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Youth Empowerment is Key to President Obama’s Vision for Africa’s Future

Throughout his recent trip to Africa, President Obama returned again and again to the theme of economic opportunity and empowerment: building the capacity of people and institutions to lead their countries forward. Central to his vision is the critical role that African youth must play in the region’s social and economic transformation. The USAID-funded Youth:Work program is already at work to make this a reality.

In partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF), the Youth:Work project is working in eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to assess the needs and aspirations of young people, the hurdles they face in seeking employment, and the opportunities that can help them improve their lives and prospects. This holistic mapping exercise, called Youth:Map, is developed through interviews with business, community, government, and youth leaders. The resulting assessments consolidate critical evidence and expand our knowledge about youth issues in Africa that will help the private sector and governments alike to make smart, targeted investments in the years ahead.

Group of African young adults. Photo credit: USAID

In fact, this comprehensive information gathering has already become the basis for designing and implementing innovative pilot programs to specifically address the issues raised through the studies. One consistent theme from all Youth:Map studies is that Africa’s young people do not have access to the life skills and vocational training they need to get good jobs or start their own businesses. USAID and IYF are addressing this deficit in a number of ways.

In Uganda, for example, a 6-month internship program has been launched to help young people join the labor market and contribute to the country’s broader economic development. “This is the kind of program that we need to ensure that Uganda’s youth have real opportunities to achieve their dreams and build their futures,” said Commissioner Kyateka F. Mondo of Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, at the program’s launch.

In Tanzania, orphans and vulnerable youth are gaining access to education and job training opportunities through the Tanzania Youth Scholars program, which offers educational scholarships and livelihood training.

Passport to Success®, a global life and employability skills curricula that has been translated into 18 different languages, is improving the employment prospects of young people in Senegal, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Build Your Business, an entry-level curricula for young people interested in starting their own micro-businesses, developed by IYF in collaboration with Microsoft, is being used to teach entrepreneurship and life skills to young people in Liberia and Uganda.

USAID and IYF are also joining forces to respond to another significant assessment finding – that young people feel marginalized and seek a greater voice in society. Two regional youth leadership institutes are opening in Senegal and Uganda to ensure more African youth become strong, innovative, and confident leaders in their communities.

In his speech in Johannesburg, President Obama declared that Africa’s young people “are going to determine the future” of their countries. While significant challenges lie ahead, USAID is working with IYF and many others to help build the kind of infrastructure and enabling environment needed to ensure Africa’s youth can fully realize this vision of hope.

About the International Youth Foundation
The International Youth Foundation (IYF) invests in the extraordinary potential of young people. Founded in 1990, IYF builds and maintains a worldwide community of businesses, governments, and civil-society organizations committed to empowering youth to be healthy, productive, and engaged citizens. IYF programs are catalysts of change that help young people obtain a quality education, gain employability skills, make healthy choices, and improve their communities. To learn more visit www.iyfnet.org

Building a Future in Tanzania – Brick by Brick

Rajabu faced many troubles in his young life growing up in a poor family in rural Tanzania. But now he is building a better life for himself and his family. Back in 2010, Rajabu finished primary school, but could not continue his studies due to his family’s low level of income. The death of Rajabu’s father led to even greater distress, leaving his mother and siblings struggling to survive. To help support his family, Rajabu began taking small jobs in the community.

Rajabu (far right) hones his bricklaying skills through the Tanzania Youth Scholars Program. Photo credit: International Youth Foundation

Life took a more positive direction last year, however, when Rajabu joined the Kiwanda Folk Development College in Tanga, thanks to a scholarship he received from the Tanzania Youth Scholars (TYS) project funded by USAID. TYS aims to reduce the vulnerability of the country’s youth, ages 15-24, by equipping them with job and professional skills to help them improve their employment prospects and become productive and active members of the community. Participants can choose courses that include tailoring, hotel management/food production, vehicle mechanics, carpentry, masonry and bricklaying, agriculture, driving, and computer and office services. At the College, Rajabu chose to study masonry and bricklaying – a three year course that includes full boarding.

