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How Vocational Training Is Changing the Destinies of Morocco’s Youth

Youth participate in a morning sewing class at the Chifae Association, a USAID-supported NGO providing vocational training to local youth in an impoverished urban neighborhood in Tangiers. /USAID

Youth participate in a morning sewing class at the Chifae Association, a USAID-supported NGO providing vocational training to local youth in an impoverished urban neighborhood in Tangiers. /USAID

Moroccan youth, who make up a third of their country’s population, represent a massive pool of untapped talent and potential. However, with 40 percent of Morocco’s youth out of school or out of work, many feel lost and unsupported by their communities. These youth can become susceptible to the world of crime, drugs and radicalization.

To help provide them with an alternative, USAID and its partners in Morocco are working together to provide sustainable opportunities for youth. I recently had the chance to visit USAID activities in Morocco that provide young people with the skills they need to enter the workforce, and connect them to jobs in high-demand sectors.

USAID’s Favorable Opportunities to Reinforce Self-Advancement for Today’s Youth activity works with at-risk youth in underprivileged neighborhoods in the north of Morocco. Since 2012, the activity has improved the lives of over 12,000 at-risk youth in the cities of Tangiers and Tetouan by increasing confidence and community engagement, and providing professional skills training, academic support and tutoring.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Maria Longi witnesses the signing of a partnership agreement between the Nova Moda 2 clothing company and the Chifae Association to increase youth employability. / USAID Morocco

Deputy Assistant Administrator Maria Longi witnesses the signing of a partnership agreement between the Nova Moda 2 clothing company and the Chifae Association to increase youth employability. /USAID

Working with local civil society organizations, this USAID project addresses the challenges that push young Moroccans down hazardous paths. It improves their access to quality education and job opportunities and increases their community involvement through vocational training and career services—giving young people more positive options for their future.

I saw this firsthand when I visited the Chifae Association, a USAID-supported NGO providing vocational training to local youth in an impoverished urban neighborhood in Tangiers. I had the opportunity to observe a morning sewing class, where young men and women sat at rows of sewing machines testing stitches on colorful fabric scraps.

The students I spoke to at the Chifae Association told me how the USAID project is helping them find themselves. I was moved by their sense of ambition as we talked about their personal challenges and aspirations. They are learning new skills that will help them get a job and become excited about their future. One student told me that if it wasn’t for this program, he would most certainly be on the street selling drugs.

From the Chifae Association, we headed straight to Nova Moda 2, a clothing factory where many of the graduates from USAID-supported vocational training centers like the Chifae Association become interns or employees. Nova Moda 2 provides these graduates with good salaries that allow them to support themselves and their families. With this new sense of purpose, Moroccan youth gain self-esteem and feel more respected in their neighborhoods.

Nova Moda 2, a clothing factory where many graduates from USAID-supported vocational training centers like the Chifae Association become interns or employees. /USAID

Nova Moda 2, a clothing factory where many graduates from USAID-supported vocational training centers like the Chifae Association become interns or employees. /USAID

I also attended the signing of a partnership agreement between the Nova Moda 2 clothing company and the Chifae Association. This agreement made official what was already apparent: Everyone participating in this program—students, teachers and company managers—is committed to working toward a common goal of youth employability.

Through dedicated partnerships like this, students who complete the vocational training program have a clear vision of how their newly acquired skills can be applied in a viable profession, and with that, a hope for their future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maria Longi is the deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s Middle East Bureau.


RELATED LINKS

Harmful Child Labor Is Everyone’s Business

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Two little girls reading in Pakistan. / Save the Children

“Rose,” 16, never expected to end up living in the streets of Abidjan, sleeping nights under a table in the marketplace and having to sell sex for survival. She left her village in rural Côte d’Ivoire for a promise to live with her aunt in the city to attend school and perform domestic chores.

Things did not go as planned. Rose experienced harsh verbal abuse at the hands of her aunt and sexual abuse from her uncle and, in the end, her aunt threw her out of the house.

Rose was eventually discovered and taken to a transit center supported by a USAID PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) project implemented by Save the Children. Through this center, she was able to gain the strength and skills to return to school, despite testing positive for HIV/AIDS.

As a child labor practitioner, I am well aware of the risk factors for girls becoming domestic workers when migrating from rural to urban settings. So I have to wonder: Could we have helped Rose earlier, preventing the extreme trauma she experienced?

Girls sit in a circle in a classroom in Pakistan. / Save the Children

Girls sit in a circle in a classroom in Pakistan. / Save the Children

Every June, people from around the world commemorate the World Day Against Child Labor to speak up for the 168 million children working under harmful conditions in various sectors—including agriculture, on construction sites, hidden in households and exploited in brothels.

Harmful child labor takes many forms. And too often development practitioners do not recognize the risks of child labor when designing activities to spur economic growth or increase agricultural output, or when responding to humanitarian emergencies during times of crisis and conflict when child labor is often prevalent.

In addition, child labor programming has historically been narrow in focus, only looking at the child workers’ needs (like school and vocational training) or that of their parents within a community, rather than recognizing other harms surrounding children.

We could serve children better if we took a broader view of their risks given their particular environment and situation.

