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The Power of the Classroom

In certain parts of the world, how many things have to go right in order to get a girl into a classroom?

And what type of life can that education can provide her?

As the senior gender coordinator for USAID, these questions fill my mind constantly as I seek to carry out my mandate – helping empower women and girls to participate fully and benefit from the development of their societies.

Last month, I traveled to Zambia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Dr. Jill Biden, USAID administrator Raj Shah, and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell where I was able to see them answered firsthand.

Girl students at Shalom Community School, Lusaka, Zambia

Girl students at Shalom Community School, Lusaka, Zambia / Susan Markham

The decision to allow a child to go to school is fraught with obstacles. Some are material: uniforms, socks, shoes, notebooks and pencils. Some reflect the economic and cultural realities of poverty-stricken families. But these concerns also often pale in comparison to the serious danger that many women and girls face every single time they step out of their homes to pursue an education.

In the eastern part of the DRC, I met a young woman who was kidnapped from her own home and taken into the jungle for six months by an armed militia. She had no idea where she was, who had taken her, or if she would ever see her family or home again.

In Sierra Leone, I met two younger girls from a rural area, around 10 years old, who were given to an “Auntie” in the city with the promise that they would attended school. Instead, they were held hostage in her home and made to do all of the household chores with little food and water. They suffered for months until they finally managed to escape.

But in Zambia, a young woman named Martha, orphaned by HIV/AIDS, was still trying to find a way to stay in school. Despite extreme poverty, little existing educational infrastructure, and the loss of her parents, she explained how her greatest goal was to finish her education.

In the DRC, Therese, an incredibly talented local entrepreneur who worked in restaurants for years, managed to save enough money for engineering school. With her degree, she created several surprisingly effective traffic robots that have become functional icons around Kinshasa. The robots are the centerpiece of her company, Women’s Technologies, that she runs alongside several other women. As if that weren’t enough, she also owns a successful chain of local restaurants.

Girl students at St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone await the arrival of Dr. Biden

Girl students at St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone await the arrival of Dr. Biden. / Susan Markham

Everywhere I went, people seemed to intuitively understand that educating their daughters was the most important thing they could do for their future.

They might not know the statistics:  That an educated girl has a “ripple effect” in many ways. That a girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult, or that a girl who completes basic education will invest 90 percent of her earnings back into her family. These effects might be invisible for the time being, but women, children, and community members are still willing to take great risks and make incredible sacrifices to stay in school, or to help their friends, daughters, and wives do the same.  Whether or not we can see it now, these benefits amplify across families, towns, cities, countries and generations.

This is why, in line with our mission to end extreme poverty and promote resilient democratic societies, USAID invests $1 billion every year on education programs around the world – on programs like WASH, designed to improve clean water and sanitation facilities in schools, and EAGLE, to help girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo make the transition from primary to secondary school. And to help raise awareness on the importance of girls’ education, we launched Let Girls Learn earlier this year with the help of our friends from the arts and entertainment industry.

Ultimately, it is stories like the ones I heard throughout my trip that drove home the necessity of programs like these. We do this because around the world, from Afghanistan to Zambia, individuals and families understand that both the risks and the payoffs to women’s education are huge. Despite putting themselves in the line of fire, sometimes quite literally, mothers continue to send their daughters to school, and their daughters keep going. Teachers continue to show up everyday to pass on their hard-won knowledge and expertise to the next generation. Communities, on their own and with our help, continue to build the infrastructure, even though it risks destruction.

The resilience and bravery of the girls and women that I met is humbling and inspiring. They certainly keep me going, and I’m glad that we are here to help turn that determination and perseverance into a lasting reality.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Markham is USAID’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. She tweets from @msmarkham

Girls Deserve To Learn: No Exceptions

As President Obama said, if a country is educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. Education is a silver bullet for empowering women and girls worldwide.

When girls are educated, their families are healthier, they have fewer children, they wed later, and they have more opportunities to generate income. One extra year of primary school boosts a girl’s future wage 10 to 20 percent and an extra year of secondary school increases that earning potential by 15 to 25 percent. Education also helps moms take better care of their kids.  According to the World Bank (PDF), each additional year of female education reduces child mortality by 18 per thousand births.

A young female student in Alma Village, southern Ethiopia. / Susan Liebold

A young female student in Alma Village, southern Ethiopia. / Susan Liebold

These are amazing statistics but I’ve also been fortunate enough to see for myself the high returns to investing in education. While in Kabul I met with an incredible group of young women who were educated entirely in post-Taliban Afghanistan. They reminded me how critically important education is to peace, prosperity and empowerment.

Those young women represent the future for a country that had virtually no girls in school less than 15 years ago.

Today, Afghan girls are more than a third of the students. I am proud that USAID is supporting community-based schools in Afghanistan and that our literacy effort is playing an instrumental role in ensuring these girls get an education; it is an investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.

