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A New School Year

The start of September is always a time that we once again turn our thoughts to education.  Our children get ready for school, are excited at the prospect of seeing their friends, meeting their new teacher, and learning new skills. For others it is a time to return to university and continue their education, be it at a college, university, or to learn a technical trade. It is a time to remember the promise that education can bring, and the optimism it gives us for the future of our children, our community, and our nation.

However, as millions of children in the United States return to school this week, it is a good time to remember that there are an estimated 70 million children in the world who do not have access to even a primary level education, who don’t have the same hope of learning new skills, and who are missing out on what may be their only chance at learning how to read and write.  Most of these children live in developing countries, and those that can’t attend school are disproportionally girls.

However, even children who do manage to attend school in lower income countries face almost insurmountable obstacles to learning.  They often have to walk very long distances to reach schools that are poorly furnished or equipped.  Electricity and water supply are frequently lacking.  Teachers are ill-prepared to teach and lack textbooks and other teaching materials. School systems are underfunded, poorly managed and there is no accountability for ensuring that children learn.

With all these challenges it is not surprising that there is mounting evidence that many children in low income countries are spending years in school without even learning to read.  In fact, approximately half of the children in lowest-income countries cannot read anything at the end of grade 2.  Yet, learning to read in early grades is essential to success in future grades.  Children who do not learn to read in primary grades face limited economic and life opportunities.  A recent UNESCO report points out that 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills—equivalent to a 12 percent cut in global poverty.

This year USAID embarked upon a new, more focused, Education Strategy.  Goal One of the strategy is: Improved reading skills for 100 million children in primary grades by 2015.  Given limited resources, USAID believes that the most strategic and lasting impact it can make in basic education is to improve early grade reading skills, opening doors to better opportunities later in life.  USAID will also intensify efforts to measure its program outcomes to make sure it is on the right track. Without evidence that identifies what works and what does not work we will not be able improve program performance and outcomes and target resources to the most effective program approaches.

Goal Three of the Education Strategy looks to provide equitable access to 15 million children and young adults that cannot attend school due to conflict and crisis. Armed conflict and natural disasters often disrupt education systems. Schools are destroyed, governments are unable to function, and it can be too dangerous to attend school. USAID is working to provide safe and equitable access in these environments so that critical years of education are not missed, and opportunities are not forever lost.

In working to improve early grade literacy skills and provide access in conflict and crises environments, USAID is strengthening its collaboration with an ever-growing number of development actors – U.S. agencies, international donors, host country governments, NGOs, and the private sector – to create a shared vision. Working together to identify the most innovative and effective ways to support education, we hope to achieve these ambitious goals.

International Literacy Day: “Poetry Unplugged” on Literacy Day in Kosovo

Children reading in Green School’s library. Photo Credit: USAID/Kosovo

Earlier this year, the US Ambassador in Kosovo officially opened the Pristina “Green School”, built using recycled materials in an eco-friendly  design with support from USAID.

USAID’s Basic Education Program worked to turn its bare classrooms into modern learning environments.  To encourage reading among the students, the Basic Education Program procured child-friendly furnishings and books for the school’s library.

For Literacy Day, September 8th the program has arranged a special event entitled “Poetry Unplugged” in the new school library. 40 students from 6 different primary schools of Pristina will gather in the library for poetry reading by three well-known local poets. The readings will be followed by a discussion with the poets and then a poetry workshop with a young poet, during which the children will produce their own poems.

This Week at USAID – September 6, 2011

After a hiatus, we will be continuing the “This Week at USAID” series on the first day of the work week.

Thursday, September 8th is International Literacy Day. The Center for Universal Education at Brookings, the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative, and USAID will mark the day by hosting a series of panel discussions on how a range of education stakeholders are addressing the challenge of improving literacy, particularly at lower primary levels, to help fulfill the promise of quality education for all.

Stephen Haykin will be sworn-in as USAID Mission Director to Georgia.

Raja Jandhyala, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Africa, will testify before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on the long-term needs in East Africa.

Alex Their, USAID’s Assistant to the Administrator and Director of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, will testify before U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on development programs in Afghanistan.

Memories of Schooldays in Panama…

USAID will mark its 50th anniversary in November and as part of the commemoration USAID’s news publication FrontLines will dedicate its next photo contest to a celebration of the Agency’s history.

