Education is an important component of reducing poverty, promoting peace, and empowering individuals to participate in democratic institutions. Since 2003, primary school enrollment has increased more than 50 percent in Kenya. In recognition of USAID’s 50th anniversary working in partnership with Kenya, this video provides an overview of USAID’s education programs and particularly focuses on efforts to reach vulnerable, marginalized children.
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Billy Niyingabiye, age 11, puts on his headset, steps up to the microphone, and recites his lines. The child voice actor is recording a math lesson for use in Rwanda primary grades classrooms.
“I’m so happy. It’s something I never imagined,” says Billy of his work. He auditioned for the role at his mother’s urging and was chosen from a pool of 80 would-be voice actors. Now he’s helping other children learn math, reading, and writing skills thanks to interactive audio teaching materials produced at the recording studio.
The recordings are part of the USAID-funded Literacy, Language, and Learning (L3) Initiative, which is helping Rwanda’s Ministry of Education improve literacy and numeracy learning in primary grades classrooms. The program, implemented by Education Development Center (EDC), aims to improve the quality and availability of primary grades instructional materials across Rwanda.
Last summer, L3 installed state-of-the-art equipment to upgrade the Rwanda Education Board’s recording studio. There, interactive math and literacy lessons are being recorded in English and Kinyarwanda. Lessons are placed on memory cards, which teachers then play back over Nokia cell phones, some with attached speakers for larger classrooms.
“We provide the hardware, software, and technical support needed to produce world-class education materials for Rwandan children,” EDC’s Said Yasin told the Rwanda news daily The New Times. “This is a modern teaching approach [where] programs are set in a way that enables or facilitates the flow of teaching.”
Channeling interactive learning
Programs produced and edited at the newly equipped studio are examples of interactive audio instruction (IAI), which helps teachers use engaging and effective instructional practices and supports them as they master the new teaching methods.
The classroom teacher leads the lesson with the guidance of the audio recordings. The teacher and students receive directions in using supplementary materials, such as flashcards, decodable texts, and phonics charts.
Audio lessons include songs and chants to make learning more fun, and they encourage the use of manipulatives to make problem solving more tangible. A multiplication lesson might use no-cost items such as sticks, stones, and bottle caps, while a number chart may be made from a rice sack. Teachers may also attend workshops to learn how to write their own stories for literacy learning.
The audio recordings encourage interactive learning, a departure from the traditional lecture-memorization method. “This is much different from the way teachers are used to delivering their lessons,” says Francis Kihumuro, a member of the instructional materials development team.
“Children can be helped to think beyond the normal,” he says. “Usually questions are closed. But if you give them open-ended questions, it helps them think critically. It helps them find other ways to approach and solve a problem.”
Instructional programs produced in the newly outfitted studio were field tested in a local school. This year, 90 primary schools in Rwanda will receive first- and second-grade materials for English, Kinyarwanda and math. In addition to producing literacy and numeracy programs for children, the studio is also producing video modules on effective mentorship practices for training school-based mentors and on teaching and school leadership practices for teachers and head teachers.
Billy’s voice will come through loud and clear, guiding other students like himself.
“I like the subjects I’m learning and the teachers who are teaching them,” says Billy, whose school work and confidence have improved since getting involved with the program. L3 hopes to reach 30,000 teachers and 1.5 million learners in Rwanda over the course of five years.
As for Billy, while he enjoys his work as a child voice actor, he aspires to become a doctor or teacher when he grows up. “Because of the things we’re recording, we’re teaching children things they don’t know,” he says. “This will help them, because it is different from what they are used to, and they will learn more from it.”
This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating
How would you describe the work of Urban Planet?
Urban Planet Mobile develops and distributes digital education worldwide, primarily through basic mobile phones that provide English language education. The Urban English™ program design – simple SMS with an embedded audio file – creates the potential of reaching 95% of mobile phones worldwide with life-changing educational content. An English-speaking taxi driver in a tourism-based economy, for example, has the opportunity to earn a greater income than one who can’t speak English.
We believe access to quality education is a human right so our focus is to make education readily available to people, with little or no other access, on a device they already own and use. We also ensure affordability by charging micro-payments. Free programs are hard to scale and sustain because there is always a cost to developing and deploying the content. By providing quality, in demand content, people are more inclined to make the small investment for the tangible results education brings.
Urban Planet started with the goal of reaching the most basic phones and helping bring mobile education to the world. Today we are successfully reaching hundreds of thousands of people with our scalable and affordable technology. And this is only the beginning. Through the support of USAID, Urban Planet is testing and evaluating the effectiveness of MobiLiteracy, our 90-day mobile literacy program in Uganda. The intervention is an out of school supplemental program for pre-literate children. It introduces letters, sounds, and common words, and works on developing both listening comprehension and encouraging storytelling and sharing.
