The fight for education cannot end with success if women are left behind. We need to address the gender gap in education. This gap means that young women are less likely to receive education than young men in many developing countries. Globally, 61 percent of people who lack basic reading and writing skills are young women. Leaving women and girls out of education has serious consequences, including hindered economic development, reinforcement of social inequality, and the perpetuation of cyclical, gendered poverty. Since women carry a disproportionate burden of poverty, any improvement to their job opportunities and wealth can have a groundbreaking impact on the vicious circle of poverty.
There are many other reasons why we should invest in the education of girls and women. On average, the rate of attendance and academic performance among women are higher than those of men. However, this investment has an impact far beyond instruction. Young girls given the opportunity to go to school tend to work more, earn higher wages, marry later in life, and have fewer children. Education is also connected to health. Studies show that educated mothers raise healthier children, showing that education creates a legacy of benefits that extend beyond a single generation.
In order to achieve better results in terms of women’s attendance and level of education, we should first and foremost aim to make education accessible to them. We can do this by designing educational programs that take into account the unique challenges women face in their daily life when it comes to their schooling. For instance, since women are the prime caregivers for their children, they struggle to access education because of their reduced mobility. Providing online education is one crucial way to make it easier for many women to take advantage of learning opportunities.
For our upcoming podcast series, a collaboration between Paper Airplanes (PA) and Empower Her* Voice, our goal is to highlight the experiences of women in our PA community who have sought education in person and online, and to understand their motivations, challenges, and experiences. We interviewed Bayan, an alumna from one of our online education programs and now a member of PA’s staff. Bayan is a dentist from Damascus, Syria who studied in the PA English Program for three years before learning technical skills in the Women in Tech program.
When asked what made PA the right learning platform for her, Bayan said, “As a student, I was looking for free and flexible resources, and Paper Airplanes met all of those demands and more. The whole staff works to make you learn in the most effective ways. There were plenty of resources online, [such] as texts, videos, dialogues, enriching the curriculum. We also had exams every semester to test that knowledge. It’s hard to work on conversation skills here in Syria, we rarely have training or practise to do it. The training with PA was very useful.”
Investing in women’s education also means giving them the opportunity to join others who are determined to help their communities. While Bayan has already cultivated an engaging community for herself, there are many young women who lack the encouragement and the tools to take that step on their own. Technology plays a key role in connecting people to services, jobs, and information. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the multiple benefits of technology. Many of us had never experienced the lack of mobility and isolation refugees and conflict-affected students often experience. COVID-19 has been an eye-opening experience and helped us realize how much technology can create bridges and help us overcome different obstacles.
Bayan explained, “Quarantine provided lots of online opportunities to motivate young people to get involved and achieve more. For instance, I have attended many courses related to anatomy, learning skills, teaching strategies, and soft skills. It’s amazing to have a platform where you can hear other people’s experiences and be inspired by them.”
Bayan chose to attend the Women in Tech program for a semester, and describes her experience this way, “[The program] is based on involving young girls and women in the tech world by teaching coding. It was very useful for me….The program was really unique and inspiring for women. Women got to prove to be innovative and enter the world of coding….Before the course, none of us had any idea of what coding was, but the teacher was very patient and explained things step by step.”
Bayan’s motto is: “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and she clearly lives by it. Bayan is now working to provide mobile dental care to people living in rural areas and at Syria’s borders who struggle to access medical and dental services. This is a testament to the changes women and girls are capable of making when they have access to the education they deserve. Her dream is to work at a humanitarian organization, like the WHO. She states, “Even when people are below the poverty line, they are humans and they have the right to be treated like humans.”
Despite the long years of war and the economic recession that discouraged many, Bayan is ambitious and determined. She says, “Hope is not enough for people to get better, that is why we should be doers and make the difference we want to see in our society. Young people are the most important part of it, because we can give real help.”
She concluded our interview with this appeal to all young students who identify as women, “If you’re a young student, don’t waste a second of your life. Don’t limit yourself to doing your homework as fast as you can and then forget about it. In my second year of dentistry major, I focused on English classes, then German classes. Then I studied coding, and I’ve been a volunteer in many different projects. I want to encourage every girl and woman in society to be active and entrepreneurial”.
About the author: Giada Santana
I am an Italian–Dominican student majoring in philosophy, international studies, and economics. However, I spent my final year abroad focusing on international development at the University of Sussex. Here at Paper Airplanes, I conduct interviews, write for the blog and help with social media posts. When I'm not volunteering with Paper Airplanes, I love practicing yoga, reading and creating playlists on Spotify.
The views and opinions represented in this post belong solely to the author of the blog post, and are not representative of the views and policies of Paper Airplanes and its staff members.