USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Youth

Virginia Tech Students Fight Human Trafficking, One App at a Time

In March, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners announced the winners of its Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) Campus Challenge Tech Contest– a global call to college students to develop creative technology solutions to help prevent human trafficking. USAID invited some of the contest winners and participants to Washington, D.C., this April to participate in the White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking and discuss their winning concepts with USAID staff and partner organizations. This is a blog about their trip to Washington. 

Popular culture has pegged Washington, D.C., as the home of the bureaucrat, a city where red tape rules. Our time in the capital is a testament to the narrowness of this idea. While we don’t pretend that we got a full picture of the federal government during our brief stay, the experiences we shared speak to a government that still has compassionate members and is made up of individuals that see love as “central to this fight.” This was a phrase that Ambassador Luis CdeBaca used as he spoke during the presentation of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships report on “Building Partnerships to Eradicate Modern-Day Slavery.” This event was one of many meetings we attended during our two days, a time spent better understanding government intervention in human trafficking and developing further the ideas that were awarded first and second place prizes in the USAID C-TIP Campus Challenge.

C-TIP Campus Challenge Tech Contest participants meet with Sarah Mendelson, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

Our two winning concepts – AboliShop a web browser application that helps online shoppers make smart choices by alerting them to products that may have forced or exploited labor in their supply chains, and a Mxit trafficking hotline (PDF) that marries Africa’s largest social network with existing hotline technologies – were tuned and refined by a variety of trafficking experts while we were in Washington. This refinement process has seen us through to the other side, where we are now in a position to move toward making these products available for public use in the near future.

During our time in Washington, USAID connected us with a variety of groups, from religious leaders to large corporations to passionate activists, all aiming to end trafficking on a global scale. We saw much of the public sector’s commitment at the White House Forum to End Human Trafficking and the private sector’s commitment at the Google announcement of their Global Trafficking Hotline Network. Our discussions with these groups made a difference in the future of AboliShop and the Mxit trafficking hotline and also reshaped the way we will be involved in the fight on a personal level.

As for the future of our projects, we want to see AboliShop become a common, not a niche, experience for online consumers, which will only be possible with the energy and resources of groups willing to work alongside us. Africa is in desperate need of trafficking hotline resources, as the existing hotlines are both sparse and limited by a variety of factors. We hope that we can be part of the solution to this problem, joining the organizations already working on the ground to grow the African trafficking hotline network. Keep an eye out for news from AboliShop and Mxit in the days to come.

Better Diagnostics Critical to the Fight against Typhoid

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

The lack of a robust, sensitive, and easy-to-use diagnostic test is one of the most serious barriers to the control and prevention of typhoid fever.

Typhoid fever is a severe bacterial infection spread through water or food that has been contaminated with human waste. The disease causes high fever, flu-like symptoms, abdominal pain, and systemic illness that can result in severe morbidity or death.

An estimated 21 million people fall ill due to typhoid each year, and unfortunately, the burden of disease is greatest among the most vulnerable: school- and pre-school-age children. These children primarily live in poverty throughout Asia and Africa, typically in crowded and unsanitary conditions without access to safe water or basic sanitation.

Women and children in Bihar state, India. Photo credit: Esther Havens

When they fall ill with typhoid, recovery is no guarantee. WHO estimates at least 216,000 people die from typhoid each year. The disease can be treated with antibiotics, but resistance to common drugs is widespread and increasing.

The lack of effective diagnostics means it is more difficult to identify patients, provide effective treatment and prevent the disease from spreading, especially for drug resistant typhoid. It also hinders our ability to conduct surveillance and to identify high-burden and at-risk populations. For policymakers, ministries of health, and others, this lack of diagnostics obscures the true impact of the disease, and reduces the sense of urgency that is required to address it.

There are vaccines available to prevent typhoid; however, they have limitations. Existing vaccines are only moderately effective and provide limited protection to young children. But without a more trusted method for identifying patients, it is also more difficult to conduct efficacy trials of next generation vaccines and clinical therapies. The lack of a sensitive diagnostic test increases the number of patients that must be recruited for these trials and, as a result, dramatically increases the associated costs and time. As a result, in the past few decades, the field has moved forward only with public sector investment.

We don’t have to wait for next generation diagnostics to make a strong case that international organizations and national governments should invest in the control and prevention of typhoid. Timely case identification and management with antibiotics has dramatically reduced case fatality rates, and access to clean water and basic sanitation will provide the best long-term solution.

But at the same time, we know that next generation vaccines providing high levels of lasting protection as early as infancy and effective clinical care may not become available to the children that would benefit most because the cost of needed trials is too high. And when children’s lives are at stake, we need to move quickly.  That’s why we need to rise to the challenge of developing better typhoid diagnostics, and soon.