For example, the removal of a child from harmful work on a cocoa farm and relocation to a school in a nearby town is considered a successful outcome. However, is it really a success if she has no familial care or ends up sexually abused and impregnated by her teacher?   

The theme of this year’s World Day is Ending Child Labor in Global Supply ChainsIt’s Everyone’s Business. Recent regulations, certification and monitoring schemes have made businesses more accountable for how their commodities are produced. But all duty bearers, including government agencies and donors, need to address these issues. Not only for children working in formal settings, but also for those working in informal settings, like households.  

Identifying and then tackling the root causes of child labor is key, including interventions like

  • Providing second-shift classrooms for working children as a chance to return to and catch up in school.
  • Supporting Community Child Protection Committees to better prevent and respond to violations such as child abuse and neglect, but to also create awareness and change behavior on issues like child marriage and gender discrimination.
  • Training teachers and communities to deliver school-based health and nutrition services, such as child-focused health classes and deworming campaigns.
  • Lifting up families with working children by providing vocational training, cash transfers and opportunities to start their own businesses.
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Economic strengthening activities for women are part of the USAID-funded PEPFAR project in in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, that provides support to families affected by HIV/AIDS. / Save the Children

There is no silver bullet to deal with the worst forms of child labor, much less child protection risks globally. However, through enhanced coordination, integrated programming, advocacy efforts, and policy initiatives we can make a difference in the lives of children like Rosie.

We are on the right track. According to the International Labor Organization’s World Report on Child Labor, since 2008, the global level of hazardous and worst forms of child labor has decreased from 115.3 million children (7.3 percent) to 85.3 million (5.4 percent).

Let’s continue this work together and make it everybody’s business to keep children safe and protected.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendy Blanpied is a Senior Child Protection Specialist at Save the Children.


RELATED LINKS

  • Read about the International Labor Organization’s World Day Against Child Labor 2016 theme, and activities and initiatives commemorating the day.  
  • Check out the video on Child Labor in Supply Chains.
  • Learn about a new tool for retail giants to “target” child trafficking.

Even Amid a Humanitarian Crisis, Education Cannot Wait

Nepalese children attend school in a temporary learning center following the April 2015 earthquake / Derek Brown for USAID/Nepal

Nepalese children attend school in a temporary learning center following the April 2015 earthquake / Derek Brown for USAID/Nepal

Education is a core component of a humanitarian response. However, too often education remains severely underfunded given competing priorities. But without it, children — and girls in particular — are at increased risk of abuse, exploitation, disempowerment or worse.

While working in international education for more than 30 years, I’ve seen how natural disasters, famines and wars can sideline education.

And yet we know from research — and our own life experiences — that going to school and learning is critical; it provides children with a sense of normalcy and helps prepare them for the future. An extra year of secondary school for girls can increase their future earnings by 10 to 20 percent. Research even shows that investing in women and girls can boost an entire country’s GDP.

Children attend a morning assembly at a temporary learning center in Nepal / Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID/Nepal

Children attend a morning assembly at a temporary learning center in Nepal / Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID/Nepal

However, over the past decade, we have seen greater consideration of the long-term need of children affected by crisis and conflict. Education in these contexts is prioritized by the U.S. Government — we know it’s critical to the global effort to end extreme poverty and build peaceful democratic societies.

Providing access to quality education for children and youth in crisis and conflict is one of USAID’s priorities for education. Between 2011 and 2015, we provided millions of out-of-school children and youth in 20 countries with access to education.

That’s good progress, but it’s not enough. As a result of the conflict in Syria, the world is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Syria is among 35 crisis-affected countries where 476 million children are in desperate need of educational support.

Aminata, 16, teaches her younger siblings while schools in Liberia were closed during the height of the Ebola epidemic / Neil Brandvold for USAID

Aminata, 16, teaches her younger siblings while schools in Liberia were closed during the height of the Ebola epidemic / Neil Brandvold for USAID

A shift in USAID education response

For decades, humanitarian and development assistance were often partitioned, and this sometimes led to not focusing on returning many displaced children and youth to school until after a crisis or conflict had ended. Education has always been a key focus in the international refugee response; but this at times has not been true in the case of natural disasters or even in the case of internally displaced children.

As crises have become longer — families are displaced for 20 years on average — children may spend their entire childhood exiled from their homes. Without education, a new generation grows up without the basic skills needed to contribute to their community and society.

The U.S. Government is now committed to ensuring that whenever a crisis or conflict hits, education is not disrupted. Prioritizing the continuity of education reaps long term rewards, and contributes to a smooth transition from humanitarian assistance to sustainable development.