Why is language learning critical for development? Is there something about this modality of education that disproportionately benefits women?
Literacy is the basis for learning, but it’s more than that. According to the UNESCO (PDF), in the developing world, the children of literate mothers have a 50% greater chance of surviving past the age of five. Literate communities are generally healthier, less violent, more civically engaged, and more economically strong.
Mobile phones are very personal devices, more so than any other technology device. MobiLiteracy lessons are sent as a basic SMS daily lesson with an audio link. Mothers can open the audio lesson at a convenient time, which could also mean a safe and private time. The lesson can be deleted from the phone, saved, and also shared privately.
While the lessons are generally meant for children, mothers with limited or no literacy can certainly benefit. Parental involvement in education is a proven precursor to success but parents with limited education feel inadequate and ashamed. This program empowers mothers to take an active role.
Where do you see this technology ultimately going over the next several decades?
The cost for tablets and smartphones will continue to decrease as the competition increases and the capacity of the technology expands. Also, areas with limited or no connection will get connected.
Right now, simple programs that provide for supplemental education make a tremendous impact, but the future is more robust educational programs, widely accessible and available to people currently limited from such programs due to lack of technology and the requisite infrastructure. More and more formal curricula will be created for this digital world.
While censorship and repression inhibit the spread of certain ideas, information, and education, through the use of mobile technologies, marginalized members of society will have unprecedented access to education. It is through education that a more peaceful, healthier, and better world will emerge.
My country, Timor-Leste, is extremely young—only 10 years old. Our Timorese population is young, too. Almost 40 percent of our one million people are school-age—that is, between 5 and 19 years old. But school attendance rates are still low and many kids drop out of school.
One of the worst times for students to drop out is between 6th and 7th grades: about 20 percent of 6th grade students do not go on to start 7th grade, the first year of secondary school. USAID is focusing on this particular problem through the School Dropout Prevention Pilot (SDPP) project, which works with more than 10,000 kids in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades—the final grades in elementary school—along with their teachers, parents and the communities in which they live. The goals are to discover which kids might be in danger of dropping out and then to keep them in school with a range of fun activities that boost their skills and confidence.
A few weeks after the launch of the project’s in-school activities in October, I had the opportunity to visit three SDPP schools in remote areas of Timor-Leste, along with colleagues from our Mission in Dili and USAID headquarters in Washington. The schools we visited were in Viqueque District, far from where I live in the capital, Dili, so the trip also gave me an opportunity to understand people’s lives in parts of the country I had never visited before as well as to see the project teams in action.
The first school we visited was Bubulita Elementary School, near Timor-Leste’s south coast, about eight hours’ drive from Dili. We had to walk for two and a half hours from the nearest road to reach the school. In Bubulita, SDPP has had substantial success with an early warning system to identify kids at risk of dropping out—a system that means, for the first time in Timor-Leste, school administrators and teachers can track attendance, performance, and behavior to identify at-risk students. A key component of this system involves having a trained volunteer community team visit the parents of at-risk kids to convince them to keep their children in school.
“I appreciate the fact that this project is involving local community members, so they feel that they are also responsible, not just teachers and parents,” said Bubulita principal Mario da Cruz.
Since SDPP facilitators arrived at Bubulita, there has been perfect attendance. Before the activities started, three students were considered at-risk. One was older than the maximum school age, so had to quit. But the other two have come back to school. And now, local community volunteers visit the school twice a week to find out if any students are missing or late for class.
Not far from the district capital we visited the Kraras Elementary School. Because it is near the town, the school is in far better condition than others we saw. I talked with the principal and deputy principal who told me that the project is well-supported by the teachers, the students and the local community, who are all excited about the extracurricular activities that are run by SDPP project facilitators. These activities aim to keep at-risk students interested in school by boosting their confidence and their ability to participate with their peers. Activities include cooperative learning exercises and games to build basic literacy and numeracy skills. In most schools, SDPP extracurricular activities are the first they have ever had.
“This is the first time we have had extracurricular activities at our school. Although some of the children have to walk two hours to and from school, they stay to take part until the end of the activities,” said Kraras principal Claudino Ruas. He added that no students have missed class more than once since the project started.
On my trip to these remote areas of my own country, I found that even though the lives of people are extremely difficult, they all want their kids to receive a good education. In one remote village I learned that the people of the community had even built a school themselves to ensure that their children would have access to a school near their homes. As a Timorese, I admire their courage and determination to move my country forward even in that isolated place, and I am happy that USAID is helping these communities ensure that all kids receive the support they need to stay in school and build a better future for our young country.