Learn more about typhoid fever and how to get involved at www.coalitionagainsttyphoid.org.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

Young Communicators Promote Climate Change Awareness

In recognition of Earth Week last week, we explore the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us. 

Climate change is already impacting life in the Dominican Republic. Hurricanes, flooding, and dramatic changes in weather are all becoming more prevalent and severe. Throughout the country, rainfall is highly variable—in some areas, rain is becoming increasingly more extreme, while in other areas lower rainfall and high temperatures are bringing more prolonged droughts. This is threatening the already shaky livelihoods of farming communities whose soil, crops, and livestock are highly sensitive to the changing climate. In coastal communities, like Samaná, coral reefs and mangrove forests are rapidly being degraded by both climate and non-climate stresses, leaving communities without their natural buffers to protect their precious beaches from erosion and their property from storm surges and flooding.

High schoolers in Samaná, Dominican Republic learn about climate change so they can help educate others in their community, in a USAID mission funded adaptation project. Photo credit: Nora Ferm, USAID

USAID is supporting programs in the Dominican Republic to help people of all ages not only understand the effects of climate change, but also communicate those changes to their fellow citizens, creating new leaders in this critical area.

As part of this effort, USAID and partners—The Nature Conservancy and the Center for the Conservation and Eco-Development of Samaná Bay and its Surroundings (CEBSE)—are holding workshops about climate change adaptation for local youth. Youth in Samaná are now fired up and eager to put into practice the knowhow they have picked up from their recent training. They are reaching out to other members of their community and teaching them about the dangers of climate change and ways to adapt to these changes locally.

Workshop participants Ulrich and Vanessa say that they want to hit the ground running: “We’re going to communicate in schools and colleges what we learned in the climate change workshops so that young people in our communities get to know the environmental problems that face us…and realize that part of the solution is that we have to adapt and that this in turn requires a change in our attitudes to our environment.”

The focus on youth is essential—more than 60 percent of the population of the province of Samaná is composed of young people. They have an important role to play in solving problems affecting their environment, and bringing this awareness of how to act in a climate-sensitive manner into the future.

Leani and Deliz, two other workshop participants, are eager to get started by using twitter and blogs to “communicate on the internet about climate change, not only with our peers but also with a view to exchange ideas with young people from other areas of the Dominican Republic as well as from neighboring islands facing the same threats.”

According to one participant, “I did not really understand what global warming and the greenhouse effect meant. Now I know how they relate to climate change…but more importantly, I learned about mangroves and coral reefs. Although we live so close to them we were not aware how they protect our coast and what an important role they play in our livelihoods.”

The youth benefitting from this workshop are already becoming leaders in their community by leading conservation efforts as volunteers with CEBSE, working in their local Mayors’ offices, and seeking learning opportunities on climate change outside of the program. Fifteen-year-old participant Daniel Aurelio Reyes Gomez has grand aspirations to keep his momentum going and eventually become a great political leader for his nation. The program will continue to support these future Dominican leaders by expanding to
education centers and fifteen high schools, training 20-50 students at each school.

USAID is also helping smallholder farmers in the Dominican Republic to access and use new methods to deal with climate risks, such as adjusting planting cycles, and better managing natural resource inputs. Farmers are being instructed in ways to take full advantage of climate and weather forecasts and market-based insurance products that complement risk reduction efforts. Such efforts help ensure that farm productivity is sustainable into the future.

This not only reduces the impacts of shocks that farmers themselves face, but also improves the environmental condition of resources downstream, such as the mangroves and coral reefs in coastal communities like Samaná, which are degraded by an onslaught of negative impacts, from upstream agricultural pollution to climate change-induced alterations in ocean chemistry.

By working with those whose livelihoods are currently impacted by the effects of climate change, and by engaging the youth in impacted communities, USAID is promoting multigenerational awareness of and engagement with climate change resiliency.

Embracing Innovation and Discovery to Accelerate Global Health Progress

Ariel Pablos-Mendez, PhD, serves as assistant administrator for Global Health

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

Improving women’s and children’s health is critical to the development of successful economies and stable communities. It not only saves lives, but it helps communities move themselves out of poverty. Yet every year, 6.9 million children die of preventable causes and more than 287,000 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Obama set forth a vision to, within the next two decades, achieve some of the greatest contributions to human progress in history– eliminate extreme poverty, ensure an AIDS-free generation, and end preventable child and maternal deaths.

