Who’s Skipping School?

A young Ariaal girl carries a container of water pulled from a well in Marsabit District, Kenya. Photo by Maria Stenzel


The new Nat Geo movie, The First Grader, tells the story of a Kenyan man in his 80s who applies for a coveted spot in school along with first graders. He wants to learn how to read. For those in countries where virtually everyone goes to school it is hard to comprehend how the opportunity for an education can be like winning the lottery. Revisit some recent National Geographic articles illustrating the challenges which defeat many would-be students, and how education can change a life, and possibly a culture.

What is the most basic thing that can stand between a child and an education? Perhaps water. In The Burden of Thirst, (Apr. 2010) Tina Rosenberg tells the story of Aylito Binayos of Konso, Ethiopia, who dropped out of school at age 8 and now spends up to 8 hours a day fetching water for her family. With nearly 900 million people in the world lacking access to clean water, find out what success and failures are common when aid groups try to help.

In some cultures education is not part of the equation. The nomadic Gadulia Lohar of India committed to a life of wandering and self-denial in 1568 and ever since have roamed for work and food, offering their metalworking skills. Under colonial rule they were viewed as vagrants and criminals, reports John Lancaster in India’s Nomads, (Feb. 2010) and the stigma remains with them. Follow along with Lancaster as he gets to know one group and reports on the tension between their traditional lifestyle and the efforts of some to encourage them to establish residency for government benefits, including an education. A photo gallery by Steve McCurry show the daily lives of some of India’s many nomads.

Sometimes an education is possible, but must be fought for. Once obtained, what can it achieve? This question is explored by Elizabeth Rubin in Veiled Rebellion: Afghan Women. (Dec. 2010). In the conservative Pashtun culture Sahera Sharif fought to go to school, started a radio station, and was the first woman to teach men in a university class in Khost. Her daughter, inspired by her mother, is studying law with the aim of helping women defend themselves against violence and injustice. A photo gallery by Lynsey Addario includes Bibi Aisha, an Afghan woman whose husband, a Taliban fighter she was married to at age 12, cut off her nose, ears and hair as punishment for running away from him and his family in order to escape constant beatings.

Human Journey