School children in Anton, Province of Cocle’ Panama dash to their classrooms in the newly inaugurated school. Photo Credit: USAID

FrontLines is looking for photos that illustrate USAID’s development activities and the people who carried them out over the decades.

The contest is open to any FrontLines reader, including USAID employees and alumni; employees of NGOs and contractors; and representatives from universities, foundations and other organizations that have partnered with the Agency over the decades.

The deadline for photos is Aug. 15. More information and guidelines for submission available in Frontlines. The above photo is from Panama. The date is unknown.

USAID Helps a Father Find His Voice

When Angelo Domingos’ daughter came to him with news that she would be re-enrolling in school, his heart leapt with joy.  Only a short time had passed since she, like many young Mozambican girls, had dropped out of school after finding herself pregnant at a young age.   Angelo’s other daughter had followed suit, and it seemed likely that they were destined for the downward spiral of pregnancy and lack of education that  affects too many vulnerable young women in Africa.

As a nurse of twenty-four years, Angelo knew from both his professional and now personal experience that young girls are often the most susceptible to predatory adults, sexually transmitted diseases, and the trials that come from having few, if any, role models in the community.  Desperate to help his daughters find a way out of the seemingly intractable problems burdening his family, Angelo began to volunteer with a local program funded by USAID through PEPFAR, and implemented through the Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs.

This initiative, called Avante Raparigas! (Go Girls!), aims to educate communities on how to communicate more effectively with young women about the endless series of dangers, difficulties, and discouragements they are so often forced to endure.   The program excels at bringing parents and children together to discuss difficult topics:  risky sexual behavior, peer pressure, alcohol abuse, and even the prevalence of pornography within the community.  Using a series of visuals, brochures, manuals, and trainings, the Go Girls! Program helps parents navigate the sensitive and often awkward conversations they need to have with their children to support safe and healthy futures.

Young women in Mozambique are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic.  With a specific focus on reducing the number of HIV infections in girls aged 10 to 17, Go Girls! has reached out to over 1,000 community leaders in eight different villages and has touched the lives of over 5,000 individuals in those targeted areas.  While Angelo had signed up as a volunteer to help as many young women as possible, the most immediate benefit was the improvement of his  relationships with his daughters.

“My daughters were in the target group that received training in life skills and adult-child communication,” he said at the recent closing ceremony held on May 11th in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital.  In front of an audience of dozens that included U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique Leslie Rowe, Angelo made it clear to all those listening: “My daughters have benefited from the course.”  During his speech, he talked movingly of how they achieved an early victory together when, after learning that many young girls were being lured by older men into video houses showing pornographic films, people in the program convinced the establishments to stop the practice of showing adult films during the day.  They even got the adult video houses to promise not to allow admission to any underage girls, no matter what the hour.

Jose Baessa, a 47 year old school headmaster, is another who has witnessed first-hand the results of this program.  Jose asked Go Girls! to work with his students, and quickly noticed the difference in the way the young girls carried themselves, and communicated with other. Most tangibly -they were no longer becoming pregnant.  In fact, just one year into the program, teen pregnancies in the Mogovolas District of Nampula Province—where Jose was headmaster—dropped all the way to zero.  A shocking—albeit thrilling—turn of events for a community too often beset by bad news. Jose even noted a closer relationship between teachers and students after Go Girls! began their work.  In one memorable case, school teachers were able to successfully intervene with four girls who were involved in prostitution—a practice all too common in rural Mozambican communities.  “Now the girls are enrolled in a training course for teachers,” Jose said, beaming with pride.

Not all the benefits have been anecdotal.  Results from the Go Girls! evaluation suggest that the lessons learned in meetings remain with the program’s beneficiaries – over 90% of adults who participated in Go Girls! recall the content of the adult-child communication sessions they attended, such as topics on how to talk to children about safe sex and HIV/AIDS.  Girls whose parents participated in the adult-child communication program reported improved relationships with their mothers and fathers, and girls whose teachers were in the program reported feeling safer in school relative to girls not in the program.  Of course, imitation is the most successful form of flattery and to that end many principals and teachers are hoping to replicate the program with children outside the current target ages of 10 to 17 years old.

The need for action is strong.  With HIV infection rates at extremely high levels amongst Mozambican youth, a program like Go Girls! that targets HIV reduction can make a life or death difference to vulnerable young women.  As U.S. Ambassador Rowe noted in her speech at the ceremony, “Survey results indicate that Mozambican girls aged 15 to 24 are currently afflicted with an HIV prevalence of 11.1% whereas their male counterparts only have a corresponding prevalence of 3.7%. This is unacceptable, period. It is up to all of us to work together to make sure that our programs – across all sectors – address the vulnerabilities of women and girls, especially to HIV and AIDS.”

