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Skateistan: Empowering Afghan girls through skateboards, enlivening children

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

In a land where women are still battling the clout of Taliban while exercising their basic freedom, Skateistan, an international NGO which began as a grassroot movement, has decided to take up the cause of girl empowerment.

The Skateistan program in Afghanistan helps educate poor children through the street sport of skateboarding.

A novel initiative founded in 2007  by Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich, Skateistan uses skateboarding as a tool to lure children into schooling. He perceived the dearth of opportunities for young Afghans, particularly girls and working children and visualized skateboarding as a way to engage and build the community.

It was officially registered as an Afghan NGO in July 2009.

Skatiestan has three core programs in Afghanistan: Skate and Create, Back to School, Youth Leadership. Here is how they work:

Skate and Create

This program offers regular, structured weekly skateboarding instruction alongside an educational arts-based curriculum:

  • In the skate park, children of all backgrounds find a valuable platform for self-expression, creativity, goal setting and personal development.
  • In the classroom, students use fine arts and multimedia to explore geography, world cultures, history, human rights, environmental studies, hygiene, storytelling and more.
  • Lessons focus on giving youth tools to express themselves, think critically and solve problems in their local and global communities.
  • Special community events and international multimedia and art exchanges with peers around the globe expand the students’ personal worlds.

Back to School

Back-to-School is an accelerated learning program that prepares out of school youth to enroll for the first time, or re-enroll in the public school system.

  • During each four-month semester, experienced teachers guide students through an accelerated study of one grade of public school curriculum, preparing students for government standardized exams.
  • Upon completion of two to three semesters in the program, Skateistan enrolls the student into a government operated school, usually entering the 3rd or 4th grade.
  • A Student Support Officer follows up regularly with the graduate to ensure the new track is working well for the student and their family.

Youth Leadership

Dozens of youth who have become volunteers or staff with the organization, and now play an active role in developing programs for their peers.

  • Youth Leaders assist in skate sessions and classroom lessons, help to plan and manage events, and take part in special sports, arts, and multimedia workshops, which increase their skill sets.
  • The Youth Leadership initiative helps exceptional youth reach their potential to become positive role models for hundreds of students, and to initiate positive community projects of their own.

Apart from functioning in Afghanistan, Skateistan has also grown to run skateboarding and educational programming for children in other countries: In 2011 Skateistan Cambodia was founded in Phnom Penh, and in 2014 Skateistan South Africa was founded in Johannesburg.

While speaking on the kind of empowerment that kids require, Percovich said, “ A lot of foreign aid agencies here tell them what they should be doing or what they should know, but it’s incredibly important for the children to decide these things for themselves.”

“I want to give them some sort of control over their own destiny, he said.

Skateistan’s skateboarding and educational programs are free of charge and open to girls and boys of all socio-economic backgrounds between the ages of 5 and 18.

Over 40 per cent of Skateistan students are girls.

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Conventional vs Unconventional Classroom

So where would you be learning, conventional or an unconventional classroom?

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Unlike the conventional learning in a classroom, online training makes the content available for students digitally. Flickr

Learning is the process of acquiring new skills or knowledge and for quite some time students have followed the process of enrolling in an offline centre to learn and study from the material provided but now, there is a new and an unconventional approach to upskilling yourself and that is through online learning.

While I was growing up, if I ever wanted to learn a new skill, I had to travel a minimum of 2-3 kms to the nearest learning or tuition centre to enquire and then enrol for the desired training. Though there were interactions with the teacher, but inhibitions got the better of me and with time, because of all the unresolved doubts, the learning started to become monotonous and I lost interest. But online learning has made that journey for a student interesting, fun and a cakewalk. You can relax in your seat while the knowledge is displayed on your screen and ask all that you wish to.

To begin with, what is online learning?

Unlike the conventional learning in a classroom, online learning makes the content available for students digitally. Students can learn online, anywhere and anytime. Instead of physical copies of books, e-learning uses visual content and gamification.

To help you understand the differences better I would like to compare both the classrooms and the learning associated on the basis of parameters that are essential for an overall learning.

1.       Affordability: 

In offline centres or conventional classrooms there are a lot of miscellaneous expenses incurred and hence the fee structure is designed accordingly.

Whereas in online learning, students’ aim is to learn so companies spend resources only on developing the content and thereby lowering the cost of the training.

From text to graphics, this software does it all. Pixabay
In offline centres or conventional classrooms there are a lot of miscellaneous expenses incurred and hence the fee structure is designed accordingly. Pixabay

2.       Flexibility and convenience:

In a conventional classroom, if you miss a class it gets difficult to grasp the topic and understand what is being taught. The classes have to be attended on fixed days
and timings, offering almost no flexibility. Whereas in online learning, the classes can be taken as per your availability and thus giving you an opportunity to design your own curriculum. You could also watch the classes over and understand the topics in-depth.

3.       Answers to your questions:

While learning, doubts might arise about the topic being taught but students usually hesitate in asking questions in a classroom. Whereas in online learning, you are an anonymous user and your doubts, as frivolous they may be, can be asked without any hesitation.
4.       Practical experience:
The learning journey in a conventional classroom is about reading and grasping, it involves little or none practical applications of the learnings. Whereas in online learning, the training is designed in such a manner that the content is informative and involves practical applications as well. The test and assignments in the module are made to ensure that the student has a holistic growth.

Also Read- Apple Watch Helps Users in US Take ECG

Only 20 percent of the five million students who graduate every year get employed, industry lobby Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) said in a report, published last year.

The competition is stiff and is going to get worse with time so It essential to make yourself stand out from the rest to increase your chances of getting hired. The certificate you will receive at the successful completion of the training will help in making the employer realise that you have relevant skills and in-depth knowledge about the subject.

So where would you be learning, conventional or an unconventional classroom?

About the Author: Sarvesh Agrawal is the Founder and CEO of Internshala, an internship and trainings platform. (Internshala.com)