In Afghanistan today, 3 millions girls are enrolled in school. A decade ago, there were none.   / USAID Afghanistan

In Afghanistan today, 3 millions girls are enrolled in school. A decade ago, there were none. / USAID Afghanistan

Globally, enormous progress has been made in closing the gender gap in primary education over the last 20 years. In most of the world today, a similar percentage of girls and boys attend primary schools. Yet disparities endure—there are around 3.6 million more girls out of school compared to boys around the world — in total, that’s 62 million girls who are not realizing their full potential. Women still comprise the majority (two-thirds) of the illiterate. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, obtaining an education remains particularly tough for women and girls. The World Bank estimates that half of the out-of-school girls in the world live in Sub-Saharan Africa and one quarter of them live in South Asia.

But it’s not just about access. Compounding the problem is a lack of quality education. For example, in Malawi robust primary school enrollment and matriculation rates are reported. However, a closer inspection of the educational system reveals that many students finish their schooling without being able to read.

That’s why USAID’s Education Strategy focuses on the quality of education – ensuring that all girls and boys leave school with the skills they will need to thrive. Specifically, the strategy focuses on improving reading for children in primary grades, strengthening higher education and workforce development programs, and increasing equitable access to education for children and youth in conflict and crisis.

We know that giving girls a quality education has tremendous multiplying effects for families, communities, societies and the world — for generations.

That’s why the United States is launching Let Girls Learn, a new effort to raise awareness about the importance of allowing all girls to pursue a quality education. In support of the effort, USAID also announced over $230 million for new programs to support primary and secondary education and safe learning in Nigeria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Jordan, as well as support for Guatemala’s ongoing, successful efforts to improve quality of education for under-served populations.

Because an educated girl is a force for change: She is the leader and peacemaker of tomorrow. Because an educated girl has a ripple effect.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carla Koppell is USAID’s Chief Strategy Officer. She was formerly the Agency’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. You can follow her @CarlaKoppell

 

In Zambia, a Refuge to Learn

If you want to see a community at work, check out the Lubuto Library on a Saturday morning in Lusaka, Zambia. Architect Eleni Coromvli has created traditional thatched structures to form the library garden compound. She explains that a Zambian home is not just one building but several with a covered outdoor space for family and friends to socialize.

The U.S. public libraries that I know, refer to clusters of computers as “the campfires of the 21st Century”, or the new places to tell our stories. In the Lubuto Library sturdy laptops line the circular walls. The children working there are often recruited off the streets by Kenny Hau, who was once a street child himself.

As outreach coordinator, he listens to the stories of traumatized children, counsels them and connects them to additional services as needed. The library stands next to a neighborhood school, so it’s difficult to tell whether the children working at the computers are homeless, out-of-school orphans or are children who attend school daily but hunger for more books and access to technology and the arts.

The Lubuto Library Project, a USAID All Children Reading Grand Challenge winner, is pioneering a program creating high-quality mother-tongue materials to teach children to read using an accessible, low-cost digital platform.  Here, a young boy tries out the program on a laptop. / Robert Kent, USAID

The Lubuto Library Project, a USAID All Children Reading Grand Challenge winner, is pioneering a program creating high-quality mother-tongue materials to teach children to read using an accessible, low-cost digital platform. Here, a young boy tries out the program on a laptop. / Robert Kent, USAID

On the Saturday morning I visited the library, a professional artist offered some pointers to older children bent over detailed pencil sketches. Two older boys explain to guests how they created the graphics to illustrate 100 lessons designed by librarians and teachers that are aligned with the national reading curriculum.

These reading lessons help those who know the basics practice; and help those who don’t start the process of learning to read. With help from a $300,000 USAID All Children Reading Grand Challenge  grant, the Lubuto Library has worked with experts like Dr. Joseph Mwansa from the University of Zambia to align these lessons with the new Zambian reading curriculum, entitled the Primary Literacy Program. Let’s Read, Zambia is the national media awareness and community outreach program in support of the new reading curriculum for Zambia.

In the main reading room, children sit elbow to elbow listening as two volunteers read aloud, “That’s Not My Hat” and “The Giving Tree.” I tried my hand at a participatory story that I’ve been telling since I was the same age as these volunteers and a volunteer myself at Saturday morning story hours in small town Iowa. In the picture you can see us ‘searching’ for elephants. The children slapped their legs and swished their hands as we went looking for an elephant to capture on film with our imaginary cameras.

At the Lubuto Library in Zambia, a boy works on an illustration for a lesson designed by librarians and teachers as a part of the country’s Primary Reading Program. / Robert Kent, USAID

At the Lubuto Library in Zambia, a boy works on an illustration for a lesson designed by librarians and teachers as a part of the country’s Primary Reading Program. / Robert Kent, USAID

Thomas Mukonde, the Library Services Advisor, took me on a tour of the stacks. He’s going to school to get his degree in library science. There are easy reading books in local languages like Bemba and Tonga as well as biographies of Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela. When they were told about the original texts of Zambian books in U.S. libraries, they arranged to download them into the Lubuto database so anyone can see and read them. They plan to connect to the Internet with the help of some private partners.

Outside the Library the children presented a play about a grandfather who tricks his grandchildren into digging his garden.The actors turned into tomato plants, then became the hawkers at the local market selling the tomatoes. A crowd of more than 50 children gathered to watch.