Victoria Cole, 12, hasn’t let the Ebola crisis interrupt her education. Here she participates in in an outdoor classroom while schools in Liberia were closed during the height of the Ebola epidemic / Neil Brandvold for USAID

Victoria Cole, 12, hasn’t let the Ebola crisis interrupt her education. Here she participates in in an outdoor classroom while schools in Liberia were closed during the height of the Ebola epidemic / Neil Brandvold for USAID

In the past year, the United States has responded to the education needs of children living in a range of crises, including violent conflict in South Sudan, gang violence in El Salvador and Guatemala, the Syrian refugee crisis, earthquakes in Nepal, and the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

  • Nepal: On April 25, 2015, Nepal was shaken by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that claimed lives, destroyed homes, and reduced thousands of schools and classrooms to rubble. USAID and partners sprang into action by building more than 1,000 temporary learning centers to ensure children could continue their education while the rest of the communities were rebuilt around them.
  • Liberia: In August 2014, at the height of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, all schools were closed, leaving 1.5 million children at home and unable to learn. Crises like Ebola don’t only affect the health of communities, but also their ability to continue working and learning. In response, USAID worked with the Liberian Government to integrate basic Ebola prevention and treatment information into the curriculum, supply classrooms with prevention supplies, and prepare for future suspected cases. These measures allowed schools to reopen six months later.
  • Syrian refugee crisis: Since the start of the conflict in Syria, the Department of State has worked with international and nongovernmental organizations to open and refurbish schools, provide educational materials, pay school fees, and offer accelerated learning programs for refugees and host communities in neighboring countries where 2.4 million Syrian refugee children now reside. These same partners provide protective family care and reunification, protect distressed children from violence and abuse, provide counseling and psychological support, and meet other critical needs of children both inside Syria and in neighboring countries.
  • Nigeria: Since 2009, a violent insurgency has gripped much of northeastern Nigeria and displaced more than 1 million children and youth, greatly diminishing their education and job prospects. Since 2014, USAID has worked with local partners and officials to ensure their education can continue by establishing about 600 nonformal learning centers in communities where displaced children and youth have relocated – temporary shelters, markets, churches, mosques and under the shade of trees. The international community is far from reaching all of those children in need, however. We must do more.

Bridging the humanitarian and development divide

No one donor can do this alone — we must work together with countries affected by these crises and a range of education experts. That is why the U.S. Government is enthusiastically supporting Education Cannot Wait: A Fund for Education in Emergencies.

The fund is championed by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education’s Board of Directors Julia Gillard, UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake, the U.S. Government and other donors.

Education Cannot Wait, managed by UNICEF, will help transform the global education sector and bridge the humanitarian and development divide by collaborating with non-traditional actors for a more agile and rapid response to education in emergencies. Ultimately, the fund will increase safe and quality education so that all children have the opportunity to learn, amid emergency and protracted situations.

With 75 million girls and boys most directly affected by crises globally, we know that solving this problem requires collective action. This is why we call on the private sector, host country governments, civil society, and traditional and non-traditional donors to all come together.

Education Cannot Wait must engage new actors — non-traditional donors, the private sector, foundations and philanthropists — to contribute to financing the platform. They can make education as much a priority as food security, shelter and health. New actors can unlock new funds, and their participation can help the international community create transformative and long-lasting change in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable young people.

It’s a challenge that must be addressed through strong political will and financial support.

As a veteran development worker and education specialist, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when children and youth are given an education–how going to school and continuously learning allows them to heal and grow.

These children and youth, when provided with an education are given a new hope for a better future and a chance to succeed — they become self-sufficient, are better able to earn a decent living, and contribute to their societies in a productive way. We all benefit.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Evelyn Rodriguez-Perez is the Director of USAID’s Office of Education in Washington, D.C. Ms. Rodriguez-Perez is a veteran educator of 30 years and a Foreign Service Officer previously stationed in Peru, Egypt and Honduras.

Building Opportunities for Out-of-School Youth in Jordan

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mona Yacoubian watches as youth in Ma’an, Jordan engage in activities during USAID’s Non-Formal Education Program launch event. / Mohammad Maghayda for USAID

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mona Yacoubian watches as youth in Ma’an, Jordan engage in activities during USAID’s Non-Formal Education Program launch event. / Mohammad Maghayda for USAID

Non-formal education serves as a critical bridge for out-of-school youth, connecting them to vocational training or allowing them to re-enter formal education after 10th grade.

In Jordan, this opportunity is much-needed for thousands of young people. At least 21,000 Jordanians ages 12 to 15 are not enrolled in school. In addition, Jordan hosts 80,000 school-aged Syrian refugees who are also out of school.

Youth who do not complete their schooling take the lowest-skilled, lowest-paying jobs and are often exposed to labor exploitation. They may resort to street hustling and suffer from social stigma, labeled as “failures” or “criminals.”

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mona Yacoubian speaks at USAID’s Non-Formal Education Program launch event in Ma’an, Jordan. / Mohammad Maghayda for USAID

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mona Yacoubian speaks at USAID’s Non-Formal Education Program launch event in Ma’an, Jordan. / Mohammad Maghayda for USAID

To help these youth, a new USAID program will expand non-formal education to 28 new school-based centers across Jordan. Together with the Jordanian government and our NGO partner, we will enhance the prospects of vulnerable, out-of-school youth, both Jordanian and Syrian.

Last month, I had the honor of speaking at the launch of our non-formal education program in Ma’an, Jordan. I met with 25 youth from across the governorate, one of the most impoverished areas in the country.

