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September 5th, 2006
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Where Are They Now?

In 2003, WIDE ANGLE profiled seven children from seven different countries as they started their first year of school in the unprecedented multi-year documentary project “Time for School.” This year, “Back to School” checks in on the students, some with their future education almost assured and others clearly in danger of dropping out. How are the children doing? How far have they progressed in school? Have there been any significant changes in the students’ education since the Education for All universal education initiative?

Nanavi : Benin
“My father told me to go to school and not to rest.”

In 2003, a “mediator” working as part of a government education program convinced a local voodoo priest in Koutagba, Benin, to permit one girl from every family to go to school. In her family, Nanavi was that girl. Three years later, 12-year old Nanavi experienced a devastating loss — the death of her father — that has left her family destitute. Although her mother managed to scrape together a few dollars for chalk and supplies with help from an uncle and the school, she may soon need Nanavi to work in the fields to ensure the family’s survival.

Public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) in constant 2002 US$ Average years of school Total percent of children enrolled in primary school Gender parity index (GPI) Ratio of female to male
Benin $36 6 years 54% 0.68
United States $7,516 12 years 92.4% 1.01
Jefferson : Brazil
Jefferson, 2003 Jefferson, 2006
“When I grow up, I want to be a soccer player. Soccer is the thing I like most about my country.”

In 2003, Jefferson was a shy five-year old who enjoyed flying kites from the roof of his home in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favela (slum). His mother was receiving a small state stipend to help ensure that her children would stay in school. In 2006, Jefferson is at the top of his class but worries about escalating gang and police violence in his neighborhood. As Jefferson is one of the few students in his second grade class who can read and write fluently, his mother is optimistic of his chances to escape the cycle of crime that pervades their neighborhood and eventually move away from the favela.

Public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) in constant 2002 US$ Average years of school Total percent of children enrolled in primary school Gender parity index (GPI) Ratio of female to male
Brazil $256 8 years 97.3% 0.91
United States $7,516 12 years 92.4% 1.01
Shugufa : Afghanistan
Shugufa, 2003 Shugufa, 2006
“I want to be an engineer in the future. If not an engineer, then a doctor.”

When WIDE ANGLE first met 11-year old Shugufa, she was living in a suburb of Kabul and attending school for the first time after spending years in a Pakistani refugee camp. In the spring of 2006, Afghanistan had the highest school enrollment in its history, yet strained to meet its students’ needs. In order to deal with the short supply of teachers and textbooks, Shugufa’s school has introduced a shift system, so she only attends class from 12:30 to 4:00 p.m. However, with 74 percent of girls in Afghanistan dropping out before fifth grade, Shugufa — now in sixth grade — has beaten the odds.

Public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) in constant 2002 US$ Average years of school Total percent of children enrolled in primary school Gender parity index (GPI) Ratio of female to male
Afghanistan n/a 6 years 53% 0.53
United States $7,516 12 years 92.4% 1.01
Raluca : Romainia
Raluca, 2003 Raluca, 2006
“Teacher, economist, gymnast, actress, I.T. engineer, certified accountant…”

Three years ago, Raluca was living in Bucharest, with both of her parents working long hours to give their daughter opportunities and luxuries they never had during the communist era. The seven-year old was commuting 45-minutes across town by herself each day to the finest public school. In 2006, Raluca continues to attend the same public school. Every afternoon she balances visits to the tutor and long hours of homework. Next June, Raluca must take a crucial exam that will determine whether she may continue at her exclusive public school or must transfer to one of the standard city schools.

Public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) in constant 2002 US$ Average years of school Total percent of children enrolled in primary school Gender parity index (GPI) Ratio of female to male
Romania $211 8 years 88.9% 0.99
United States $7,516 12 years 92.4% 1.01
Ken : Japan
Ken, 2003 Ken, 2006
“I want to either own a candy store or a toy store.”

WIDE ANGLE first met Ken and his mother as they experienced the traditional ceremonies of the opening day of school. For Ken, a middle-class child who had already learned to read and write in a state-sponsored nursery school — part of one of the world’s finest educational systems — the day marked the official start of his seemingly assured journey to independence and responsibility. Three years later, WIDE ANGLE returns to find nine-year old Ken flourishing, with a passion for sports and a perfect attendance record for the third grade.

Public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) in constant 2002 US$ Average years of school Total percent of children enrolled in primary school Gender parity index (GPI) Ratio of female to male
Japan $5,962 10 years 99.9% 1.00
United States $7,516 12 years 92.4% 1.01
Neeraj : India
Neeraj, 2003 Neeraj, 2006
“When I grow up, I want to go to a big school to study. By then, I’ll know more.”

In 2003, Neeraj, who lives in a tiny desert village in Rajasthan, India, with her extended family of 15, was determined to attend school. Extensive daytime chores, which included carrying water, caring for younger siblings, and herding cows, meant she could not study at the normal day school like her brothers. Nine-year old Neeraj convinced her parents to allow her to attend a special night school for girls who must work by day. WIDE ANGLE returned in 2006 to find that Neeraj was not at home. Like many other herding families, she was spending the dry season grazing livestock, miles from home and school. Night school is set up to accommodate these breaks — when Neeraj returns she will start where she left off. However, the interruptions in her studies mean that Neeraj has only progressed to the second grade.

Public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) in constant 2002 US$ Average years of school Total percent of children enrolled in primary school Gender parity index (GPI) Ratio of female to male
India $58 9 years 87.5% 0.94
United States $7,516 12 years 92.4% 1.01
Joab : Kenya
Joab, 2003 Joab, 2006
“I think if I go to school and God helps me, I’ll become a pilot.”

When WIDE ANGLE first introduced ten-year old Joab, he was living in one of Africa’s largest urban slums — Kibera, located in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya — and was finally starting first grade, following the 2002 abolition of school fees. In the intervening years, Joab suffered the unexpected illness and death of his mother. Joab, overcome with grief and shouldering the new responsibilities of caring for himself and his siblings, disappeared from school for several weeks but was persuaded by his principal to return. Now 13 and starting fourth grade, Joab excels in class. He ranked third of 92 students last semester and has been made class prefect.

Public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) in constant 2002 US$ Average years of school Total percent of children enrolled in primary school Gender parity index (GPI) Ratio of female to male
Kenya n/a 8 years 66.5% 1.00
United States $7,516 12 years 92.4% 1.01

Sources: Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 2006; www.unicef.org

  • mary beth

    “Back to School” is an excellent documentary!! I will use it in my middle school classroom. Thank you.

  • Carolina Diaz

    Very inspiring. As a future Florida teacher I will consider it more carefully to teach English abroad. It is a scary experience but what could be more rewarding that teaching those students that need it the most?

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