The director of the play is a local high school student and volunteer at the library. This is Lusaka’s second Lubuto Library. A third is operating in the south and they are looking for space in the northern province as well.  No matter what country, a free library is the soul of a community. It protects the past, preserves the present and assures the future. In order to teach a million Zambian children to read better, they need to practice. Lubuto gives them a place to do just that.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education

A Tale of Two Teachers

It took about two minutes to realize that I was in the presence of a good teacher. To keep their attention, she asked the children questions about the story she was reading, pointing out details of the illustrations. She spoke the local language Tonga, so I couldn’t understand her, but her face was alight, animated, engaging. These Zambian second graders hardly noticed the Americans standing in their Mwandi Community School classroom.

Children vied for the chance to practice the lower case “c” at the chalkboard. Then she asked them to make it backwards and eventually combined them to make the letter “s.” The lesson was part science, part art. Lavis Nzabula, young and inexperienced, is a volunteer teacher in this rural community school. In villages too far from public schools for their children to walk, parents in rural Zambia took action about 15 years ago and started their own schools. Now there are about 4,000 of them.

A volunteer teacher helps her second-grade students to practice letters in a community school in rural Zambia. Because long walks often limit a student’s ability to go to school there are now over 4,000 community schools in Zambia. /  Robert Kent, USAID

A volunteer teacher helps her second-grade students to practice letters in a community school in rural Zambia. Because long walks often limit a student’s ability to go to school there are now over 4,000 community schools in Zambia. / Robert Kent, USAID

Mwandi was launched under a tree, but with donor support it now has rudimentary classrooms. Community school teachers usually have about six years of primary school education. If they’re lucky, the local parent group can afford to give them a hut, but more likely they’re paid with a bag or two of maize meal each month. In contrast, public school teachers in Zambia make a modest $300-$400 a month.

Since 2010 when USAID committed to getting 100 million more children reading and learning — 1 million in Zambia — we’ve helped the Zambian Ministry of Education provide the community volunteer teachers with in-service training in the 5-step process of teaching reading. In some cases the community schools are out-performing the public schools.

Wick Powers, USAID Zambia’s Education Officer, attributes this to “motivation, attitude, time-on-task and more effective pedagogical approaches to teaching reading through a child-centered learning environment as opposed to teacher ‘chalk and talk’ lecturing.”

When finances allow, the ministry has started to send trained head teachers — about 800 last year — to community schools to provide support and build capacity among the local teacher corps.

Private partners are sponsoring boxes of supplemental reading materials for children to check out and take home just like they do for the public schools. Education officials increasingly listen to the PTA’s who manage the community schools and monitor the teachers. Many community schools in Zambia upgrade their operational standards to meet the established criteria to convert or be mainstreamed as public schools in order to receive ministry-trained teachers, funding, and other benefits.

In some cases, the communities don’t want that. The volunteer teachers are friends and neighbors, young people who have potential but no access to further education. They have a vested interest in teaching the village kids to read. With the help of weekend trainings, watching experienced teachers via cell phone videos, and coaching by head teachers, these novice teachers are improving. Some of them will earn the credentials that will qualify them for salaried positions.

In Twabuka, another nearby school, a young man, Akapelwa Muimui, is doing his best to teach the children gathered around him how to read in the local language of Tonga even though he is a native Bemba speaker. The two languages aren’t that different, and he’s doing a credible job according to the experts who are with me. The closer I move to his chair at the front of the room, the easier it is to see his hands shaking, but the children don’t notice. A visit to such schools from foreigners is rare, enervating, and perhaps even exhilarating for both teachers and children alike. Later when I ask a few of them to read words from their notebooks, they sound them out phonetically just as their teacher has taught them.

A teacher in Zambia reads and engages students with critical thinking questions as he goes through the story. With the help of weekend trainings, watching experienced teachers via cell phone videos, and coaching by head teachers, novice teachers are improving their methods and ensuring their students are learning.  / Robert Kent, USAID

A teacher in Zambia reads and engages students with critical thinking questions as he goes through the story. With the help of weekend trainings, watching experienced teachers via cell phone videos, and coaching by head teachers, novice teachers are improving their methods and ensuring their students are learning. / Robert Kent, USAID

The intense teacher training and curriculum changes (Zambia rolled out an entirely new national curriculum in 2014) were largely triggered by simple comprehensive tests that USAID has helped develop and administer in countries around the world. The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) has shown that children in grades 1-3 have not been learning to read. The evidence has forced government officials in many countries, including Zambia (which has some of the lowest scores in Africa) to take a hard look at the curriculum, the materials, training for principals and teachers, and their management and assessment systems.

The Zambian Government made a significant commitment to substantial changes that include switching to teaching reading in the seven local languages that children are born to and grow up hearing in their neighborhoods. The change has caused some controversy and a healthy public debate, but the evidence shows that children learn to read best in their first language. Once they master the process of reading, it’s easier to learn other languages including English. The government is investing in a USAID-supported public outreach campaign, Let’s Read Zambia, to educate parents and communities about the new reading curriculum, and they’re gaining the support of many parents who can more easily help their children practice reading at home or monitor their progress by checking homework on a daily basis.

As a veteran teacher myself, it’s encouraging to see the investment in teacher education — helping experienced teachers understand the need to change their tactics and helping teachers with no formal education to understand the step-by-step process of learning to read so children can eventually read to learn.