The youth I met at the center told inspiring stories of how the program boosted their confidence and deepened their self-esteem. These young men and women, Jordanian and Syrian, each had an inspiring tale of how their participation in the program and the mentoring they received transformed them.

In one classroom I visited, young men eagerly engaged in an anatomy discussion. In another, gregarious young women laughed and joked as they discussed their friendships and the surrogate family they have become. All were appreciative of the safe space and opportunity to learn in the program.

However, non-formal education is not the only way forward. Jordan’s Ministry of Education is committed to finding pathways to formal education for all out-of-school children. The Ministry will enroll an additional 50,000 Syrian refugee students in school for the 2016-2017 school year — in addition to the 143,000 who are enrolled in the current school year.

Youth participants engage in discussion during USAID’s Non-Formal Education Program launch event in Ma’an, Jordan. / Mohammad Maghayda for USAID

Youth participants engage in discussion during USAID’s Non-Formal Education Program launch event in Ma’an, Jordan. / Mohammad Maghayda for USAID

Later during my trip, I visited Jordanian youth from two leading youth organizations: Al Qantara and Future Makers. They were engaged in a USAID-sponsored youth and civic engagement initiative.

They discussed the challenges they face in their communities, their aspirations, and creative approaches to meeting these challenges. They spoke eloquently about the need for recreational facilities, more English language instruction, and a desire for more adult mentoring their lives.  

They also expressed deep frustration at the stereotypes often raised about socially conservative governorate, Ma’an: “terrorists,” “trouble-makers,” “extremists.” Most powerfully, they spoke passionately about a way forward, brimming with positive ideas and energy — perhaps the most powerful refutation of those ill-conceived labels.

I came away from my trip inspired by the hope and dynamism embodied in these young people. Their energy and desire to succeed are a potent reminder of the promise of Jordan’s youth and the power of USAID’s partnership with the Jordanian people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mona Yacoubian is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Bureau at USAID.

Back in the Classroom: Displaced Students in Nigeria Find Education & Hope

Ikilima Shuib Chiroma teaches a class of adolescent girls on Sept. 21 in a non-formal education facility in Yola, capital of the state of Adamawa in Nigeria. Creative is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program here through partner agency International Rescue Committee to assist youth displaced by Boko Haram. / David Snyder for USAID

Ikilima Shuib Chiroma teaches a class of adolescent girls on Sept. 21 in a non-formal education facility in Yola, capital of the state of Adamawa in Nigeria. Creative is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program here through partner agency International Rescue Committee to assist youth displaced by Boko Haram. / David Snyder for USAID

Like most 10-year-old students, Dinah solves her math problems in the old-fashioned way—with her fingers. She counts to six and jots down the number.

For Dinah’s extended family, they are counting something entirely different—the months since the girl lost her mother during a raid by Boko Haram insurgents on her village in northern Nigeria.

After the vicious attack, the young girl eventually made it to a center for internally displaced persons. Dinah’s uncle drove from the city of Bauchi to bring her to his home.

Today, some seven months after the incident, Dinah is adjusting to a new school and a new future.

An insurgency has wreaked havoc on parts of Nigeria, forcing some 2.2 million people from their homes—one of the largest concentrations of internally displaced persons in Africa. Hundreds of thousands of school-aged children have been set adrift inside the country, ripped from their communities and their schools.

With the magnitude of the situation, USAID, state officials and NGOs stepped in with the Education Crisis Response program.

Launched in 2014, the goal of the program is to expand access to quality and protective non-formal education and alternative education opportunities for out-of-school children, ages 6 to 17, in three Nigerian states and reduce the burden on local schools already stretched thin by limited resources. It is implemented by Creative Associates International and the International Rescue Committee, along with local NGOs.

The project has established 294 non-formal learning centers that provide education, in-class meals and psycho-social services to the displaced children, says Ayo Oladini, director of the Education Crisis Response program.

Local facilitators identified and trained by the program use a government-approved curriculum to teach basic literacy, numeracy and life skills. The learning centers are housed in existing structures like schools or meeting houses that are made available by the local community.

The students attend class three days a week for at least two hours each day and are provided basic school materials.

Adolescent girls in a non-formal education class on Sept. 21 at a school in Yola, capital of the state of Adamawa in Nigeria. Creative is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program here through partner agency International Rescue Committee to assist youth displaced by Boko Haram. / David Snyder for USAID

Adolescent girls in a non-formal education class on Sept. 21 at a school in Yola, capital of the state of Adamawa in Nigeria. Creative is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program here through partner agency International Rescue Committee to assist youth displaced by Boko Haram. / David Snyder for USAID

Paving the way for mainstream education

State officials evaluating the non-formal learning centers say they are working.

“The type of education they do receive is a good one,” says Halilu Usman Rishi of Bauchi’s State Education Secretariat. “That is going to [pave the] way for them to mainstream to a formal system of education.”

The opportunity to return to class is life changing, especially for the many who have been displaced and out of school for years.

“For the kids who had forgotten most of what they have learned [and are] now coming back to a classroom — to say it is therapeutic is an understatement,” Oladini said. “It’s a thing of joy.”