While the bigger picture is very important to someone with a strong social conscience like Angelo Domingos, it was clearly his personal benefit from the program that brought him the greatest joy.  Despite all the adversity his daughters would continue to face, he could relax knowing that they were back on track to receive an education and hopefully, a brighter future.

Learning Life Lessons from Soap Operas and Reality TV

Parents and teachers have long grappled with the issue of how young people can learn about important life skills and issues.  In the classroom, it’s possible to make science fun; who wouldn’t be enthralled the first time they make a volcano erupt using only vinegar and baking soda?  Shakespeare can come alive when students act out the scenes or are asked to translate the content into a modern rap.  But how can we engage youth on topics like financial management or sensitive issues like sexual harassment?

Entertainment education is a method of engaging audiences to teach, model, and inspire behavior change.  Historically, fables and stories have fulfilled this role.  In today’s times, entertainment education has been exemplified by the Cosby Show, with a focus on parent-child communication skills.   Body Love, an Atlanta-based radio show seeks to reduce racial health disparities.  USAID is leveraging the power of entertainment education to empower youth to lead healthier, safer, and more productive lives.

Fire and Gold Soap Opera Helps Youth Tackle Financial Management

Somalia has a strong story-telling tradition, and a USAID-funded soap opera titled Fire and Gold is building on this tradition to promote financial literacy and help youth plan for the future.  The title refers to themes in the series: Fire represents the problems and the conflicts that break out between newly wedded couples due to poor financial decisions, and Gold represents a pair of gold earrings that play a prominent role in the storyline, as well as the notion of prosperity and success.

A Somali woman stands in front of a promotional poster for a financial literacy soap opera targeting youth. She holds an MP3-enabled mobile phone that receives the program broadcasts. Photo: EDC

The soap opera is broadcast in the Somali language using MP3-enabled mobile phones.  Phones are distributed to provide free access to cellular content for groups of listeners, and offer several advantages over radio due to Somali radio broadcasting restrictions, the possibility of radio station shut-downs, and radio disruptions due to unrest or poor reception quality.

The MP3-enabled devices provide consistently high-quality audio on demand as well as an interactive learning environment.  After the MP3 audio program is delivered,  soap opera characters  ask students to answer questions about the day’s lesson.  The students determine and submit an answer as a group, and immediately receive encouragement for a correct response or additional instruction when needed.

Through Fire and Gold, USAID and implementing partner Education Development Center help youth to acquire the financial literacy skills they need. The project also helps youth network among the Somali business community to gain work experience and job prospects.  In the series, youth are asked to think about what they want to achieve both personally and professionally, and then to create a plan for reaching those goals.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Feierstein Visits School in Rio de Janeiro

During his trip to Rio de Janeiro to participate in the World Economic Forum, USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mark Feierstein, visited a school participating in the Enter Jovem Plus Program. Feierstein went to State School Tim Lopes, to closely observe the youth employability project. The school is located in Complexo do Alemão, one of the slum areas in Rio recently pacified by the police. USAID/Brazil‘s Mission Director, Lawrence Hardy, and HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, Nena Lentini, also participated in the visit.

Mark Feierstein surrounded by students in Rio de Janeiro Photo Credit: Instituto Empreender

The Enter Jovem Plus program is conducted in Rio de Janeiro by Instituto Empreender, in partnership with Chevron, Rio’s State Government, and USAID. In his conversation with the students participating in the program, Feierstein stressed the importance of offering young people finishing high school professional training with a focus on employability, information technology, and English language. “We work in various parts of the world to foster development. You are very lucky to be here at this school. Enjoy every moment, work hard and have fun,” he said.

The goal of Enter Jovem Plus for Rio de Janeiro in 2011 is to provide professional training for 1,000 students. So far, approximately 700 students from 23 schools are enrolled. In Rio de Janeiro, the program started in 2010 in 16 public schools, and certified 310 students with ages between 16 and 29 years. This year, the priority is the inclusion of schools located in pacified areas. Students receive training to develop social and professional skills, including notions of tourism, quality of service and entrepreneurship. The program also helps students finding job opportunities.