It may take a few years for the exam scores to reflect the changes and the commitment of the Zambian people and their government to their children, but the informal evaluations that teachers are taught to deliver along the way are proof enough for now that children are learning.Their parents recognize it too, and parent workshops are teaching them to take a more active role. As a parent said to me, “I used to get angry when the teacher sent homework and expected me to help. I thought she wanted me to do her job. Now I know I’m also my child’s teacher.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education

Martha Learns to Read

Martha, a first grader at Makombe Primary School in Malawi, takes the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) to test her ability to read. / Christie Vilsack/USAID

Martha, a first grader at Makombe Primary School in Malawi, takes the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) to test her ability to read. / Christie Vilsack, USAID

“How will Martha’s life be different because she’s learning to read?” I asked Dr. Mike Nkhoma, a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist in Malawi, as we were leaving the Mikombe Primary school. I had just watched this tiny first grade girl in a pink sweater struggle with the sounds that letters make in Chichewa, her national language.

Mikombe Primary is now funded by Malawi’s Early Grade Reading Activity, a government-backed program supported by USAID to improve reading for over a million Malawian children in 11 districts. This is an important commitment for a country that is the 17th poorest country on earth.

During my visit, I saw thousands of Malawian children in crowded classrooms and under trees. It’s not easy keeping hundreds of children focused and learning while they sit on the dirt or on cement shaping their letters with fingers in the air or with a nub of chalk on the floor. But their teachers have been energized by recent training in techniques for teaching reading and classroom management. As a veteran teacher myself, I was impressed with the results of teacher training that the program provides during vacation time and on weekends.

Part of the training involves coaching from Primary Education Advisors who observe classes and make concrete recommendations. The advisors might suggest a song to transition between lessons or instruct the teacher in more clearly pronouncing letter sounds unfamiliar to them. Teachers also learn to use impromptu day-to-day assessments that give them real-time feedback on what’s working. Reading instruction is closely tied to the Early Grade Reading Assessment, a test developed by USAID and used in the field globally to provide data to local ministries about learning outcomes.

A second-grade girl at Mphanje School in Malawi demonstrates skills learned through USAID’s Early Grade Reading Activity by reading aloud from her school textbook. / Oris Chimenya/USAID

A second-grade girl at Mphanje School in Malawi demonstrates skills learned through USAID’s Early Grade Reading Activity by reading aloud from her school textbook. / Oris Chimenya, USAID

So the U.S. is making an investment in Malawi–almost $100 million dollars over five years. But how is this going to change day-to-day life for a girl like Martha?

I asked Dr. Nkhoma about this. If Martha learns to read, he explained, she will be a more informed adult. If she goes into farming, which is likely because her village is surrounded by small corn fields, she will be able to learn about better agricultural practices. “If she can’t read, she’ll stick to the old ways of doing things,” says Dr. Nkhoma.

As a farmer, Martha might need credit, inputs, and price information—things that many smallholder farmers need but are unable to access.  Women constitute 70 percent of the agricultural labor force and produce 80 percent of household food but they have poorer access to extension services than men.  Reading is the first step in narrowing this gap and preparing girls for productive farming careers.

Martha will probably be a mother someday. Malawi’s population is growing more rapidly than most other developing nations, and 47 percent of children under 5 are stunted. We know that women who know how to read choose to space their children, have fewer of them, and are better able to understand nutritional needs. The result: children of literate women have a better chance of living past five years old.

Martha is one person. But as Dr. Nkhoma explains, “this one person sets an example for her daughters and her neighbors.

My father was the only person who had schooling in my whole community. He insisted that we had to go to school even if our friends weren’t going…When all the daughters in other families were getting married people laughed at my father for sending my sisters to school. My sisters ignored what people were saying…In the end the outcome of school was a better living. Parents whose children went to school are getting support from their children. The others saw this and said to my father, ‘I think you were doing the right thing.’ Then they wanted to send their children and grandchildren to school. It spreads out from one person and changes the community.”

When Dr. Nkhoma’s sisters were Martha’s age, they were the exception. At Martha’s school today, there are as many girls as boys attending through 4th grade. It’s our collective challenge to teach them to read and to keep them in school as long as possible. An investment in early grade reading means there’s hope for Martha and hope for Malawi.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education

Ending Child Labor

Global social movements have proven we can end child labor. An ambitious social movement to eradicate child labor globally came together two decades ago – and has enjoyed unprecedented success. Civil-society organizations in over 100 countries on every continent launched a Global March Against Child Labour in 1998. The march crossed 103 countries and culminated in a conference at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva in June 1998 where activists called on governments, international organizations, companies and civil society to come together to end child labor.

A young girl is forced to work at an unlicensed loom in the Bhaktapur district, Kathmandu, Nepal. This exploitation is a form of modern slavery. / © U. Roberto Romano

A young girl is forced to work at an unlicensed loom in the Bhaktapur district, Kathmandu, Nepal. This exploitation is a form of modern slavery. / © U. Roberto Romano

The ILO launched the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002. Each year on June 12, the day brings together governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, civil society and millions of people from around the world to highlight the plight of child laborers and what can be done to help them.