“I never realized that the soil that is available everywhere can be made into bricks to build houses,” he said. Today, he knows how to make bricks and has starting setting and building a wall. His plans for the future? To go back to his community and sell his bricks to generate income that will help him provide much needed financial support for his family. “I am very glad to have this opportunity,” says Rajabu. “My dream was to be an entrepreneur. May it come true!”

Yes, Youth Can: Empowering the Voices of Youth in Kenya

Young adults huddle around laptops scattered about the room at a hotel near Nairobi. Seeing this brings to mind the words “energy” and “focus”. They hardly notice a contingent of USAID visitors looking over their shoulders. They near the end of a busy day of preparing “trial balances” and they’re taking the work seriously, as they should. As leaders in a movement in Kenya called “Yes, Youth Can”, they are legally responsible for the accounts of their Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies(SACCOs). Today they practice balancing budgets for these small credit unions they have created to help their members start small businesses.

Members of Yes, Youth Can, work with tin and recycled materials to make jewelry and boxes. Photo credit: Christie Vilsack

Seventy-seven percent of employed youth in Kenya work in the informal sector, which means they are not in salaried positions. They may be selling flowers or furniture by the side of the road or, like these young people, they may be using $20-$60 dollar Coca Cola grants to start a Coke kiosk or a fishing business. If they are saving money in their accounts, they may borrow from the SACCO.

Some of these young adults have completed high school. Others have attended college, but there are few jobs for young adults, so they are taking matters into their own hands with the help of USAID and its implementing partners. Susan Mugabe is one of them. She has two children. She is very proud that she employs six people at her hair salon. Her parents helped her with a loan.

After their presentations some of the youth stay to talk about the effect they think they will have on their country. They say what they are doing is “an opportunity for youth to get a chance at saving money and getting a loan so they can start a business.” They want to take advantage of the opportunity to make Kenya a more productive country. They are also proud that recent elections were peaceful and many credit their organization for using the peacebuilding skills they’re learning to help make this happen.

Over 1 million youth in Kenya belong to Yes, Youth Can, which was started with the help of USAID. Kenyan youth made it clear that they wanted control over their own programs. They elect representatives to local bunges (parliaments) and representatives are elected from the local groups to regional and national councils.

On the other side of the country, in Kisumu, a young woman named Katherine gives an impassioned speech at a meeting of her local bunge. “It’s not that hard to save 20 shillings a day!” she says to her audience. “I want to help you utilize what you have to create what you don’t have. Think big, start small, start now!”

Duncan, the president of the group, explains how one SACCO started a motorbike taxi business. At first they got a loan from the SACCO to buy four motorbikes, now they have eighteen. Their spouses are involved in the business as well. They now have two accounts, one for development and the other for welfare, so if one of them gets hurt, they can help pay the medical bills. Next they want to offer small loans to first-time home-buyers.

As young leaders take the microphone, others sit at tables cutting recycled tin to make earrings and small boxes, which they sell at their gift shop, which also sells furniture and handmade greeting cards. They are taking action to help improve their lives and create a more prosperous country for more youth.

Equipping Women Teachers in South Sudan with the Skills to Succeed

Traditional gender roles in South Sudan have hindered women from improving their professional skills and limited their contributions as teachers and leaders of parent-teacher associations, school management committees and boards of governors. As a result, children lack female role models and South Sudan has a shortage of teachers.

Most of South Sudan’s teachers lack professional training, a legacy of decades of conflict. Women constitute only 12.3 percent of the teaching force in South Sudan’s primary schools and 10.5 percent of teachers in secondary schools.

USAID is helping to improve female teachers’ professional skills and retain female teachers in South Sudan’s workforce through training and providing working mothers with childcare so that they are able to focus on their professional development.