To many, these goals seem impossible. They seem like nothing more than a catchy statement, in a political speech. But in reality, these goals are achievable, and we’ve already begun to see tremendous progress.   For example, we’ve supported the scale up of a simplified newborn resuscitation program, “Helping Babies Breathe” through a public-private partnership. The partnership has trained and equipped 100,000 health providers in 50 countries in the last two years. This past year, USAID reached more than 84 million women with family planning information and services. By enabling women to delay and space pregnancy, this helped to prevent 15,000 maternal deaths and save the lives of more than 230,000 infants. These are just a couple examples of the recent advancements we’ve made.

But while we have tools and knowledge that can save and improve lives today, we must also look toward the future. Millions around the globe still do not have adequate access to reproductive, maternal and child health services. There is no guarantee that today’s tools will meet tomorrow’s challenges. We must not become complacent.

USAID and the broader global health community invest in innovation, science & technology to find game-changing solutions. Solutions that will help accelerate the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths, and creating an AIDS-free generation.

Through the Grand Challenges for Development, Development Innovation Ventures, and the Higher Education Solutions Network, USAID is helping to drive breakthroughs in science and technology that can transform development challenges. Recently, we launched the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact in Global Health to help promote and discover innovative, business-minded approaches to address key bottlenecks in the development, introduction and scale-up of global health technologies and interventions.

And since 2011, Saving Lives at Birth has supported 39 exciting and potentially transformational solutions to women’s and newborns’ health. The innovative ideas include an instrument-free, low-cost, rapid point-of-care CD4 test; a postpartum intrauterine device simulation training model; a counterfeit and substandard drug detector device for use in the developing world; and a low-cost, sustainable health cooperative.

At USAID, we are committed to finding innovative solutions to global health  problems (PDF) and if the global health community can harness science, technology and innovation for the poorest communities in the world, we can leave an unparalleled legacy in global health in this next decade. Over the next few days, we will be blogging about some of the latest cutting-edge solutions that are changing the global health arena. By working together to discover and build new solutions, we can maximize our impact and expand what is possible in development.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

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.

Video of the Week: Education in Ghana

In Ghana, most children attend school but the quality of education is very poor. Many schools have no classroom buildings, so many classes are held under a tree or some other makeshift space. This is a problem in rainy season when children are sent home until the skies clear. Also, rain brings mud and mud brings illness.

Many teachers are poorly trained, if they have any training at all. Many students don’t have enough books, and children often walk long distances to the nearest school. Some children even bring their own desks and chair to school every day.

To address these issues, USAID’s education program is building 69 new latrines, 118 kindergarten, elementary and junior high schools and rehabilitating over 100 schools. Funding is also training teachers, supporting students with necessary school supplies, like pens, pencils and notebooks. The schools are also working with their communities to support the students and the school administration.

The impact of USAID’s investments is dramatic. For example, at the Suhyen school, three new classroom blocks are in place and the community is stepping up to support the teachers, the students and the administration.

Ghana is committed to cutting illiteracy in half in the next 5 years.

Non-hormonal Methods of Contraception Meet Need in DRC

More than 26 percent of married women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) want to avoid pregnancy but aren’t using a modern method of family planning. Furthermore, meeting this demand for family planning is not an easy task in the DRC, where deep-seated traditional and religious views exist around family size, gender roles and the use of contraception.

USAID programs have worked to meet the needs of women in the DRC by expanding access to a wide range of family planning choices from short term to long acting reversible contraceptives and permanent methods. USAID has also identified the need to increase access to non-hormonal methods to increase options for women and couples. Since 2003, USAID and its partners have worked to incorporate fertility awareness-based methods into the DRC context, in particular, the Standard Days Method “SDM” (PDF), developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health with funding from USAID. Using SDM, women track their menstrual cycles with CycleBeads in order to avoid unprotected intercourse during their fertile days and by doing so can prevent pregnancy. Based on World Health Organization analyses (PDF), with perfect use, the SDM is effective 95% of the time, and 88% of the time with average use.

Christopher Hook with members of Maman An’Sar. Photo credit: USAID

CycleBeads have a particularly strong acceptance in the DRC’s religious communities. I recently visited the capital city of Kinshasa and was lucky enough to attend a community training of young women on use of CycleBeads. A local Catholic organization, La Conduite de la Fecondité, conducts these trainings twice per week in thirteen integrated maternal and child health clinics all across Kinshasa. It was a moving experience for me as a development professional (even though I did not speak a word of Lingale!). The training incorporated singing, dancing and call-and-response, which created a fun atmosphere where learning could happen.