The movement is succeeding in its ambitious goals. In the late 1990s, the estimated number of children in various forms of child labor was nearly 250 million. Today, that figure has dropped to 168 million. The decline has particularly benefitted girls; total child labor among girls has fallen by 40 percent since 2000, compared to a drop of 25 percent for boys.

Child labor is defined as work that is hazardous to a child’s health, education, or physical or mental development. Too often, it traps children in a cycle of poverty. Too many children in the world still work instead of going to school. For example, an estimated 98 million children worldwide work in agriculture. Children harvest tobacco, cocoa, rubber and other global commodities. Children also work in dangerous industries like shipbreaking in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and in services such as construction and restaurant work. However, the U.S. Government has made a substantial contribution to ending this vicious cycle for tens of millions of children.

Kiran, age 10, stares through a carpet knife while weaving in Jaipur. Despite laws prohibiting it, child labor is rampant in India’s rug industry. “Carpet kids” suffer a tragic array of physical trauma, including respiratory illness from inhaling wool fibers, cuts and bruises from sharp tools, and spinal deformities from sitting in cramped positions. / © U. Roberto Romano

Kiran, age 10, stares through a carpet knife while weaving in Jaipur. Despite laws prohibiting it, child labor is rampant in India’s rug industry. “Carpet kids” suffer a tragic array of physical trauma, including respiratory illness from inhaling wool fibers, cuts and bruises from sharp tools, and spinal deformities from sitting in cramped positions. / © U. Roberto Romano

What have we learned about what works?

Social mobilization and awareness-raising: Like so many of the world’s ‘wicked’ problems, addressing child labor requires a concerted effort by multiple stakeholders acting together. Work to promote awareness of child labor among citizens and consumers in developed countries, and among families and communities in developing countries where children are at risk, has proven to be an important part of the solution. U.S. Government agencies, in particular the U.S. Department of Labor, have produced important reports documenting the issues thoroughly. Recognizing that raising public awareness also requires compelling photo and video documentation, in the mid-2000s USAID supported the creation of a photo and video repository, in particular to document conditions faced by girls. This material was ultimately turned into a film, Stolen Childhoods. The film documented not only the problem but examples of what interventions could help working children – such as a new USAID-supported schoolhouse in communities of coffee pickers in Kenya, creating opportunities for children who had been working on coffee farms to attend school for the first time.

Another very important part of the solution is mobilizing communities and empowering them to work at a grassroots level on practical solutions to address root causes of child labor. For example, through our Global Labor Program, USAID has helped workers in the rubber sector in Liberia to organize, mobilize and negotiate with their employer to end exploitative wage practices that compelled rubber tappers to bring their children to work. In the early 2000s, the problem of child labor on the world’s largest rubber plantation in Liberia came to light. Adult tappers were compelled to bring their entire families to work with them just to meet their daily quotas. Following the exposure of this problem, a transnational campaign emerged, linking civil-society organizations and trade unions in Liberia with consumer, labor and human rights groups in the United States. Through USAID’s Global Labor Program, the Solidarity Center was able to work directly with rubber workers in Liberia and assist them to organize, join unions and negotiate better wages and working conditions for themselves and their families. Today, thanks to the combination of effective awareness-raising, campaigning in the United States and the work of trade unions in Liberia to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, there is a school on the rubber plantation where all children attend school while their parents, the adult workers, are paid a living wage.

Ruben Barwon, 13, walks around his campus at the Firestone Junior High School system.  / Solidarity Center, Bill E. Diggs

Ruben Barwon, 13, walks around his campus at the Firestone Junior High School system. / Solidarity Center, Bill E. Diggs

Businesses are also an important part of the solution to the child labor problem. Awareness-raising campaigns have succeeded in flagging this as a business issue for many companies worldwide in many industries, and those companies and industries are working on innovative new approaches to ensuring their supply chains do not exploit workers. Goodweave is one of the best-known examples of a program effectively addressing child labor in a sector where it was endemic, the carpet-weaving sector in India. Goodweave is a certification system that works with retailers, rug importers and exporters, and looms to ensure that child labor is not used in carpet production. The program is active in the ‘carpet belt’ of India and Nepal, and recently extended into Afghanistan. The program provides educational transition programs and works with schools to ensure that children that are found working receive the assistance and support they need to go to school. By building awareness about the widespread use of child labor in the rug industry and creating an effective market-based solution, GoodWeave is ending child labor one rug at a time. Since 1995, 11 million child labor free carpets bearing the GoodWeave label have been sold worldwide, and the number of ‘carpet kids’ has dropped from 1 million to 250,000. GoodWeave’s work in Afghanistan is supported by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Finally, governments also have a very critical role to play in addressing child labor, through their role in establishing laws and policies to protect children, and equally important, their role in ensuring that all children have access to basic education. USAID’s Education Strategy is working to increase access to education for all children worldwide, and in particular for children in crisis and conflict environments. To achieve these goals, USAID is committed to working closely with host country governments and civil society to contribute to shared goals. For example, we are supporting a multi-million dollar initiative in Haiti, Room to Learn, that is working to provide universal, compulsory access to education in Haiti. USAID works closely with the Government of Haiti to build up the education system and provide safe, equitable education to children. USAID and the Government of Haiti are planning to work together to offer schooling to working children. Last March, USAID Assistant Administrator Eric Postel visited Haiti to set priorities for the design of the program. Postel visited an evening school for working children with former Minister of Education Vanneur Pierre. A study commissioned by the USAID/Haiti’s education office estimated more than 24,000 children work as domestic servants. Most of them are teenage girls whose education level is low. The Room to Learn project will work with the Haitian Ministry to offer improved services for these girls.

