Vina Barahman: Allowing Everyone Access to the Transformative Power of Education
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi there, my name is Spiffy, I’m an interplanetary journalist hanging out on Planet Earth. Today I’m interviewing Vina Barahman, a changemaker working towards UN SDG 4: Quality Education. She is an Education Specialist and Planning and Reporting Lead with UNICEF, and I’m excited to hear what she has to say!
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Vina! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your work?
Vina: Hi, Spiffy, happy to be here! I’m addressing inequalities that keep millions of children behind in accessing quality and relative learning opportunities; this means support to make sure that children and adolescents that are out of school can go to school or learning centers. This also means making sure those who are in the classrooms or receiving learning in different modalities are actually learning the knowledge and skills they need, in a context and language that is relevant to them, and that which prepares them for the realities of the future of work and life. These challenges could be rooted in social and cultural norms—for example when societies prioritize boys' education over girls—or rooted in poverty that pushes children into work or early marriages.
Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?
Vina: I was born in a middle-income family in Iran with very independent parents. I got my first job as a kindergarten teacher at the age of 18 because I wanted to have my own earning. I always imagined a life that is not limited by the city I was born in, or by my skin color, the language I speak, or my passport. It was evident to me that education is the only thing that can give me the wings I need to fly. Today, when I look back at that little girl, I feel so proud because I, myself, am an example of the transformative power of education. If my parents hadn't invested in my education—at times much more than they could afford—and if they hadn't enabled me to pursue learning anywhere I found it, I wouldn't be here today.
Spiffy: What would you say is the impact of your work?
Vina: Even though it is sometimes difficult to see the immediate impact, I know that what I do may have the potential to change the life of a child somewhere; could allow a little girl to set foot to a school in her little village for the first time; or save a little boy from being forced to work way too early for his age. Part of the work I do supports advocacy, and that can lead to considerable changes in national policies, and subsequently make a huge difference in the life of thousands or millions of children. When you work at headquarters level, you may not be able to see the smile or the beauty of happiness in a kid's eyes every day, but you know that together with your colleagues, you are making a difference in people's lives.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone or initiative by you or your department at UNICEF, and the impact it makes.
Vina: At UNICEF, we are working with governments to make sure they address the learning losses that happened during school closures. Data shows that two thirds of children globally cannot read and understand a simple sentence by the age of ten. This is a catastrophe that should shock any parent and politician alike. The economic cost of this loss of learning is estimated around US$21 trillion in lost earnings. Imagine the economic impact these two years of education interruptions have had that will reveal their gravity only in a few years from now. I think that what we are doing is important because we are ensuring governments prioritize learning recovery, and it's quite unprecedented to have such a diverse set of partners with us in doing this.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Vina: I think the new generation has an opportunity to shape the education transformation that is happening. The discourse on education is changing. Students are no longer the receiving end of a bunch of instructions. Teaching and learning methodologies have long recognized the importance of interaction, feedback, and engagement of students in shaping their learning—and now after the pandemic, this has become a fact. Digital technologies, innovations, and creative methods are all ready to shape the student’s learning journey. I think the real changemakers are not necessarily the ones writing curriculums and making education policies, but rather the learners themselves by demanding what is relevant to them, to their realities, needs, and interests.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Vina—it’s been an honor!
Vina Barahman is a strategic planning, advocacy, and partnerships management specialist, who is very passionate about girls education and women empowerment. Vina has worked in Timor-Leste, Nepal, Iran, Jordan, and Panama, and currently works at UNICEF in New York. She loves leading projects that bring together experts in different areas, where she can find synergies and maximize the strength of a team. She speaks Farsi, English, and Spanish, and dreams of speaking Italian. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 7,2023.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.