Teacher Samna Basha (middle) with colleagues. The women are benefiting from USAID-supported child care services that enable them to improve their professional development as teachers. Photo credit: Creative Associates International

Samna Basha, a third grade teacher enrolled in USAID-funded training, said that childcare helped her to concentrate and avoid inconveniencing colleagues in the classroom. “I did not expect to complete the training because I am a nursing mother and therefore unable to focus my undivided attention on the training material,” said Basha, who teaches at the Lokoloko Primary School in Wau, Western Bahr el Ghazal state. “I was pleased when a … staff member [told] us that child care services would be provided by a caretaker of our choice at a venue provided by the school and that the service would be paid for by the project. It was a great relief for all the mothers … this is the first time in my experience that working mothers have been supported to fulfill their professional duties while caring for their children.”

Pasqulina Jackino is a mother of six and has been a teacher of mathematics, science, and religion in Primary 1, 2, and 3 at Ezo Community Girls School in Western Equatoria State for nearly seven years. She had received no formal teacher training until she was offered the opportunity to participate in a USAID-funded in-service training course. “I quickly packed a bag for me and my baby and set out to attend the training because I knew this was an opportunity to make me a better teacher,” she said.  ”I am now able to plan my lessons and make them more lively and interesting. Through interactions with fellow teachers and tutors from other counties, my English has improved. I am now able to explain the subject matter of the lesson to my pupils in English.”

Pasqulina can now effectively manage her classroom and encourage pupils to learn. As she explains, “to be a mother and teacher at the same time is a challenge but I am ready to take it up. This is the only way I can come out as a better person and contribute to the growth and development of my community and the entire nation.”

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Jeff Borns on Democracy-Building in Southern Africa

This blog is part of a new interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

Recently, we chatted with Jeff Borns, Mission Director of USAID South Africa to learn more about our democracy-building initiatives in the region and how they impact governance at local levels. 

Can you tell us more about what is needed to build up a democracy? Is it just about voting?

What happens on election day is just one piece of democracy. The voting process must take place in an environment that respects the rule of law and has strong institutions like parliaments and independent judiciaries. This is not only necessary to a democratic government, but also necessary to development. And when you have the assurance that comes with these elements of good governance, it is easier for companies to invest and for economies to take off.

Southern Africa elections professionals on a USAID-financed program learn from members of the Independent Electoral Court in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo credit: UNISA

What is USAID doing to support democracy-building in Southern Africa? Can you give us an example?

USAID supports regional democracy-building and governance efforts by encouraging improvements to regional election management. This includes providing technical assistance and training to electoral management bodies in the region, as well as providing training and support to election professionals. These election professionals often toil in the shadows, and are rarely given development opportunities or the time and place to build professional networks. Through a five-year grant to the University of South Africa (UNISA), in partnership with the the South Africa Independent Electoral Commission, USAID is training and connecting election professionals with one another and helping them improve their technical skills to support free, fair and open elections around Africa. UNISA is the largest distance-learning university in Africa–a third of all higher education students in South Africa are enrolled there. With this grant, USAID and UNISA hope to support the training and connecting of over 375 elections professionals from across Africa.

What does this mean, in practical terms?

By teaching new skills, and by creating a web of dedicated, trained professionals, USAID is supporting a connected cadre of election experts.

Midway through the grant, results are already streaming in. It’s very exciting! Elections management officials are now clamoring to send their technical staff to the training, and UNISA has observed significant changes in the professionalization of elections bodies in participating countries. This year USAID will support two trainings of 75 officials at UNISA’s campus in Pretoria, South Africa. The selected elections professionals spent three weeks in classroom learning followed by a week of fieldwork at the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa.

The intangible benefits of the program are huge, and we anticipate that this trend of fantastic results will continue. USAID is providing the building blocks to a grassroots network of highly qualified, highly motivated election professionals – which will be tremendously beneficial to the region and population as a whole.

Learn more about our work in Southern Africa.

Follow @USAIDAfrica and @USAID_SAfrica on Twitter!

A Good Place to Start to Improve Schools

It could have been small town Iowa. Dignitaries arrived. The local sports team stood at attention in orange t-shirts. The drummers set the pace, and the musicians played. The town fathers presided in a ceremony in front of the church next to the school. Young mothers with babies and young children sat near the back. Students stood in rows by class. The parent organization sat together as did the teachers. The children sang. Mooing cattle provided background for a speech by a special boy, the school’s brightest. And they gave us gifts made locally.