Sorbor S. Tarnue, 17, Student at the Firestone Junior High School sits to read over her notes after taking an exam. / Solidarity Center, Bill E. Diggs

Sorbor S. Tarnue, 17, Student at the Firestone Junior High School sits to read over her notes after taking an exam. / Solidarity Center, Bill E. Diggs

This year’s theme for World Day is Social Protection: Keeping Children Out of Work. This theme builds on last year’s World Report on Child Labour [PDF]. As we learn more and more about the root causes of child labor, we also are moving further back toward addressing those causes and preventing child labor from taking place at all. We now know that poverty and shocks play a significant role in driving children into work, and also in driving adults into forced and trafficked labor. Development assistance will have a very significant role to play in addressing these issues. With more support for social protection programs that have been proven to play an effective role in helping poor families cope with various types of shocks, we can keep even more children in school and continue to ensure children receive other basic protections.

Support for the World Day grows every year and today we look forward to even wider support from governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, NGOs and civil society, international and regional organizations and active citizens worldwide. You can add your voice to the millions worldwide that will celebrate our continued progress toward ending child labor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bama Athreya is the Senior Specialist for Labor and Employment Rights, USAID/DCHA/DRG

On the Road to Innovation in the West Bank

Recently I spent two action-packed days visiting the West Bank where I saw the tremendous impact that the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission’s work has in many sectors and witnessed several innovative projects.

Students at the Al Haffasi Coeducational Elementary School in Kafr Al Labad. USAID recently renovated the school adding three floors and six new classrooms.

Students at the Al Haffasi Coeducational Elementary School in Kafr Al Labad.
USAID recently renovated the school adding three floors and six new classrooms.

The work we are doing in the education sector and with youth is among the most exciting. USAID is currently partnering with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education on a national reading campaign to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of reading and to encourage everyone to read. I told students at the Al Haffasi coeducational elementary school in Kafr Al Labad, in the Tulkarem Governorate what a gift reading is. The slogan for our campaign “Today’s Readers Tomorrow’s Leaders,” rings true and I encouraged all of the students to grab a book and spend time reading, dreaming and learning. At the school we distributed dozens of books to the students, including popular works of American fiction and non-fiction like “Colors in the Desert” and “Mystery at the Museum” translated into Arabic that I am certain the students will enjoy.

A Palestinian entrepreneur taking part in a mini-MBA program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management with support from USAID.

A Palestinian entrepreneur taking part in a mini-MBA program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management with support from USAID.

The ingenuity and creativity of young Palestinian entrepreneurs I met was very impressive. While these youth face many challenges, ranging from finding jobs to starting businesses, I am certain that they will find and seize opportunities for success. I told them about a USAID initiative that will provide support to early stage businesses to create and sustain jobs, encourage increased equity investment in early stage businesses, and advance and develop the investment environment. The young entrepreneurs I met specialize in fields ranging from software to agribusiness to energy, and so many things in between. They were passionate about their ideas and I am certain that they will help lead the Palestinian economy forward.

During my two-day stay, the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission reached 100,000 likes on Facebook, an impressive milestone and a testament to the open channel of communication that the Mission has cultivated with its fans, most of whom are based in the West Bank and Gaza.  Check out the site – USAID West Bank/Gaza.  The Mission posts fantastic photos of its highly important activities and loves to hear from its fans.

While in the West Bank I also visited an innovative pilot project where wastewater is treated and then reused to irrigate crops. This initiative is extremely resourceful and I look forward to seeing the data on crop yields and freshwater resources saved. I hope that the success of this pilot program can be emulated at other locations in the West Bank. I also got a glimpse of the challenges that the mission faces, particularly with environmental issues. Visiting a polluted stream, a tannery, and a landfill, I saw the complexities of the proper disposal of waste and sewage.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski briefed at Beit Fajjar in the West Bank on environmental issues and proper disposal of waste and sewage.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski briefed at Beit Fajjar in the West Bank
on environmental issues and proper disposal of waste and sewage.

I was pleased to see that the mission’s implementation of the High Impact Micro Infrastructure Initiative, a $100 million initiative announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in November 2013, is advancing according to schedule, with more than 40 infrastructure activities underway, and more scheduled to begin in the near future. These infrastructure projects are coordinated with the Palestinian Authority and municipal authorities to support Palestinian national priorities and include construction or renovation of health clinics, road repairs, construction of community centers and school, and other similar projects.  This initiative aims to provide Palestinians with quick, tangible infrastructure improvements in dozens of communities throughout the West Bank.

The range of people and projects that I saw over the course of two days was impressive.  While the challenges that numerous people and communities face are serious, their innovation and ingenuity are incredible and inspiring.

