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From: Featured Documentaries

Fight to learn: Eight must-see documentaries about education

Al Jazeera follows students defying the odds to go to school, and teachers trying to make education available to all.

Education is a fundamental human right, a public good that should be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere, and a public responsibility, according to the United Nations.

While more than 260 million children and youth across the world don’t attend school, opportunities to attend school are generally increasing, so students are picking up books in remote classrooms, in underpaid schools, in elite colleges, and in prisons.

But the road to education is not always smooth. Some must fight stigma, poverty, culture shock or discrimination to learn, while some teachers face similar battles to keep their classrooms open. 

From a Palestinian refugee adjusting to life at a prestigious private school in the United Kingdom to Afghan women fighting for more classrooms in Kabul, here are Al Jazeera’s documentary picks for International Education Day, and every day:

India’s Child Geniuses


More than five million children in India are thought to have genius-level IQs. But most of them live in slums and are never discovered.

Poor education and a lack of opportunity usually mean their potential goes unrealised – until now.

Al Jazeera’s 101 East follows a team of mentors striving to find the brightest children in the poorest circumstances. Students are given a test designed by Mensa, the world’s oldest IQ society. And those that test well are offered a scholarship to attend a school otherwise reserved for more privileged kids.

Mohamad at Eton


In September 2010, 16-year-old Palestinian refugee Mohamad Fahed arrives at London’s Heathrow airport and is taken to Britain‘s most prestigious private school, Eton College.

Mohamad’s hopes to become a genetic engineer – a once-distant dream as a boy growing up in the Al Rashidieh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Winning an all-expenses-paid scholarship to the college, however, opens up his life in ways he cannot yet imagine. 

Al Jazeera’s Witness follows Mohamad through his first year in Eton as he adopts the mantle of a public schoolboy in an unknown environment while dealing with inevitable homesickness and undertaking the process of making new friends among the privileged college students.

Teaching Empowerment: Prison Education in Kenya


Nearly half of Kenya‘s population of 44 million live below the poverty line. The lack of education and opportunities lead to a high level of crime, contributing to Kenya’s prison population of 57,000 inmates, which is more than double the country’s official capacity of 27,000 prisoners.

This is where the APP, The African Prisons Project, steps in to provide education and healthcare for prison inmates.

Founded in 2004, its aim is to bring immediate improvements to prisoners’ welfare and to create models for rehabilitation. It teaches prisoners how to read and write, and once they master literacy and numeracy, APP encourages them to study law, so they can represent themselves in court.

In this film, Al Jazeera finds out how the organisation is transforming the lives of Kenyan prisoners.

Hashim’s School of Hope


In the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, 44-year-old Myanmar refugee Hashim Kassim struggles to raise funds to keep his religious school open, while working hard to prepare two bright students for a Quran recitation competition.

Hashim, a refugee for 17 years himself, cares for 200 Myanmar Muslim and Rohingya refugee students. Many are orphans living in his school, with the numbers expanding as Muslim refugees flee violence in Myanmar. Can he raise enough funds to keep his school open and will his students win the Quran competition?

Afghanistan: School Scandal


Most Afghan girls are still out of school, despite hopes that more women would have a chance to get an education following the Taliban’s fall from power in 2001, and the international community donating billions of dollars in aid.

Critics point to corruption within Afghanistan‘s education system, lack of oversight by donors and social attitudes that remain deeply discriminatory against girls.

Since 16-year-old Mahnoz Aliyar started coming to Sayedul Shohada School in grade one, the number of girls has more than doubled. It is a welcome sign of progress but now the school cannot accommodate all of its 14,000 students, and the overcrowding means that girls study outside.

Al Jazeera’s 101 East gets rare access to go inside the Sayedul Shohada School in Kabul. They meet the girls desperate to get an education and investigate whether the international community and the Afghan government is failing to honour their promise to educate a generation of girls.

Educating Black Boys


Baltimore, a port city in the United States, has a long history of racial segregation, and its law enforcement has been accused of unfair policing in predominantly black neighbourhoods.

Many believe that the stereotyping of black people starts at an early age in the US – as early as grade school.

Embarking on a personal journey, Al Jazeera’s Tony Harris returns to his hometown to examine how the education system has failed black boys and reflects upon why he managed to make it out successfully while so many of his friends did not.

Shattered Dreams


Between 2007 and 2008, the number of students from Bangladesh travelling to the UK for education more than quadrupled. Many were from modest families who emptied their pockets to send their teenagers abroad for a prestigious British degree. After being promised a world-class education they often arrived in the UK ill-prepared and victims of fraud. 

Many students discovered that the prestigious university they were expecting to study at was a private college and often no more than a couple of rooms above an Indian restaurant.

Al Jazeera World speaks to Bangladeshi students who fell victim of scams, largely through the malpractice of agents in their own country in collusion with now-defunct private colleges in the UK.

Editor’s note: Since the film was made, the rules governing the accreditation of private colleges by the UK Border Agency have changed. Institutions now have to be on a list of highly trusted sponsors before they are able to get visas for their prospective students.

Educating Igor


Igor and his siblings grew up in a Roma settlement in eastern Slovakia.

They have faced racism, discrimination and even violence that targets “gypsies”.

After experiencing an assault by local police, Igor decides to return to school with the support of his older sister Irma.

He is committed to getting a proper education so that he can join his sister, Irma, as an accredited teacher working with the young children in his impoverished settlement.

Al Jazeera’s Witness follows Igor as he tries to use education to change the future for the children in their community.