Youth displaced by Boko Haram take part in a non-formal learning class in Gombe, Nigeria on Sept. 26 as part of USAID’s Education Crisis Response program. / David Snyder for USAID

Youth displaced by Boko Haram take part in a non-formal learning class in Gombe, Nigeria on Sept. 26 as part of USAID’s Education Crisis Response program. / David Snyder for USAID

Addressing psychosocial needs

And while education is the foundation of the program, children traumatized by conflict and upheaval can only learn when their fears are also addressed.

USAID responded to the psychological needs of the displaced children by incorporating a psychosocial approach to teaching. Facilitators are trained to teach in a student-friendly manner by incorporating group exercises and encouraging positive, interactive student-teacher relations. Working through local partner agencies, the program also encourages the local community to spread messages of peace.

“We make sure that we don’t create any more trauma, either for these children or within the community where they live,” Oladini explained. “We tell them ‘Look, the future is still there for you. You [may] have lost this, you [may] have lost that…but there is still hope for you.’”

Officials in Bauchi are embracing this strategy to help students deal with what has happened to them and their families.

“The program is, in fact, doing as much as possible to ensure that the children are associating with their friends in the learning centers,” says Bauchi’s Rishi. “Some of them used to tell us as we go around to discuss with them, that initially, they found it very difficult to associate with the other children. But as they interact so much with their friends in the learning centers, they forget thinking about such ugly happenings.”

Preparing for sustained success

Scheduled to phase out in 2017, the Education Crisis Response program is supported by Nigeria’s state and federal governments, which, Oladini said, will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the program.

From the outset, government education officials have been involved in every detail of program planning and worked with the program to identify communities, develop a teacher training manual and sit in on classes.

For every learning center, Education Crisis Response has also trained two local government education officials to serve as mentor teachers whose job is to work with the facilitators and provide feedback to teachers.

“From day one, we made sure [the government understood] that this is your program, it’s not our program,” Oladini said. “So from year one before the end of year two, they’ll be able to plan within their budget to see how they can scale up all these programs.”

And while government’s support of the Education Crisis Response program is essential, it is one part of an overall effort that also depends largely on the communities themselves.

“We’re letting them know that with or without parents, there is what we call ‘your own mindset’ – your own ability to move forward and persevere in a state of difficulty,” Oladini said. “This is what we are teaching them.”


Produced for USAID by Creative Associates International, with reporting by Michael J. Zamba and Ernest Akoma in Nigeria.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael J. Zamba is senior director of communications at Creative Associates International and David Snyder is a photographer and writer. Creative Associates International is implementing USAID’s Education Crisis Response program in northern Nigeria. Follow Creative @1977Creative.

Advocating for Sign Language Education as a Human Right

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Georgine Auma in Washington, D.C. for the Young African Leaders Initiative. / Georgine Auma

As children growing up in Kenya, Georgine Auma and Natha Yare were excluded from their right to education.

Why? Because they are deaf. Access to education in sign language is still denied to millions of deaf and hard of hearing children, and even those who are lucky to receive an education — like Georgine and Natha — often lack teachers or specialists adequately trained in sign language, causing children to miss early language acquisition milestones that assistive devices like cochlear implants or hearing aids cannot provide.

For Natha, being deaf meant she couldn’t go to a local school, and instead attended a school for the deaf 15 hours away by bus. Even there, though, Natha was denied her right to a quality education.

“The government decided to introduce new teachers that knew no Kenyan Sign Language; these teachers filled blackboards with words and gestured for us to copy,” Natha said. “When we finished, we felt like we accomplished something. Afterwards, we went outside to run and play, not understanding what was copied.”

In many countries like Kenya, social stigma causes parents and community members alike to perceive deaf and hard of hearing children as impaired or altogether unable to learn.

NathaYare

Natha Yare (far right) with the deaf football team she helped organize at the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. / UNHCR

When Georgine became deaf at the age of 9, her parents didn’t know what to do with her. Although she already had a strong language foundation, her parents kept her from school for a full year before deciding to re-enroll her equipped with what they believed was a solution: hearing aids.

“I returned to the same school I was in before — needless to say, I never understood a thing taught in class,” Georgine said. “As a coping mechanism, I developed a love for books and literally read everything I could. Reading helped me stay within the top three of my class.”

Georgine recounted struggling with isolation and an identity crisis while growing up. “I thought I was the only deaf person in the world until I discovered Kenyan Sign Language at Maseno School for the Deaf,” she said. “There, I finally found my identity and felt a sense of belonging.”

USAID’s Commitment to Access and Inclusion

When I hear stories like Georgine and Natha’s, it takes me back to Kenya, where I worked at two schools for the deaf as a Peace Corps volunteer. The challenges faced by deaf and hard of hearing people are still prevalent, though; I recently attended the quadrennial World Federation of the Deaf conference, where over 100 deaf youth representatives echoed the same themes of barriers to sign language and education.

USAID is working to change this, providing access to education and sign language around the world. Education projects promoting sign language have been implemented in countries including Ecuador, Georgia and Morocco.

