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Archives for Youth

Increasing Access to Education in Northern Nigeria

This blog is part of a series focused on USAID’s innovative approach to reaching Millennium Development Goal #2: Achieve universal primary education. The theme “Room to Learn” highlights programs and priority countries where access to education is now a reality.

Fourteen year-old Ammar Muhammed, born to nomadic parents in Northern Nigeria, is going to school. Not just any school, but a school for gifted children owing to his participation in a USAID-funded basic literacy program at his non-formal school in Nigeria’s northern Bauchi State two years ago.

Ammar in front of his school. Photo Credit: USAID

Forty-two percent of primary-age children in this country, about 10.5 million, are out of school. Less than a third of primary school children proceed to junior secondary school and even fewer go on to complete secondary school. The situation is worse in predominantly Muslim Northern Nigeria where primary school attendance and academic achievement are far below national averages. A recent USAID-funded assessment of reading skills in Hausa, the local language, in the Northern States of Bauchi and Sokoto found that about 70 percent of  P3 (third grade) pupils could not read a single word of a simple narrative text. In this region many students attend non-formal religious schools where the focus is on learning the Quran and Islamic values with no training in basic reading and math skills. In some schools male children (referred to as “Almajiri”) often leave very poor families to attend school and are encouraged to beg on the streets to pay for their care and instruction.

Through its Northern Education Initiative (NEI), USAID is working in the Nigerian States of Bauchi and Sokoto to strengthen state and local governments’ capacity to deliver basic education services by addressing key management, sustainability and oversight issues. To demonstrate to state governments that basic education systems can be strengthened through improvements in teacher training and instructional delivery, the NEI developed new activity-based training manuals, trained about 3,500 teachers, and monitored the delivery of reading and math instruction. Two hundred pilot schools were selected to participate in the program, 80 of which were non-formal Amajiri schools—40 from each state.

Children outside of school in Nigeria. Photo Credit: USAID/Nigeria

Ammar’s school was selected to participate in the pilot. He diligently applied himself to his studies and was one of 200 students from NEI’s 40 demonstration schools in Bauchi State to pass exams for entry to formal schools in 2011. Once admitted to Central Primary School, Gwaram, he was reassessed and placed in Class Five. His teachers were surprised to learn he was a student from an Almajiri school.  ”He performed better than other pupils that had spent six years in school and took first position in his class examination,” said Malam Usman Khalifa, head teacher at Central Primary School.

In 2012 Ammar took the Bauchi State Special Secondary School Examination for entry into one of the state’s three schools for gifted children. He passed with flying colors and is now a student at the Special Science Secondary School in Toro. He has now set a new target: to earn university admission. “I want to be a doctor, to help my people,” said Ammar.

 

 

 

1,000 Days to Reach the Millennium Development Goals

This blog is part of a series focused on USAID’s innovative approach to reaching Millennium Development Goal #2: Achieve universal primary education. The theme “Room to Learn” highlights programs and priority countries where access to education is now a reality.

Increasing access to primary education in developing countries. Reaching the nearly 61 million still out-of-school children and getting as many of them as we can into safe learning environments. Improving the quality of education by making sure that children are not only in school, but also that they are learning. And just 1,000 days to get it done.

It’s a daunting task but just the kind of challenge I love. After 38 years as a teacher, 8 years advocating for education, literacy and libraries as Iowa’s first lady, 12 years as president of my own literacy foundation, a few years working to assure young women have access to reproductive health, and two years running for Congress, I have found the perfect capstone to my career in the USAID Education Strategy (PDF) and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2.  Friday, April 6 started the countdown of 1,000 days to reach MDG2, by 2015:

Schoolchildren in Aqaba, Jordan, who are beneficiaries of the Jordan Schools Program and Education Reform Support Program, both funded by USAID to improve the quality of education in the country. Photo credit: Jill Meeks, Creative Associates International

“Ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.”

