Time For School: Afghan Girl Struggles To Get Education

Last night, PBS aired Wide Angle's Time For School 3, a documentary series that follows seven school children from around the world, like 16-year-old Shugufa, whose education may be cut short by Taliban attacks and household obligations.

Time For School is a 12-year documentary project about seven children from different countries who are struggling to get a basic education. The first two installments, Time For School and Back To School (both of which are available online) aired in 2004 and 2006 introduced the children as they started school and then checked up on them two years later. The new film, Time For School 3, revisits the students, who are now teenagers, in two episodes airing last night and on September 9.

73 million children around the world don't attend school, and of these, two thirds of those children are female. Though more Afghan children are enrolled in school than ever before, one third of the country's children are still not in school and, again, most are girls. Shugufa is an exception because her father, who is an assistant doctor, believes in educating his daughters. When Shugufa was very young the family lived in a refugee camp in Pakistan for four and a half years to escape Taliban rule. Though the Taliban is no longer technically in control, the group's attacks against women's education have grown worse in the past few years; last year, violent attacks closed down more than 600 schools in the country and Shugufa's school has been forced to tighten security.

Still, Shugufa dreams of becoming an engineer, a journalist, or a doctor. In the clip below, it's clear that Shugufa has a much different attitude toward education than many American children. "School sets you on the right path. Who doesn't love school?" she says.


Below, Shugufa's religion teacher tells her that Islam defends women's rights, which is certainly not the Taliban's interpretation. Her teacher is strict about the girls keeping their heads properly covered, but Shugufa says, "We feel comfortable wearing our scarves and we're grateful to Allah for making us Muslims."

Aside from the threat of Taliban attacks, what may ultimately put an end to Shugufa's education is the fact that girls are expected to do housework. There are 13 people in Shugufa's family and she and her sisters have to work for several hours in the morning before school, and do more chores when they return. The boys around them? The get to play. "I'm up to my neck in household chores and I have to finish all of them," says Shugufa, " My problem is that I don't have enough time to study."

Shugufa has already received more education than many Afghan girls — by age 16 three out of four have already dropped out of school. As American children are lamenting the end of summer vacation and returning to school now, one of the most striking themes in Time For School is actually how much we take education for granted.

The Time For School series is set to continue visiting the seven children through 2015, which is the date they should graduate and also the U.N.'s target date for achieving universal education. According to the U.N.'s website, the goal is to "ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling." While there are millions of children around the world desperate to learn like Shugufa, sadly after watching her story it's hard to imagine that many will be able to overcome the tremendous hurdles to their education by then.

Full Episode: Time For School [PBS]
Full Episode: Back To School [PBS]
Preview: Time For School 3 [PBS]
Universal Education [End Poverty 2015]

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I'm glad my mother never assigned gender roles to household chores. I can vividly remember my sister mowing the grass while I looked out from a sink full of dishes. I can't fathom playing while one of my sibling was forced to work around the house.