USAID partnered to produce Ecuador’s first-ever sign language dictionary, and with the current All Children Reading Grand Challenge initiative, the Agency is developing revolutionary software to support bilingual education in Morocco and Georgia. In Morocco, with early grade reading software using both Moroccan Sign Language and Arabic, deaf students have been shown to develop better literacy skills, learn better, and thinking more outside of the box than they did before.

Inclusive education is becoming an important theme on the global stage. It is important to ensure that students like Georgine or Natha aren’t left behind. Quality education for deaf and hard of hearing students means equipping teachers with fluency in sign language, thus creating truly inclusive spaces for all learners — because every child has a right to be educated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Josa is a Program Analyst working in USAID’s Office of Education. Follow him @JoshJosa.

Towards a New Global Education Agenda

USAID Senior Advisor for International Education Christie Vilsack visits with primary grade students in Malawi. / Christie Vilsack, USAID

USAID Senior Advisor for International Education Christie Vilsack visits with primary grade students in Malawi. / Christie Vilsack, USAID

In a small first grade class at Mikombe Elementary School in rural Malawi, a girl named Martha is receiving the opportunity of a lifetime – she is learning to read in her local language, Chichewa.

This might not sound like an incredible feat, but for many children in developing countries around the world, especially girls, literacy is elusive.

Poor education systems, untrained teachers and a lack of textbooks in local languages are just a few of the obstacles that hinder education for all in countries like Malawi.

However, what is truly remarkable about Martha is not just that she is learning to read in her local language, but that she is acquiring a skill that can lead to job opportunities her parents never had.

Reading enables education, and education opens doors.

While global health, food security, clean water and energy often dominate the conversation on ending extreme poverty, we at USAID know that education can act as a keystone for all development efforts.

The ability to read and write is essential for living in today’s world. This fundamental competency determines whether someone can understand the instructions on a medicine bottle, apply for a job, follow road signs, read a receipt, or vote in an election.

Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of children around the world are failing to learn fundamental reading, writing and math skills. For some of them, school is not accessible at all.

By increasing both quality and access to education, we can forge pathways towards ending extreme poverty. In fact, if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty.

Education takes center stage on the global policy agenda this week as a diverse group of education leaders from around the world gather for the World Education Forum in South Korea.

Martha, a first grade student in Malawi, practices reading. / Christie Vilsack, USAID

Martha, a first grade student in Malawi, practices reading. / Christie Vilsack, USAID

After looking at the successes of the Millennium Development Goals — a blueprint created by the international community in 2000 to address eight key development goals — world leaders will renew their commitments in the Sustainable Development Goals that they will create later this year.

With this backdrop, the World Education Forum offers a platform for education advocates to come together to establish a new “Framework for Action” that will guide Sustainable Development Goals for education.

USAID stakeholders will be at the table alongside our development colleagues to share our measurable successes in education projects and to recommend best practices that can be woven into the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals.

Over the past four years, USAID missions around the world have worked tirelessly towards the three goals of our agency’s education strategy. We are working to improve reading skills of 100 million children, create employment opportunities for youth, and increase access to education for 15 million children in crisis- and conflict-affected areas.

And our work is making an impact. Since 2011, USAID programs have reached millions of primary school students in 42 countries, provided thousands of youth with new or better employment, and created learning opportunities for children and youth all around the world who would otherwise be out of school.

Despite these successes, the international education community agrees that there is much work left to be done. It will take a group effort to achieve the goals that will be established at the World Education Forum this week.

It will take a particular collaboration to shift program focus to measurable learning benchmarks and not simply access to education.

A report recently released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) titled, “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain,” draws attention to the fact that even though enormous gains have been made in school enrollment around the world, large gaps exist in the quality of education a child receives once enrolled.

In few places is this more evident than in Martha’s native country of Malawi, where access to primary school is almost universal, yet 92 percent of the country’s youngest students cannot read a single word.

The World Education Forum is an important forum for building a pathway out of poverty through education and learning.

USAID — along with the U.S. Departments of State, Education and Agriculture — are committed to moving towards an integrated education development agenda that will achieve inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all children by 2030.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is the Senior Advisor for International Education at USAID working to ensure ALL children have access to a quality education. Follow her @ChristieVilsack.

Community Empowerment in Guatemala Through Improved Literacy

Andrés Ixcuná Mateo, a community volunteer with the Leer Juntos, Aprender Juntos project, helps children learn to read in San Andrés Sajcabajá, Guatemala. / Save the Children

Andrés Ixcuná Mateo, a community volunteer with the Leer Juntos, Aprender Juntos project, helps children learn to read in San Andrés Sajcabajá, Guatemala. / Save the Children

In chasing the “American dream,” 21-year-old Guatemalan Andrés Ixcuná Mateo tried to cross the border into the United States twice but failed. He says the experience of being arrested by immigration authorities and spending several days in jail traumatized him.

But after returning to his hometown of San Andrés Sajcabajá, he began serving as a community volunteer with the Leer Juntos, Aprender Juntos project to help children learn to read in the Mayan language of K’iche. The experience of giving back to his community and helping preserve their indigenous culture helped him start to overcome the emotional and physical hardships he endured in his pursuit of a better life.

Now, he’s filled with a renewed hope for a better future in his hometown.