The best part of this challenge is that I join a committed team of experienced and passionate USAID education and foreign-service professionals who have already spent the past two years creating a focused strategy which includes access to education but also quality and accountability. We are led by a visionary, Administrator Rajiv Shah, who is determined to produce results we can measure. Thus, the big numbers. The numbers, while hard to compile in countries subject to coups, civil wars, earthquakes, drought and corruption, are important in creating a report card for Americans who want to help but who also want quantifiable results. The numbers are important because they will help us to do “good” well. Even more important, I recognize that USAID is just one organization in the global community committed to literacy and learning.  What an opportunity to join this growing collection of education champions!

Last weekend someone asked what I’d learned from two weeks of briefings that I found most valuable. First, I am convinced of the commitment of my colleagues and I learned that we are not without partners worldwide who are also resolute about literacy. More surprising and not without irony, this language arts and journalism teacher learned that reaching our millennium goals is partly about getting the numbers right.

Sixty-one million children still don’t have access to basic primary education. I talk with folks on Main Street who wonder why it matters if a child in Africa knows how to read. For every child or youth who has room to learn—a safe place to learn and a trained teacher—the world will be a safer, more productive place for all of us.

I’m going to do everything in my power to tell the USAID education story to anyone who will listen—elected officials, other public servants, business leaders, those supporting non-profits, civic organizations, and faith-based organizations, the wider education community at home and abroad, my family, my hairdresser, the person sitting next to me at dinner and on the Metro. I’m going to ask all of them and you, to help us, or at least, to support our efforts.

The children who learn to read in Afghanistan, the teachers who learn to teach reading in South Sudan, the ministers of education who have data to show results in Pakistan, Haiti and Nigeria, the parents who will learn to demand quality as well as access in the Democratic Republic of Congo, over time will help knit the fabric of an education system that underpins every strong democracy. Those children will become teachers, start businesses, engage in trade, heal the sick, build roads, write novels and make scientific discoveries.  One thousand days to reach MDG2. There’s no time to lose. Let’s get busy.

Here’s how you can help :

Video of the Week: Education in Kenya

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.

Learning Law Through Practice

On April 8, lawyers from USAID’s Office of General Counsel led a roundtable dialogue with two Iraqi and two Palestinian teams that participated in the annual Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, which took place in Washington, DC, from March 31 to April 6. The competition was an opportunity for the four teams to highlight their litigation skills that are being developed through programs supported by USAID.

Iraqi and Palestinian teams in front of the USAID seal. Photo credit: USAID

The Jessup competition brings together students from 550 law schools that represent more than 80 countries and simulates a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations. This year’s participants addressed the factual and legal consequences of climate change on statehood, migration and sovereign lending. Teaching methodology has historically been lecture based in both Iraqi and Palestinian universities so the practical experience that students gain from the Jessup competition process, including competing against other teams and receiving feedback from distinguished judges, is extremely valuable.

The two Iraqi teams from Baghdad and Anbar Universities earned the right to represent Iraq after competing against over 100 law students and professors from 17 Iraqi universities. All of the teams were trained on courtroom etiquette and advocacy skills by USAID’s Access to Justice program in Iraq prior to their participation. The program promotes a practical approach to improving both legal services for vulnerable groups and the knowledge and skills of those who assist them.

The two Palestinian teams, from Bir Zeit and An Najah Universities, came in first and second in the Palestinian Jessup qualifying round. Palestinian partner universities received training as part of USAID’s Palestinian Justice Enhancement Project, which is designed to strengthen public confidence and respect for justice sector institutions and the rule of law in the West Bank.

The teams received guidance from competition judges, established new friendships with law students from around the world, and learned more about the United States while gaining important courtroom experience.  The Bir Zeit team had the honor of being elected by fellow competitors to receive the Spirit of Jessup Award for the team that “best exemplifies the Jessup spirit of comradeship, academic excellence, competitiveness, and appreciation of fellow competitors.”

Both the Iraqi and Palestinian students told the USAID lawyers that when they get home, they plan to gain practical experience in providing legal assistance through legal clinics supported by USAID in their law schools.

Palestinian competitor Obaida observed, “Jessup taught me to see international law from other perspectives. I now can argue and fully express myself before expert judges and I will bring back with me knowledge, success and memories.”

The students also toured the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and met with one of the court’s legal advisers.

“Competing in Jessup has helped to increase our experience and build our confidence as young lawyers,” remarked Baghdad competitor Ahmad. “We are so excited to represent our country and learn about the legal system in America.”