Partnering to Make Merit-Based College Admissions the Norm in Ukraine

Prior to 2008, if you were to have asked typical Ukrainian high school students,  university applicants or their parents to honestly explain the surest way to gain entrance to university, most would have responded that informal payments and influence-seeking provided the golden keys to admission.  This type of process benefited not the brightest and most deserving but the affluent and best connected. High school graduates from low-income households or rural areas had virtually no access to the more prestigious universities and faculties of Ukraine. This uneven playing field for university admissions has already had its unintended consequence; since the best students were not always accepted at the best universities, employers too often settled for underqualified graduates, resulting in a workforce less professional than it should be.

Testing Procedures

A student watches as a test proctor registers her examination materials.
Photo: USAID/USETI

The picture is beginning to change. Since 2007, USAID has assisted Ukraine in building and rolling out national university admissions testing. USAID’s Ukrainian Standardized External Testing Initiative (USETI) and its follow-on, the USETI Alliance, have partnered with Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, the academic community and civil society to launch national standardized external testing for university admissions, helping Ukrainians build the infrastructure and intellectual tools for a fair and merit-based admissions process. Equal access to higher education and by extension better prepared graduates are critical ingredients for a more competitive Ukrainian professional workforce to drive the economy.

USETI is a partnership of 16 Ukrainian and international governmental institutions, NGOs, universities and businesses,  established to make Ukraine’s higher education system more transparent in its admissions processes.

USAID’s key innovation was to build a coalition of support for standardized external testing as a transparent tool for admissions to higher educational institutions, bringing together parents, educators and NGOs who are convinced of the benefits of this merit-based approach. Parents asserted the rights of their children to merit-based access to higher education. NGOs responded by becoming the voice of the parents, putting pressure on politicians to change national policy. Higher educational institutions saw the benefit of supporting a merit-based admissions policy in attracting high quality students.

USETI and the USETI Alliance provided critical support to Ukraine’s national testing center, the Ukrainian Center for Education Quality Assessment, to make it a strong and sustainable institution capable of independently and transparently developing and implementing secure tests that meet international standards.

The USETI Alliance also helped develop the KONKURS online reporting system, which publishes the results of each university applicant by name, assuring the real-time internal transparency of admissions to higher educational institutions.

The USETI Alliance continues to build public support for the process through one of Ukraine’s most influential civil society organizations, the OPORA Civic Network, a partner organization that has instilled public confidence and approval of the standard external testing process through intensive university admission monitoring

According to national polls, popular support for standardized external testing continues to increase. Whereas 42 percent of Ukrainian supported such a system in 2008, by 2012 the number had increased to 62 percent.

Most importantly, by the end of 2015 about 1.8 million students will be accepted to university programs based on their performance on standard external tests rather than family contacts or their ability to pay.

Much more has to be done to make an admissions system based on standardized external testing sustainable, and a continuing commitment by all stakeholders is essential. Nonetheless, the paradigm has shifted, and Ukraine will be better for it.

250 Million Children In The World Cannot Read And USAID Is Doing Something About It

Two hundred and fifty million children in the world cannot read according to the recently released Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All; 130 million of them are in primary school. That’s equal to more than a third of the population of the United States. If these children do not learn to read they will have fewer opportunities and struggle with learning for the rest of their lives. Learning to read in the early grades is critical and hard work. It is not a skill that can be “picked up.” With the help of teachers trained specifically to teach reading, children learn to read over time by practicing and honing their skills. Strong readers perform better in all subjects, so children who learn to read in the early grades have a better chance of graduating from high school and getting a job or pursuing a college education.

At the State of the Union the other night, I was sitting in the gallery listening to President Obama say, “One of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is a world class education.” I was on my feet applauding. His words ring true here at home and in developing countries around the world.

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language.

I’m visiting Zambia and Malawi over the next two weeks where USAID is working hard with our partners to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies by investing in new, results-based reading programs that start with building capacity in the existing teacher corps and in training new teachers in the best practices of teaching reading.

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language, and provided Chichewa readers to students and accompanying scripted lesson plans to their teachers. Teachers received training on the use of the materials and extensive on-site coaching to help them use them every day in their classrooms. In 2012, after two years of the implementation of this program, the proportion of 2nd graders who could read at least one word in Chichewa had risen from 5.3 to 16.8 percent. The program is now in the process of being scaled up to all districts in the nation of Malawi.

Malawi and Zambia aren’t the only countries where we’re making an impact. In Kenya, USAID is sponsoring an initiative to improve reading outcomes in Kiswahili and English in 500 primary schools. The program has introduced innovative teaching methods, new, phonics-based reading materials for mother tongue instruction, and professional development to build the skills of educators and improve student literacy outcomes. In a recent study we found that children enrolled in schools using the USAID-funded program were up to 27 times more likely to read than students in schools outside the program. This program, too, is in the process of being scaled up to reach more schools in the future so that more children in Kenya will have access to a high quality education.

