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Education With a Difference in Afghanistan
Creative Thinkers is setting out to inspire young minds with fun-filled sessions on the subjects schools omit.
By the time Sanaullah Jelani’s team finished decorating the hall, it looked more like a children’s birthday party than a workshop setting. Balloons adorned the stage at Khana Noor High School in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, with giant banners and brightly colored screens setting the tone for the session ahead. This was no ordinary lesson. There were games, presents, shows, music, drama and animations, all carefully choreographed into a unique learning experience designed to engage as well as inform.
“We want to encourage self-development and improve the prospects of these students so they can lead better lives,” says Jelani, 17, who founded Creative Thinkers to address the gaps in school curriculums in Afghanistan. Targeting students in grades one to six, Jelani’s team runs 90-minute sessions that aim to strengthen the youth community by teaching self-development and social awareness skills, such as how to act in an emergency, everyday hygiene and taking care of the environment.
“We hope to make a positive difference in the daily lives of the students and teach them some of the things they are not getting in schools,” he adds. One of the most important lessons covers traffic awareness because of the high number of traffic accidents involving children in Afghanistan. “We want to remove this problem in our community and have a good impact on their futures,” says Jelani. Other topics include manners and tidiness, with theatrical performances illustrating the benefits of being well-behaved at home and school.
The emphasis is on making it fun and light-hearted while reinforcing the educational message. “This is the best way to help children learn,” Jelani says. The first round of conferences will focus on four schools in the Mazar-i-Sharif District, where he lives, reaching around 160 students. Jelani recently secured an Innovation Hub grant from Ideas Beyond Borders, which will be used to hire equipment so the Creative Thinkers team, who work on a volunteer basis, can perform plays, lay on snacks and create games and animations to inspire their young audiences.
Jelani is also hoping to develop a program for older students, whose outlook, he says, has been particularly affected by the Taliban takeover last year. The new regime is already working to change the curriculum in favor of more religious content and has banned girls from attending secondary school in Afghanistan. “The situation under the Talian has had its effects – many students are less motivated to learn,” says Jelani, who has noticed a change for the worse among his classmates at school. “They have no energy to continue their education,” he says.
Creative Thinkers plans to create sessions focused on leadership skills, self-development and capacity building for older teenagers. “We want to strengthen the youth community in Afghanistan and bring them closer to the rest of the world,” he says. For young people living under Taliban rule, life feels increasingly isolated as opportunities vanish under a regime that remains unrecognized by the international community.
“Leadership skills combined with solid 21st-century skills are what Afghanistan needs at the moment. Creative Thinkers is a leading organization, and we are honored to partner with them in building the Middle East’s future builders,” says Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, founder and president of Ideas Beyond Borders.
For Jelani, who is living this change every day and sees the impact on his school fellows, it has never been more critical to invest in the future of Afghanistan’s youth. “We face many problems in Afghanistan, but even a small change can make a big difference. Working with IBB means we can have a bigger program and a bigger impact, allowing us to implement these ideas so that young people can create a better future for themselves and Afghanistan.”
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