Separating Children from Armed Groups in the DRC

On March 23, 245 combatants from the militia group Kata Katanga marched into Lubumbashi in Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After entering the UN Peacekeeping base there, the combatants, including 40 minors, reportedly surrendered and were disarmed. With support from USAID, UNICEF and its local partner Reconfort responded to the situation within hours, verifying and separating these 40 children from the surrendered group. UNICEF successfully negotiated to allow the children to be turned over for care in the transit center, rather than be handed over to government officials along with the Kata Katanga adult combatants.

Children formerly associated with armed groups engaging in recreational activities at a USAID-supported transit center in Bukavu, South Kivu. Photo credit: Dan Rono, UNICEF

These children, all boys between the ages of 10 and 17 who UNICEF and Reconfort were able to literally “separate” from the armed group, were placed in a transit center in Lubumbashi, which Reconfort was able to open, stock, and staff within a single day as a result of USAID’s ongoing work to improve the local organization’s capacity. In the transit center, these 40 boys are getting shelter, protection, medical care, psychosocial support, and opportunities for recreational and educational activities. Over the next few months, the youth will be reintegrated into their families and communities and enrolled in school or vocational training programs.

Murals at a USAID-supported transit center for children associated with armed groups in Goma, North Kivu. Written in Swahili above the murals are the sentences “Children are not intended to be soldiers” and “Help me to leave the armed group.” Photo credit: USAID

Since 2011, USAID’s child protection work with UNICEF has separated over 1,100 children from armed groups in North Kivu, South Kivu, Orientale, and Katanga provinces, provided separated children with temporary care in transit centers or foster families, supported their reintegration into their communities, and helped an additional 5,000 conflict-affected children to enroll in school or obtain vocational skills training. In addition, USAID has strengthened the capacity of 15 local organizations, like Reconfort, that are assisting children associated with armed groups, and we have created or strengthened over 70 community committees to promote child rights at the grassroots level and prevent child recruitment into armed groups. USAID has recently signed an agreement to continue UNICEF’s child protection project, bringing the total project amount to $5 million. This new agreement will give the project more geographic flexibility and build more capacity among local organizations to ensure rapid response to unexpected events like this one.

FrontLines Releases March/April 2013 Issue

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn how the Agency is working to provide safe water to the millions who live without this vital resource, and how unique approaches to wipe out neglected tropical diseases are faring. Some highlights:

Three young boys having some fun while they use a public standpipe in Bauchi town, Nigeria. This is one of the sites where town residents retrieve water since few have water taps at their homes. In December 2011, USAID’s Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa project signed an agreement with town officials to help them expand and improve services to residents. Photo credit: Emily Mutai, SUWASA

  • When a family of 12 fled violence in Syria, the Jordanian relative who took them in was not too concerned about providing everyone with adequate water – a scarce resource in this region of the world – thanks to a USAID project that helped build cisterns to harvest and store rainwater.
  • water ATM? Similar technology that meters public water sources is a welcome development for some urban Kenyans who would otherwise face the high cost and inconvenience of procuring water for cooking, washing, cleaning and everything else.
  • Cambodia is enlisting a variety of players – including school children – on its mission to wipe out snail fever, an infection that can lead to debilitating illness, and, in children, malnutrition and cognitive difficulties.
  • Delivering medications efficiently could stomp out two debilitating diseases endemic to Haiti; wearing new sneakers kicks up that protection even more by creating a barrier between parasites and kids’ feet.
If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, subscribe here.

Recording in Progress: Audio Boosts Volume of Education Materials in Rwanda

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.

Billy Niyingabiye, age 11, records a math lesson for primary grades classrooms in Rwanda. Photo credit: William Hirtle, EDC

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.”

Digitizing Education

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Catherine Oliver Smith, COO and Co-Founder of Urban Planet Mobile.

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.

Students play a mobile game in Kenya. Photo credit: Ed Owles, Worldview

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.