February 21, 2013 marks International Mother Language Day! To celebrate its 14th anniversary, USAID recognizes education and literacy programs operated by our missions around the globe. There are more than 6,000 languages in the world and 50 percent of them are dying. International Mother Language Day not only promotes linguistic and cultural diversity, it brings attention a need to preserve it.
Learning in a mother language (first language) is incredibly important to children’s development and education. It improves school outcomes, reduces repetition and reduces dropout. Children who are educated in their mother tongue are significantly more likely to be enrolled and attend school. Additionally, children learn to read faster if they speak the language of instruction, because they already have vocabulary, knowledge of the construction of the language and the ability to pronounce the sounds of the language.
Join the conversation on Twitter (@USAIDEducation) and use hashtag #MotherLanguage Day!
This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.
Last week, OSTP Director John P. Holdren joined USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in launching the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) – a groundbreaking partnership between USAID and seven top universities that is designed to harness the ingenuity and passion of university faculty and students to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.
USAID’s HESN was first announced at the White House in February 2012 and its formal launch marks the latest milestone in the Administration’s work to leverage US comparative advantages in science, technology, and innovation to accelerate progress toward global development goals. The effort is a direct response to the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development, which calls for investments in game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long-standing development challenges—such as vaccines for neglected diseases; drought-resistant seed varieties; and clean energy technologies.
Fully achieving this vision will require what the President has called an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. That is why we are so enthusiastic about HESN: it embodies a new way of doing business—one that empowers innovators around the world to tackle big development challenges (a model that Administrator Shah has dubbed “Open Source Development“). We are also pleased that the HESN will leverage the stores of untapped energy and expertise that reside on university campuses. The seven HESN universities were selected from nearly 500 applications from 49 states and 33 countries. And, the pulse of student interest on campuses across the country is nearly palpable.
With financial support from USAID matched by private sector partners, each of the seven universities will establish a Development Lab with a unique focus. For example, the Development Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will publish a Consumer Reports-style series of evaluations that will help donors and policymakers invest in the best existing technological solutions; the University of California Berkeley will establish a new field of Development Engineering and shepherd a portfolio of specific development solutions – such as low-cost, solar-powered vaccine refrigerators – through the pipeline of research, field evaluation, translation, and scale-up; and the College of William and Mary will build a world-class research consortium of geographers, economists, epidemiologists, political scientists, computer scientists, and statisticians to collect, geo-code, and analyze data to enable USAID and developing country governments to make hard-nosed, evidenced-based decisions. All seven of the Development Labs – including Labs at Duke, Michigan State, Texas A&M, and Makerere University in Uganda – will work closely with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff at every step along the way.
Congratulations to USAID and to the university leaders, faculty, students, and staff that will be key to the success of the Higher Education Solutions Network. By ensuring that faculty tenure- and promotion-policies encourage and reward social impact, interdisciplinary work, and international engagement; by pursuing Grand Challenges for global development; and by adopting humanitarian licensing strategies that increase global access to university-developed technologies– we hope all universities will embrace the critical role they can play in global development.
To learn more about the HESN, please visit: http://www.usaid.gov/hesn
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP
Robynn Sturm Steffen is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP
It seems this semester is flying by and exams are fast approaching, making this the perfect time to step back and review everything that has happened so far during the USAID Fall Semester. Over the past two months, Administrator Rajiv Shah and other senior USAID staff have visited 14 college campuses across the country, directly engaging over 1,600 students. While introducing students to USAID’s mission, these visits have highlighted the important role that university students can play in development and how their ideas and innovations can be the difference in solving the most pressing global challenges. In addition to our campus visits, Fall Semester has introduced USAID 101, which provides the history of USAID and in-depth learning materials about select development topics. All of these materials and a complete list of universities visited can be found below.
And remember, whether it is getting an e-internship or a fellowship, competing in a Grand Challenge, applying for a DIV grant, or engaging with one of our partners, there is no shortage of ways to become involved in development work.
- USAID 101
- Lesson Plan: Innovation
- Virtual Classroom: Mobile Money
- Lesson Plan: Food Security
- Book Club: Our Fall Semester Book Club gives you a list of development books that have been recommended by senior USAID experts. These books cover a wide range of development topics, from global economic history and world-changing science discoveries to strategies that help companies succeed in developing world markets.
- USAID Impact Blog
- Mississippi State University
- Clemson University
- Florida International University
- University of Michigan
- Wayne State University
- University of California Berkeley
- Pepperdine University
- Howard University
- Iowa State University
- University of Colorado Boulder
- American University
- Tufts University
- Northeastern University
- Johns Hopkins University
Serve with USAID: Visit this page to see how you can get involved with USAID.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks at the inauguration of USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 2012.