“I suffered very much, and I do not wish that on anyone,” Andrés said at a training session for volunteers in March, about one year later. “Now that I volunteer for this project, I have realized that one can do many good things and help boys and girls so that they can be someone important.”

Implemented by Save the Children with support from USAID, the three-year project Leer Juntos, Aprender Juntos — which means “reading together, learning together” — aims to improve the readings skills of children in rural, indigenous communities in Guatemala and Peru in their mother tongue. In San Andrés Sajcabajá, the program includes community action activities to improve literacy in the the K’iche language, alongside in-school activities.

Andrés Ixcuná Mateo, a community volunteer with the Leer Juntos, Aprender Juntos project, helps children learn to read in San Andrés Sajcabajá, Guatemala. / Save the Children

Andrés Ixcuná Mateo, a community volunteer with the Leer Juntos, Aprender Juntos project, helps children learn to read in San Andrés Sajcabajá, Guatemala. / Save the Children

The project is part of USAID’s global education strategy to improve the readings skills of 100 million children in primary grades around the world. These skills are essential to students’ success in later grades and open doors to better economic opportunities once they become adults.

In the beginning, the project staff in San Andrés Sajcabajá had trouble recruiting volunteers. While searching for young people who might be willing to give up their time to help children learn to read outside of school hours, they contacted the principal of the community school, who referred them to Andrés–who had recently returned to his hometown.

Andrés, who was living at home and reflecting on what had happened to him, had graduated as a primary grade teacher before trying to emigrate. After meeting with the project staff, he agreed to join the team.

The Leer Juntos, Aprender Juntos project changed Andrés’s life and encouraged him to seek new horizons in order to improve himself and improve his family. After two volunteer trainings, he came to understand that it is possible to achieve “self‐improvement through education,” as he termed it.

Andrés is one of the volunteers who continues to be committed to the project, and this year he has taken up another year‐long commitment to lead community actions being implemented by the project in his village. He has also decided to enroll in the university to continue his studies.

Andrés told the 93 young colleagues assembled at the March training: “Take advantage of these spaces for learning, and the studies that your parents are facilitating. Do not think about migrating to another country, because in Guatemala there is space for you to act and seek your self‐improvement.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anibal Barrera Santay is a Community Action Officer with the USAID-funded program Leer Juntos, Aprender Juntos (Reading Together, Learning Together) at Save the Children.

The Urgency of Education in South Sudan

Young boys sit with their rifles at a Feb. 10 ceremony of the child soldiers disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in Pibor overseen by UNICEF and partners. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

Young boys sit with their rifles at a Feb. 10 ceremony of the child soldiers disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in Pibor overseen by UNICEF and partners. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

While South Sudan’s warring parties have failed to make necessary compromises for peace after nearly 15 months of conflict, the people of South Sudan continue to suffer, including millions of children.

In addition to the many hardships South Sudan’s children are facing since civil war erupted in December 2013, the re-emergence of forced recruitment of child soldiers threatens to rob another generation of their potential after decades of war and lost opportunities.

UNICEF’s announcement that dozens of South Sudanese boys—some as young as 13—were abducted by an armed group while taking school exams sparked outrage. Hundreds may have been forcibly recruited as soldiers, constituting one of the gravest examples of the tragic toll this man-made crisis has had on civilians.

The children in Pibor, Jonglei State, surrendered their weapons and uniforms in a Feb. 10 ceremony overseen by the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, and the Cobra Faction and supported by UNICEF. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

The children in Pibor, Jonglei State, surrendered their weapons and uniforms in a Feb. 10 ceremony overseen by the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, and the Cobra Faction and supported by UNICEF. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

Recruitment of child soldiers is a tragic legacy of conflict that has gripped South Sudan since before Sudan’s independence in 1956. As of 2009, only 27 percent of the population and 16 percent of girls and women ages 15 and older were literate—despite the aspirations South Sudanese have long expressed for education and opportunities for youth

When I visited South Sudan in January, citizens pointed to education as a critical investment in the country’s future, even in the midst of violence. A 2013 public opinion poll found 68 percent of those surveyed across South Sudan weren’t satisfied with their government’s performance in providing education.

Yet the South Sudanese people’s hopes for greater investment in and protection of their children’s education are undermined by poor investments and continuing crises.  Thirty-five percent of teachers in South Sudan have only a primary level of education. And while South Sudan’s Ministry of Education recently reopened five teacher training institutes, officially 42 percent of the national budget goes to military and security sector costs.

An unidentified South Sudan armed group has abducted at least 89 boys, some as young as 13, from their homes in the north of the country, a UNICEF statement said on Feb. 21. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

An unidentified South Sudan armed group has abducted at least 89 boys, some as young as 13, from their homes in the north of the country, a UNICEF statement said on Feb. 21. / Charles Lomodong, AFP

USAID began building schools in southern Sudan in the late 1950s, not long after Sudan’s independence. Our support for education services in South Sudan started in 2002—despite the ongoing 1983-2005 civil war. This early efforthelped make learning possible in southern Sudan after two decades of war and displacement. Since then, USAID has supported more than a dozen substantial education projects in an independent South Sudan. Our current support includes six multi-year education projects with a total budget of more than $165 million.

