Time for School: 2003-2016, a longitudinal documentary project, portrays the gripping stories of five kids in five countries who are struggling against the odds to get a basic education. These children live in countries – India, Brazil, Kenya, Afghanistan and Benin – where poverty, child labor, early marriage, and the chaos of war prevent legions of young people from getting an education.
Time for School began filming with these students during their first days of school and followed them for 12 years. In 2003, they all began at the same starting gate, all bright and eager to learn. Soon growing contrasts emerged in the quality and stability of the children’s educations and each faced obstacles that threatened their ability to remain in school.
The unique longitudinal documentary project was inspired by the Millennium Development Goal of Education for All, a promise that 189 nations made to the United Nations in 2000, to provide every child around the world with a free primary education by 2015. While there has been progress over the past 15 years, there are still 58 million children out of school around the globe and around 100 million who do not complete primary school – in spite of universal recognition that education is the smartest anti-poverty investment that any country can make.
In rural India, Neeraj Gujar finally began her studies at age 9. But instead of joining her brothers at the state-run school during the day, Neeraj attends a special night school so she can work on the family farm. India has the largest number of child laborers in the world and millions of children don’t attend school at all. Neeraj dreams of becoming a teacher and hopes to study through tenth grade. “I’ve never seen a girl in my village study beyond that,” she says. But she often misses months of school to herd the family’s livestock.
Jefferson Narciso lives in Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhoods or “favelas,” and attends school in part because his mother receives a government stipend through the Bolsa Familia initiative, an innovative anti-poverty program that has been credited with boosting enrollment and reducing the dropout rate. Jefferson is a good student, but he and his friends are constantly recruited by the drug lords who run the favela.
At 10 years old, Joab Onyando feels himself lucky to start first grade in a 70-student classroom without desks or chairs, in a school in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum. Like millions in Kenya, he could not study at all until the government eliminated primary school fees in 2003. While in grade school, Joab loses his mother to AIDS and then has to care for his younger siblings when his father abandons the family. Despite extraordinary setbacks, Joab remains one of the top students in his class, but struggles to stay in school to get the education his mother always wanted for him.
Shugufa Sohrabi is finally able to enroll in school at age 11 after spending years in a Pakistani refugee camp during the Taliban’s rule. Her father staunchly believes in educating Shugufa and her sisters, and stands up to his neighbors who say girls shouldn’t go to school. Although school enrollment has increased in Afghanistan, the Taliban and suicide bombers remain a threat and have attacked many schools. Nonetheless Shugufa – one of twelve children – is determined to stay on course, saying, “I always want to study. People who don’t go to school live like blind people!”
In the tiny West African country of Benin, almost half the primary school–aged children are out of school — most of them girls. Nanavi Todénou is the first girl from her family to enroll, thanks to a government program aimed at closing the gender gap. But when Nanavi’s father dies, the family finds it difficult to pay for her books and keep her in school. In this deeply traditional community, the pressure to marry starts as she reaches adolescence, and with a two-hour walk to her new middle school, the odds are stacked against her to fulfill her father’s promise to continue her education.
Told through primarily from the point of view of the children and their families, Time for School: 2003-2016 presents the contrasting lives of those who were forced to abandon schooling and those who are still following their dreams. While each child has a unique story, taken together their lives tell an epic tale, shedding light on one of the most urgent and under-reported stories of our time.