Securing a Better Future Means Knowing Your Past

Jean Geran, Founder & President, Each Inc. Photo credit: Jean Geran

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Everyone loves a good story. Fairy tales take us to faraway lands and help us dream dreams. Horror stories scare us and make us appreciate our own security. The moral of a story can grow our character and teach us valuable principles. But the stories we love most are those that allow us to see new possibilities for our own story. Because the most valuable story for each of us is our own. I was fortunate to have parents who believed in their little girl’s potential and made me feel that I could accomplish anything if I set my mind to it.  A ‘sky’s the limit’ mentality is not always the norm for young women in the United States and often remains unimaginable to women and girls around the world.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I think about the millions of women and girls who hold up half the sky but feel invisible and trapped due to poverty, illiteracy, disease, abuse and other forms of marginalization and deprivation.  At the top of the list of concern are the children, both girls and boys, living in adversity. Alone, scared, and vulnerable, children living outside family care in orphanages, refugee camps, brothels or the streets are the most invisible of all.  No one knows their stories. Often they don’t even know their own. To survive, they must find food, shelter and protection but they often say that their greater struggle is their desire to be known and to belong somewhere. We all wrestle with personal identity. Imagine having nothing to start with.

Because each child has a unique story, I founded a social enterprise called Each Inc. that is developing technology products and services to help both practitioners working directly with children, and governments or researchers interested in aggregate data to improve policies and programs at a macro-level. The girl effect and other related efforts have been successful in raising awareness of the necessity and wisdom of investing in each girl’s future.  To make those investments effectively it helps to know her story.

It’s difficult to find a solution for each child without having their case history data in a timely, usable form. How can you find families for orphans in institutions if you don’t know their family history? How can you safely reunify a trafficked child with their family if you don’t know who they are? Social workers are faced with these kinds of questions every day and the lack of data makes their difficult job even harder.

Improving data and technology systems in this field for practitioners would enable them to make more informed decisions for each child and share information securely for better collaboration. For government officials, particularly in underdeveloped countries, improvements are critical to strengthening child protection systems and to disaggregating data by gender to target assistance appropriately. The U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity includes these goals and I wrote about Each Inc.’s support for this effort here.

We are eager to work with individuals and organizations involved in the identification, care and protection of children. Each child has a story.

Why Women’s Leadership Matters in a Macho World

Gangs are often seen as a problem of boys and men. Historically, communities have focused on men as both perpetrators and victims of gang related crimes, which include assault, kidnapping, extortion, illicit substance and human trafficking, theft, and murder. And to date, the answer has also been a predominantly male approach – police and court systems that focus on penalizing individuals for these crimes.

However, gangs don’t only make boys and men vulnerable; they make communities insecure for girls and women, too. Although the majority of homicide victims and perpetrators are male, there is an alarming trend of girls joining gangs as well as becoming victims of sexual assaults and femicide.

Volunteers of the Youth Movement Against Violence in Guatemala. Photo credit: Creative Associates

Fed up with the violence and driven by a desire for positive change in their communities, women are taking leadership roles to tackle gang violence and crime. Through youth movements, such as Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia (Youth Movement Against Violence)  in Central America, young women are leading efforts and bringing together communities, governments, and youth to form partnerships and find creative solutions.

“I am worried about the alarming situation and of the number of youths that are killed every day, and the impact that the violence has on my family. So I decided to take part in finding a solution,” says Vivien Rueda, one of the founders of Youth Alliance Association in Guatemala City.

The Youth Alliance Association project takes a whole-of-community prevention approach. Through USAID’s outreach centers in high-crime areas, the group helps to provide a safe space for recreational activities and job training for at-risk youth as well as ex-gang members. In order to strengthen a sense of community, the centers are called “Outreach Centers for My Neighborhood,” which is similar to a local, common catch phrase “for my neighbor, for my neighborhood.”

The visibility of youth activism was raised to the national stage in Honduras by Alejandra Hernandez, former head of Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia in Honduras. In addressing the Honduran National Congress, she echoed the frustration of youth, of which 2.3 million are girls: “We are here to say that we are tired of being just observers of the violence in our country, now we want to be actors in the construction of solutions that allow us a safer Honduras.”

Women are unique actors and add value to these crucial conversations. They are instrumental to help achieve peace in their communities by bringing diverse perspectives, mobilize a variety of community actors, and ensure that all citizens have their security concerns heard.

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