Children in class in Kenya. Credit: Derek Brown

Children in class in Kenya / Derek Brown

In the Philippines, USAID is supporting a program known as the Improved Collection and Use of Student Reading Performance Data. Each time a teacher participating in the program conducts a reading test (in either Tagalog or English), he/she submits the test results via SMS to a Department-of-Education administered database. Teacher supervisors from the department then use this information to provide timely feedback to the teachers on their reading instruction, based on the student results. This USAID program is heightening transparency about student outcomes and tightening the feedback between teachers and their coaches, leading to an increased likelihood that teachers will identify and assist children who are not meeting grade-level expectations in reading.

Through these programs children are learning to read and will have better lives thanks to the support of the American people, and USAID will continue to do more to get all children reading and access to quality education.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education

In Morocco, Perseverance and Good Luck Ensure Three Young Boys a Quality Education

By Dr. Helen Boyle, Associate Professor in Educational Leadership and Policy at Florida State University

In early December education leaders, donors and partners met to discuss and plan for the future of early grade education in the Middle East and North Africa at the All Children Learning Workshop in Rabat, Morocco.

Youssef, Moustafa and Redouan were lucky boys.  In the late 1970s, school was not a given for all children in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Their five older siblings never attended school. The advocacy of their mother and older siblings ensured that these younger boys would get a formal education. It was a privilege to go to school in this world, not a right, and they had to do very well indeed to maintain that privilege.

Every evening, when they came back from the kuttab (Quranic school) and later from elementary school, they would all sit down with their older sisters and review everything they did at school. They would review all the letters—the sounds, the letter shape and the letter name—with their sisters. They reviewed and read the verses of the Qur’an that they learned that day and would take their booklets and read aloud anything they wrote down.

Youssef reflected, “I remember we spent countless hours doing that. For example, we would open the book and look at the letters that we wrote that day and say ‘lam, l + a = la, l + o = lo,’ or, we would explain the vowel markings to them—‘the line on top of the letter makes an “a” sound and the one below makes an “e” sound and the one above with the curl makes a “u” sound.’ “  In turn and as the boys grew older, the girls would quiz them, asking them questions after they read a passage aloud.  Redouan said, “The thought was that they were doing this to help us succeed, but we were also teaching them indirectly.” Indeed, the sisters are literate and “read better than some who have been to school,” said Moustafa.

This story is inspiring for many reasons as it demonstrates family love and loyalty and the power of perseverance.  However, one of its most critical messages is less obvious and needs to be brought to light. These were indeed lucky boys as they had a teacher in primary school, Umm Kalthoum, who knew how to teach reading.  It is almost certain, in those days, that she received minimal training, but she understood the importance of teaching reading skills.  Under her guidance, the boys—and their sisters—developed phonological awareness, knew the name of each letter, understood that each letter made a sound; understood what the vowel markings (diacritics) were for and did segmenting and blending activities in class and at home. They developed vocabulary in Modern Standard Arabic and then listening and eventually reading comprehension skills in a language which was in many ways different from the dialect they spoke in their home and in everyday life.

Thanks to Umm Kalthoum, with whom they all studied in the early grades, these boys learned the foundational skills of reading and were able to pass them on to their sisters; these boys all went on to professional careers and great success.

USAID is working with Morocco’s Ministry of Education to leave behind a teacher training program that will support the continuous professional development of teachers.

USAID is working with Morocco’s Ministry of Education to leave behind a teacher training program that will support the continuous professional development of teachers.

Today, despite higher rates of school enrollment than ever, many Moroccan children are not as lucky as these three boys were over 30 years ago. Educational quality has not kept pace with the growing number of children seeking an education in Morocco. Indeed, Morocco’s PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) and EGRA (Early Grade Reading Assessment) scores indicate that there is significant room to improve reading instruction and reading levels in Morocco.

In early December USAID co-funded a workshop in Rabat, Morocco to mobilize education leaders and advocates to improve early grade learning in the Middle East and North Africa. Other donors included the Global Partnership for Education, German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Islamic Development Bank, and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Country teams, including representatives from Ministries of Education, civil society and local donor organizations, gathered to discuss innovative solutions to give all children a chance to learn. At the All Children Reading workshop, delegations created action plans that will provide clear and concise goals for initiating or scaling up existing early grade learning programs at the country level. Opportunities were provided for country teams to network and to build mechanisms for support and accountability to push planning into practice. Global literacy leaders’ and advocates’ discussions during this workshop focused on key thematic areas in early grade learning, including large scale learning assessments, teacher training and supervision, curriculum and lesson plans, assessment tools  and impact evaluations, and reading materials.

On the PIRLS test, a score of 500 corresponds to the mean of the overall reading achievement distribution across the 45 countries. Morocco scored a 310, which was the lowest score of the 45 countries that took the PIRLS in 2011.Indeed, in 2011, all of the Arabic-speaking countries that took the test were below the 500 average with scores ranging from 439 to 310 for 4th graders (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker 2012). This points to an issue with how reading is taught in a rich and complex language like Arabic, a language with many spoken variations, not just in Morocco but across Arabic-speaking countries.

Good teaching focused on the foundational skills of reading can make an enormous difference, as we see in the example of the three boys and their sisters. Supporting teachers to develop skills and strategies to teach reading will ensure that the success that these children experienced in learning to read can be replicated in every early-grade classroom in Morocco.

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