But this scene played out in rural Congo (DRC). It was a soccer team with only one ball, and the children wore hand-me-down school uniforms faded from over-washing. The band didn’t march.

After the ceremony the “school board” showed us binders filled with budgetary detail. A capacity-building program sponsored by USAID is helping local leaders, both men and women, take responsibility for their school. They showed us the new latrines that the community had built with a side for girls and a side for boys. Now they need a new school to replace the one washed away by seasonal rains. In the makeshift school children sit on red bricks because there are no desks. Worse, there are no textbooks.

Click for more photos on the OPEQ program.

The problem is sometimes where to start. Should donors like USAID help with infrastructure? Research tells us that if we build more schools closer to where children live, they will feel safer coming to school, especially girls who are at risk of sexual violence. Do we train teachers,especially women, so that parents will feel more comfortable sending their girls to school? Or do we help find a way to alleviate school fees assessed to supplement the meager salaries paid to teachers. Can we do both?

In much the same way we value local control of our schools, local people, especially parents, are learning to have a say in the solutions to these problems. The International Rescue Committee through USAID’s Opportunities for Equitable Access to Basic Education (OPEQ) program is working with parent groups in targeted schools in Katanga province to teach civic involvement. These parents are creating and implementing a school improvement plan. The skills they are learning will carry over into many other aspects of community life.

OPEQ is also training the teachers. Armed with a piece of chalk, a chalk board, and newly acquired skills, these teachers are starting to teach reading by teaching the children of Katanga province in their mother tongue, then transitioning to French, the national language. This is a hard-sell for parents who need convincing that research shows starting with the language children speak is the best way to give them the tools to read in other languages.

A new latrine, teachers eager to show off their skills: small steps by western standards, but as anyone on Main Street knows, the key ingredient is always the parents. It’s a good place to start.

Facing History: Education’s Role in Transitional Justice

Karen Murphy is International Director for Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational and professional development NGO. Photo credit: Facing History and Ourselves

In April, I presented alongside USAID education experts as part of the Agency’s Transitional Justice speaker series about the role of education in transitional justice. Transitional justice initiatives aim to address the legacies of widespread, systematic human rights violations, crimes committed by government or officially-backed entities or in the context of armed conflict. Unlike the more commonly discussed traditional transitional justice processes–prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations and other economic and institutional reforms–education is too often neglected. In authoritarian and divided societies with identity-based conflicts, education has quite often been used as an instrument of inequality and division and as a medium for spreading myths and misinformation, as occurred in Rwanda. Yet, we are slow to apply the same kind of rigorous reforms to this sector that we would do for the judiciary, military and police.

There are many interventions that can be made from the level of laws and policies that guide departments of education, to those which inform schools, to interventions in classrooms themselves. For example, USAID supports an education project in Bosnia and Herzegovina to build trust and partnership among students from different ethnic groups, and improve the capacity of teachers, school management and policy makers in implementing intercultural education. One of USAID’s goals in its Education Strategy (PDF) is improving equitable access to education for 15 million learners by 2015 in crisis and conflict environments, focusing on the most vulnerable such as displaced populations, ethnic minorities and war-affected youth.

History curriculum is crucially important within these contexts and is often left untackled because it is so potentially divisive and challenging. But not talking about the violent past and its legacies or addressing the transition and its effects in the classroom does not make them go away–silence can increase the tensions around the conflict and deepen the misunderstandings and misperceptions that groups have about each other (and themselves).

One of the most significant features of education within this context is that it offers a multigenerational opportunity, possibly the only sector with this kind of reach. Adult teachers and department of education representatives are themselves citizens who may have been actors during the conflict as well as witnesses and victims. They often need to wrestle with the violent past and its legacies, and the myths and misinformation in which they are perhaps invested, before they teach and discuss these things with students.

Students represent a new generation of citizens. Northern Ireland’s adolescents were all born after “the troubles.” South Africa’s adolescents are the “born free” generation. While these young people escaped the mass violence of their conflicts, they also missed the critical interventions that marked the transition to peace. Young people are inheriting not just societies that have experienced war and mass violence but the transitions themselves, their legacies and the legacies of the remedies. School is a critical place where new generations can and should learn about their societies, the conflicts and the human behavior that animated them, as well as the people who inspired peace.

