The primary driver of girls' under-representation in government schools here in Afghanistan (and in many other conflict zones) is the distance between home and school, and the safety concerns that arise with females commuting to classes outside of their home villages. This distance constitutes the a significant risk for families, and disproportionately affects female students. Here in Afghanistan, I have been working on a large community-based education program for the UK Department of International Development (DFID). The basic tenant of community-based education is to establish schools in marginalized, predominately rural areas of developing nations with weak state capacity where formal schooling has not previously been accessible. Implementation involves community mobilization and sensitization, community monitoring and identification of local teachers, community contribution of a learning space (normally in a local home or mosque), materials and classroom furnishing, teacher training/orientation programs, teacher monitoring, and government "hub-school" clustering.
While not a substitute for formalized education, this does allow children access to education and works to address some of the barriers that exist, primarily for females, in attending school in rural areas. In bringing schools to communities, we are circumventing a weak state with limited capacity for reaching all citizens. This is not building state capacity, as should be the ultimate goal of large-scale developmental interventions, but nonetheless, it is bringing three years of education to females who would simply have no access otherwise.
Community-based education is a fascinating concept, especially when we can increase the range of interventions through complimentary ECD classes, Accelerated Learning Programs (two years of school in one, with the focus being girls with interrupted educations/migrants), and Adult Literacy Classes and library development. However, the same issues arise as in government schools in weak states: teacher quality, appropriateness of materials and student levels, and central government mandates. The question is: does the direct community-based structure of this schooling mitigate the risks of teacher absenteeism and weak community oversight, or is this simply window-dressing for the consistent realities faced elsewhere?