Later that day I also met with representatives from Maman An’Sar, a Muslim organization who advocates to local Imams to incorporate family planning messages (PDF) into their weekly sermons. Following a sermon, Maman sends out teams of community health workers who follow up with individuals and couples from the congregations to talk about what they heard. Faith-based organizations like Maman and religious leaders have significant potential to influence positive behavior change within communities and disseminate reproductive health messages.

The use of CycleBeads continues to grow in the DRC. Today, SDM has been scaled-up in 278 of 515 health zones, and CycleBeads are available in more than 1800 sites with trained providers ready to assist potential users. Moreover, SDM has been included in all Ministry of Health norms and protocol documents, ensuring long-term host government support of fertility awareness-based contraception as a key component of the contraceptive method mix.

Access to family planning information and services is only one health challenge in the DRC, but it’s an important one. The DRC has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world, and enabling couples to determine whether, when and how often to have children is vital to safe motherhood and child survival. Research has shown improving access to family planning and reproductive health services could prevent up to 40 percent of maternal deaths across the world, and save the lives of 1.6 million children (PDF) under the age of five annually. Increasing access not only to hormonal methods of family planning, but also to fertility awareness methods is one way in which USAID and its partners are seeking to meet unmet need in the DRC and across the world.

If you or someone else you know may be interested in using the SDM, please follow this link for the web-based service, and this for the iCycleBead smartphone app.

Educate Girls, Develop Nations

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.

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. Photo credit: 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.

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 3.6 million more girls out of school compared to boys around the world. 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. Therefore, a focus on both the quality of education and enrollment rates is needed.

We know that educating women and girls has tremendous multiplying effects for families, communities, and societies.  That is why USAID launched five leadership partnerships involving universities in the U.S. and in Armenia, Paraguay, Rwanda and South Sudan to promote gender equality and women’s leadership. These programs will promote and develop curricula and opportunities for women in business, agriculture, and education in order to increase women’s access to higher education and advanced degrees, strengthen institutional capacity in research and education on women’s leadership, and promote women’s leadership through higher education extension and outreach to underserved communities.

We are very excited to be collaborating with academic institutions in the United States and abroad to advance women’s leadership. These partnerships offer a meaningful and important opportunity to ensure women are empowered, ultimately advancing economies and societies globally.

New Learn-to-Read Method in Yemen Shows Early Promise

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.

A teacher points to clearly-drawn Arabic characters on a blackboard and the third-grade girls at Aisha School gleefully make the corresponding sounds. A few minutes later the room grows quieter as the girls focus to simultaneously pronounce and write the letter corresponding to its sound. At a nearby school, first-grade boys stumble over themselves to get to the blackboard in time to point at the character that matches the sound their teacher just pronounced.

The students in schools in the Amran govenorate, just outside Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a, are learning to read using a phonics method developed by the Yemeni Ministry of Education with USAID support.  In less than one year, students, parents and teachers alike have embraced the Yemen Early Grade Reading Approach, or YEGRA. “It’s a miracle, the teaching of reading is suddently demystified,” said the principal of a school.

Students at the Aisha School. Photo credit: Emily Walker, USAID

YEGRA focuses on intensive teacher training in a method that teaches first- through third-graders to read using phonics. Each lesson is 70 minutes long, and follows a set procedure, which includes reviewing a familiar story, reading stories aloud, focusing on the sounds that make up words, and writing. The program has also produced brand-new grade-appropriate teaching materials, including readers that children can take home to practice with their parents, and handbooks that help both literate and illiterate parents to support their children’s learning.

Until last year, Yemeni children were taught to read using word recognition and corresponding pictures, but the technique was clearly not effective; when USAID tested young students in 2011, it found that fewer than one-third of third-graders were able to read.

After just eight weeks of the YEGRA method, which has been implemented in 380 of Yemen’s schools, first graders could decipher 10 words per minute – the goal in first grade is to identify 30 words per minute. And, an informal analysis in the governorate of Taizz found that first-grade students could read just six words per minute prior to YEGRA, but after nearly three months of YEGRA lessons, 97 percent of the first-grade students were able to read 20 words a minute.

Ministry of Education and USAID teams visited three Amran schools in March and saw YEGRA’s dynamism firsthand – students were eagerly answering questions and following along in the lessons. They also attended a teacher training, where teachers for grades one through three throughout the region learned interactive teaching techniques and methods for futher engaging students in reading. By next school year, at least an additional 3,000 to 5,000 teachers will be using the YEGRA method.