Transition is multi-generational if we truly want security, stability, peaceful coexistence, and democracy. South Africa’s “born free” generation, for instance, need to feel deeply committed to the strength of transition, to seeing it through, to protecting the rule of law, a commitment to human rights and a vision of the future that is inclusive.

Primary Education in Kenya: A Focus on Quality and Learning

If you close your eyes and listen to children playing in the schoolyard, it could be any elementary school in the world, but this is Ithange Primary School two hours east of Nairobi, Kenya, off the main highway down a red dirt road partly washed away by recent rains.  With the help of trained teachers and quality textbooks paid for by USAID, many of the second graders here are able to read their older siblings’ textbooks, say the parents who make up the local school board.

: Ithange Primary School and others that are participating in the Kenya Primary Math and Reading (PRIMR) Initiative are doing so well that the federal government would like to expand the initiative to all Kenya’s primary schools. The PRIMR Initiative is an agreement between USAID and the Government of Kenya. Photo Credit: Katie Donohoe, USAID

We have come to observe teacher Ann’s classroom where she is commanding the attention of 40-plus students and introducing them to new words in a story they are about to read.  “How many of you can read the word ‘skirt’?” she asks.  The children put their thumbs up if they know.  “Who can tell the others what a skirt is?”  She calls on several children.  She pulls a skirt from her bag and holds it up.  “Who can make a sentence using the word skirt?”

Brian, who is sitting in front of me at the back of the room wants to answer every question.   The teacher has been taught to call on children randomly to make sure that each child is involved.  “The teacher wears a skirt,” says Anna.   Teacher Ann nods in affirmation and points to her own red skirt.  Then she teaches the word “wear” and calls on Brian to come to the front of the room.  He removes his green school uniform sweater and puts it on again.   “Brian wears a sweater,” the teacher instructs.  He is pleased to be in front of the class, a teacher in the making, perhaps. After they read the short passages about the clothes children wear, she asks them questions to be sure they have understood what they read.  Then she asks a question that can’t be answered from the story.  She is teaching them the difference between a factual question and an inference, says Dr. Ben Piper who runs this USAID-funded program implemented by RTI International. Beside Ben sits the head teacher, who is evaluating teacher Ann’s performance.

Christie Vilsack meets and presents certificates to teachers at Ithange Primary school who are receiving training in how to encourage active learning and participation by both girls and boys in the classroom. Photo Credit: Katie Donohoe, USAID

She works hard for 45 minutes, with a piece of chalk, a few props she brought from home and most importantly, the confidence gained from effective training.  She knows that what she’s doing works.  The schools that are participating in this Kenya Primary Math and Reading (PRIMR) Initiative are doing so well that the federal government would like to expand the initiative to all Kenya’s primary schools with help from global donors, especially USAID.  This “scaling up” is an attempt to move from a focus on providing access to a primary education for all children, to a focus on providing a quality education and learning for all primary children.

Currently, one third of children in second grade in Kenya cannot read a single word, and just three percent can read with proficiency. PRIMR is laying the foundation to measurably improve the language and mathematics skills of 3 million Kenyan children by the end of Grade Two by 2015. Photo Credit: Katie Donohoe, USAID

The parents I spoke with in the schoolyard after the lesson are convinced it works.  They have the anecdotal evidence, but they’ve also seen the data being gathered to assess reading and math programs in schools like Ithange Primary. Now parents are turning their attention to creating a community learning center where teachers and the children can access supplemental books, and one parent mentions the necessity of preparing Kenya’s pre-school teachers in the same way teacher Ann has been prepared.

“American” Values, Global Service

Right now USAID helps outfit “The Flying Eye Hospital,” a world-class teaching hospital housed in a passenger airplane that delivers cutting edge training to doctors all over the world.

A half a world away, USAID support is helping renovate EARTH University in Costa Rica, which offers undergraduate education in the latest advances in sustainable agriculture to students from Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond.