Our assistance has included building or rehabilitating 140 primary schools and four secondary schools; awarding more than 9,000 scholarships to girls and disadvantaged boys; and providing radio literacy programs that have reached more than half a million children and older students who had missed out on formal schooling. We’ve helped train teachers and created policies regarding long-term education planning and delivery. Our determined commitment to support the South Sudanese in providing education has resulted in major progress: school enrollment more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2010, from 300,000 pupils to more than 1.4 million.

Despite these efforts and measurable progress, less than half of school-aged children in South Sudan were enrolled in school before the conflict erupted in December 2013. Since then, more than 2 million South Sudanese have been displaced by conflict, and some 400,000 students have dropped out of school. An estimated 70 percent of schools in the most conflict-affected states (Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity) were closed as of November 2014, and some 89 schools are currently occupied by fighting forces or internally displaced persons.

Given these developments, we refocused our educational activities to assist people wherever they are—educating children who have been displaced  as well as communities receiving large numbers of displaced children, establishing community schools in remote areas lacking educational access, increasing school security and safety and helping children who live in cattle camps overseeing their family livestock become literate in their mother tongue.

South Sudan will not be able to reach its potential until the country’s leaders end the conflict and commit to ensuring that their nation’s children have the opportunity to learn, protected from this senseless violence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Etim is deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Africa

A Thank You to our Partners in Literacy

Students using tablets during a lesson at a classroom in the Ban San Kong school of Mae Chan, a town located in Thailand's northern province of Chiang Rai. / AFP, Christophe Archambault

Students using tablets during a lesson at a classroom in the Ban San Kong school of Mae Chan, a town located in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Rai. / AFP, Christophe Archambault

We partner because we recognize that none of us can reach our goals alone. But, building and maintaining partnerships requires hard work. Partnerships require focusing on common goals while allowing give and take, different strengths and weaknesses, and attention to equity and fairness, especially in contractual partnerships like marriage or a business.

I know because I’ve been married for 41 years and my husband engaged in a law practice with my father and brother for over three decades. In my personal and professional life in education, I’ve had the opportunity to work collaboratively with talented, strong-minded family and colleagues. Such partnerships are simultaneously challenging and stimulating.

At USAID we work in partnership with host country governments, as well as non-governmental and civil society organizations who implement many of our education development programs on the ground. As a bilateral donor we enter into partnership agreements with other donors, and contribute to the Global Partnership for Education, a growing multilateral donor organization. More and more, through our Agency’s ambitious reform agenda, USAID Forward, we create innovative partnerships with the private sector and work in tandem with governments and ministries to identify barriers to education and to remove them. We work across cultures, languages, and communicate through time zones.

We also partner with advocacy groups, civil society and with universities whose students and faculties share our passion for making the world a safer, more prosperous place. Through the Let Girls Learn campaign, we even partnered with Hollywood celebrities to send out a common message that young girls everywhere have the right to an education and a safe learning environment. Let Girls Learn has a ripple effect. The more people who learn about our work, the more partners we have to get it done.

As education partners, we have common goals driven by the Education for All movement and the Millennium Development Goals. As a sector, we are ready to re-commit to ambitious global goals, along with goals specific to our organizations. We all want more children in schools–particularly girls—and want quality learning to happen once a child gets there.

A Pakistani school girl attends class in Mingora, a town in Swat valley, on October 9, 2013, the first anniversary of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban. /AFP, A. Majeed

A Pakistani school girl attends class in Mingora, a town in Swat valley, on Oct. 9, 2013, the first anniversary of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban. / AFP, A. Majeed

We all want children to stay in school and agree that it’s important to provide opportunity for meaningful employment that will build prosperity and security around the world. Some of us may focus on early childhood or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), some may invest in technology or higher education, but in the end we all want the next generation to fare better than this generation and those that came before us.

We divvy up responsibilities. We maintain mutual respect for people of all nationalities, religions, races, ages and gender identities. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we revise. Together we keep trying to make each program a little better.

International Literacy Day highlights the work the world community is doing to give the next generation a chance at opportunity through education. Those of us at USAID within the Office of Education would like to take time on this day to thank the people within our partner organizations who help us to do our jobs better to improve opportunities for children.

I, for instance need to thank Ed Gragert and the folks at the Global Coalition for Education for helping introduce me to contacts at the colleges and universities I visited in April. I need to thank my husband, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for agreeing to partner with USAID on aligning school feeding programs in countries where USDA and USAID work. I thank Maureen McLaughlin from the Department of Education who helped coordinate a trip for Secretary Duncan to travel to Haiti to visit our reading programs and announce additional resources. I thank April Mora from the Basic Education Coalition who worked with me to create messages that the education sector can use to educate Main Street audiences. I thank former Prime Minister Gordon and Sarah Brown for bringing Malala Yousafzai to the United Nations a year ago to inspire the global education community.

If you receive thanks on this International Literacy Day from an education officer overseas or a program director here at the Ronald Reagan Building in D.C., please know that it is heartfelt and personal. Thank you for all that you do!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education. Follow her @ChristieVilsack

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