else. And it just may turn into the dark side."

Through the drill team, Jones aims to teach kids about discipline, dedication and self-respect, things she believes are necessary to survive and thrive in this rough community and beyond.

"Whether you need it for work, you need it for school, you need discipline, period," said Jones, 40. "Drill team is good as far as structure, because you have to be precise. You have to be on point."

Jones also stresses education, as kids in the program have to keep a C average in school.

"If they get too many Cs, we put them on academic probation," Jones said. "We don't want to kick a child out because they're not doing well in school, so on my days off I go to the child's school just to correspond with the teacher. I'll just make sure that the child is doing well or (see) what we can do on our end to help that child get to where she needs to be."

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Filed under: Extracurricular • Girl Rising • High school • School safety
Teen at school for first time since being shot by Taliban
Malala Yousafzai waves as she is discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in central England.
March 19th, 2013
03:11 PM ET

Teen at school for first time since being shot by Taliban

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.

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February 9th, 2013
12:22 PM ET

Malala, teen education activist shot by Taliban, leaves hospital

By Richard Greene and Ashley Fantz, CNN

(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.

READ: Malala's journey from near death to recovery

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.

READ: Pakistan's Malala: Global symbol, but still just a kid

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.

Read the full story

 

Students inspire MTV anti-slavery campaign
"The Backstory" campaign uses digital storytelling to take viewers inside the stories of labor and sex trafficking victims.
February 1st, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Students inspire MTV anti-slavery campaign

By Simon Rushton, CNN

(CNN) - MTV has launched a new interactive, anti-slavery campaign inspired by a winning entry in its “Against Our Will” project on the college network, mtvU.

The Backstory” contains a series of dance videos that show how women can be trafficked into prostitution and immigrants into forced labor. It grew out of the winning entry, from four students at James Madison University, in mtvU’s “Against Our Will” challenge, which asked students for innovative ways to use the internet to highlight the problems of modern-day slavery.

Rapper Talib Kweli and dancers from Ailey II have joined the campaign which features choreography by Ailey II’s artistic director, Troy Powell, and music scored by Kenna.

Read the full post on CNN's Freedom Project blog

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Filed under: College • Girl Rising • Students
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