USAID and community members take care of an EARTH biodigester. Photo credit: USAID

Both of these innovative projects are funded under a USAID office that has supported more than 100 other cutting-edge initiatives spread across 20 countries around the globe. What unites them is a common understanding and appreciation of American ideas and values.

Until I started working at USAID’s American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program myself just a few weeks ago, I had no idea. I joined the team to help manage our global portfolio, and as I’ve been getting up to speed, the diversity, innovation and ambition of our partners has continually surprised me.

From St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School in Kenya, the first school in the world specifically for HIV/AIDS orphans, to the Tilganga Eye Center in Nepal, offering affordable eye-care to all segments of Nepalese society, we put the best in American values and innovation at the service of local communities in every corner of the globe.

This week, we will be bringing many of our partners together for our Annual Conference and Workshop, where together they’ll discuss their common challenges and triumphs. To help them get to know each other, we’ve asked our partners to send in brief video introductions to their work, which we’ll play at times throughout the conference. As a newcomer, these virtual “site visits” have opened my eyes to the breadth of what “American ideas and values” are helping to make possible globally. The impact of USAID funding at Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras has improved the quality of life for students, staff, and their families. Because of USAID’s support, Zamorano has been able to modernize their research facilities and construct new dorms that have increased enrollment by 50 percent.

I look forward to working with all our partners in the future and learning more about how this partnership between the American people and these global leaders comes to life in their communities.

Watch how USAID funding at Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras has improved lives.

Learn more about the USAID Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad.

Education: The Most Powerful Weapon for Changing the World

School girls in Sana’a gather for their lesson.

School girls in Sana’a gather for their lesson / Clinton Doggett, USAID

As Nelson Mandela says, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Education is the key to eliminating gender inequality, to reducing poverty, to creating a sustainable planet, to preventing needless deaths and illness, and to fostering peace. And in a knowledge economy, education is the new currency by which nations maintain economic competitiveness and global prosperity.

Education is an investment, and one of the most critical investments we can make. This is true not only for the United States, but for countries around the world.

Arne Duncan serves as U.S. Secretary of Education

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of providing universal primary education to all and eliminating gender inequities, has propelled many nations and multi-governmental organizations to boost educational spending. But the work is not easy, and many countries are falling short of achieving these goals, particularly the 2015 target date that was set when the goals were adopted in 2000.

Today, around the globe, an estimated 61 million primary-aged children are out of school, almost half of them in conflict-affected poor countries. Too often, even those students who do go to school finish without basic literacy and numeracy skills: it is estimated that 250 million children cannot read, write or count well.

Expanding educational access for girls is not just an urgent economic and social need. In many cases, it is literally a matter of life and death. A mother who can read can better protect her children from chronic illnesses, from AIDS, and from dying young. A child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past age five. And in Africa’s poorest states, UNESCO projects that the lives of 1.8 million children could have been saved if their mothers had at least a secondary education.

In announcing his Global Education First initiative, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded us that, “We cannot afford to waste the talents of a generation.” He related this to his own experience growing up in the Republic of Korea as it recovered from war. “People today often ask about my country’s transformation from poverty to prosperity. Without hesitation, I answer that education was the key.”

USAID supports the Haitian Government's plan to get 1.5 million students in school by 2016, improve curricula, train teachers, and set standards for schools. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

USAID supports the Haitian Government’s plan to get 1.5 million students in school by 2016, improve curricula, train teachers, and set standards for schools / Kendra Helmer, USAID

The Global Education First initiative, along with the Learning for All Ministerial event in Washington, D.C. last week with the UN, World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education, USAID and others, are building momentum around the global movement for education: to put every child in school, to improve the quality of learning, and to foster global citizenship. With roughly 1,000 days to the 2015 MDG deadline, the pressure is on to accelerate progress to expand access, improve equity and boost student achievement.

Education is the foundation of peace and prosperity. I can’t imagine a better world without a global commitment to providing better education for women and youth and I urge all of us to reinvigorate our efforts to accelerate progress in improving access, quality and student achievement worldwide.

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