USAID, in partnership with Yemen’s Ministry of Education and local governments, is also making education more accessible to Yemeni children, and especially girls, by rehabilitating schools to  improve sanitary conditions and make it safer to go to school. USAID has rehabiliated more than 200 schools throughout the country since November 2011, with a particular focus on those in conflict-affected areas. An estimated 280,000 students were unable to go to school during the recent conflict in the southern governorate of Abyan and its aftermath. Together with the Ministry of Education and the Governor of Abyan, USAID completed a major rehabilitation of 10 schools in Abyan, and will rehabilitate and furnish a total of eighteen over the coming months. Next school year, students in Abyan will not only be back in school but they will for the first time learn how to read and write at grade level with YEGRA.

One-third of out-of-school girls in the entire Middle East and North Africa region reside in Yemen and only 53 percent of girls who begin primary school complete basic schooling. Our early education programs in Yemen target both boys and girls, and the Ministry of Education is convinced  that these educational improvements will not only ensure that students can read with comprehension and go on to learn other subjects, but will also increase enrollment and lower dropout rates, especially for girls.

After the success of the first year of YEGRA, the Ministry has initiated reforms to its educational curriculum and is committed to taking the program nationwide with the continued support of USAID and other donors. As this generation of boys and girls learns to read and goes on to master other subjects, the increase in girls’ enrollment should continue to grow. Better access to schools and higher literacy rates will provide greater opportunities for Yemen’s girls. Read more about our work to improve girls’ enrollment and educational opportunities in Yemen.

Improving Education in South Sudan

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.

After emerging from decades of conflict, South Sudan faces significant challenges in its education sector. Only 27 percent of South Sudanese adults today are literate, one of the lowest rates in the world. Other challenges include inadequate schools; teachers who have had insufficient training; a shortage of teachers, particularly women; lack of a standard curriculum; and a legislative and policy framework on education that is still in development.

Despite these many roadblocks, impressive gains in education have been achieved since 2005. With USAID assistance, primary school enrollment in South Sudan has increased from approximately 300,000 students in 2000 to 1.4 million in 2012. USAID has supported the construction or rehabilitation of 140 primary schools and five secondary schools. To improve teachers’ skills, the Agency helped to rehabilitate four regional teacher training institutes and is encouraging women to become teachers. To address lower literacy and school attendance among girls, USAID has awarded over 9,000 scholarships in the past five years to girls and disadvantaged boys who are unable to pay school fees to complete secondary school.

Sylvain Sumurye, a USAID scholarship recipient, now teaches at Kiri Primary School, Kajo-keji County, Central Equatoria state. Photo credit: Joseph Ayela, Winrock International

Sylvain Sumurye of Kajo-Keji County in Central Equatoria State received one of these scholarships. She had dropped out of school due to an early pregnancy and then was abandoned by her husband. With the USAID-funded scholarship Sylvain completed secondary school and attended Kajo-Keji Teacher Training College. After graduation she was hired as a fifth grade teacher and with the money she earns can support her family and pay her daughter’s school fees. More importantly, Sylvain is now one of the few qualified teachers in South Sudan. Only about 4,000 teachers out of a total of 26,000 teachers are qualified, a shortage that USAID’s South Sudan Teacher Education Program is helping to address through in-service training and development of core teacher professional development frameworks including a curriculum, teacher professional standards, an accreditation system and an affirmative action policy. It expected that this foundational work will support future teacher training activities to improve the quality of teaching in the country. Quality teaching is an important prerequisite for improved learning.

A group of students. Photo credit: Karl Grobl, Education Development Center

In early 2012, USAID embarked on efforts to further solidify improvements in education in South Sudan. The Agency provided technical assistance to the Government of the Republic of South Sudan to help with the drafting and passage of a General Education Bill that will establish a national framework for education. This assistance included the organization of expert panels and public hearings that have enabled citizens and specialists in the field of education to provide input to the drafts. Involving local citizens in the development of this legislation has proven invaluable. Public input has helped provide flexibility in the school calendar so that areas of South Sudan that face challenges remaining open during the rainy season can meet the requirement of being open nine months per year without having to adhere to fixed dates. Other issues discussed in the public hearings included community and parental involvement, the role of women in educational leadership, inclusion of all students, standardized exams, a teachers’ code of conduct, compulsory attendance, and the need to eliminate corporal punishment. USAID’s oversight in ensuring that international norms were being observed in the analysis was crucial to the attainment of a sound legislative framework. The bill was passed by the National Legislative Assembly in July and has become a frequent basis for progressive reform. In the words of Samson Ezekiel Ndukpo, a National Legislative Assembly member who is Chair of the Assembly’s Specialized Committee of Education, Research, Science and Technology, “The bill is very important – it concerns everybody. The bill provides for compulsory and free education for all citizens of the country through primary level, according to the constitution.”

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