Chevron’s manager for institutional relations, Lia Blower, U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro’s Public Affairs Officer, Mark Pannell, and representatives of State Government accompanied Mark Feierstein’s visit.

To find out more about our programs in Brazil.

Making an Impact in Education

As USAID moves towards implementation of a new education strategy, we need to pause to consider whether our core assumptions are valid, not just in theory, but in practice.  Our recent education policy colloquium, co-hosted with the World Bank and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, highlighted the fact that there are no automatic solutions, and no silver bullets.  But by using the wide range of available evaluation tools such as econometrics, randomized control trials, rigorous qualitative studies, and the knowledge that we accumulate with our local partners, we can increase the probability that funds invested in education will yield greater results.

Young students in Pakistan. Photo Credit: USAID/Pakistan

Our USAID Administrator, Rajiv Shah, has challenged us to relentlessly pursue high-impact development.  To accomplish this, we need to revisit past practice.  We need to learn what has worked and what has failed.  Most importantly, we need to set goals that speak to impact and results.  What this means in education is that we must ensure that children actually learn.  At the end of the day, the number of teachers we train, the classrooms that get renovated, and the textbooks that get delivered are ineffective if they cannot be shown to result in children learning.  We know that merely supplying inputs is insufficient to the task.  Recent testing in several partner countries revealed shocking numbers of children in sixth grade that cannot read even a simple sentence in their native language.  Imagine the opportunity cost in not finding out until sixth grade that the system is failing.  Those problems need to be identified and corrected far earlier.  These principles are what guide our new education strategy and the rest of our development agenda.

Focus.  Scale.  Impact.  Selectivity.  Our job as practitioners is to translate these words into practical investment decisions.  In Basic Education, we will focus on fewer aspects of the learning cycle.  In particular, we want to apply resources to learning in the early primary grades.  We want to help learners gain access to school in environments where conflict and fragility have made that impossible.   The numbers are staggering.  70 million children worldwide do not have access to education.  Hundreds of millions of children may go to school but learn almost nothing when they are there.  This will mean that USAID will only invest in programs that have the potential to go to scale – we cannot afford interesting pilots that consume time and money but cannot ultimately affect larger numbers of beneficiaries.  This means ensuring that there are appropriate metrics to measure learning and school system effectiveness.  Where countries lack adequate testing regimes, we will help develop low-cost ways to understand what their children know.  We will encourage them to start in the primary grades.  And we will be selective.  We will work in countries and communities where we have willing partners.  As President Obama put it so memorably, we must be both soft-hearted and hard-headed.

This is a time of renewed commitment, collaboration and focus in the education sector.  With the World Bank launching an ambitious new strategy, DFID developing new approaches to investing in education and with the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative undergoing significant reform, we have the ability to align our development programs and coordinate assistance in a way never seen before in our sector.  Our partner countries are showing openness to reforming systems that for too long have failed children.  There is a growing recognition of the impact of education on economic growth and peace and security.  Together, focused on impact and guided by data, we can ensure that the coming decade will be a decade of new opportunities for learning for all.

Please find our new strategy here:  USAID Education Strategy

Let’s Make it Learning for All, Not Just Schooling for All

Cross-posted from the World Bank.

Submitted by Elizabeth King, Director of Education for the World Bank. Elizabeth blogs on Education for Global Development, at

What a thrill I had this past Friday listening to (windows media) our World Bank President Bob Zoellick launch the Bank Group’s new Education Strategy 2020: Learning for All (pdf, 1.27mb). Having spent nearly 18 months traveling the world to consult with our partners (government, civil society, NGOs, development agencies) about the best experience and evidence of what works in education and about the role of the Bank Group in the next decade, I feel somewhat like I’ve given birth, in this case to a global framework for education which we believe is the right one for the coming decade.

What will our world look like in 2020? It’s anyone’s guess. But we must prepare our youth today for the world we hope to realize: A world in which people can escape the bonds of deprivation and disadvantage to become their own agents for development and prosperity. To get there, we know that investments in education must focus not just on inputs like new classrooms, teacher training, textbooks, and computers, but also on all the policies, incentives, and financing that make education systems work. To ensure that developing countries can be competitive in today’s global marketplace, we must equip the next generation with the essential cognitive skills and the skills for critical thinking, teamwork, and innovation. Knowledge and skills can expand the horizons of our youth and enable them to take advantage of emerging opportunities. We must also measure what students learn, and hold governments and educators accountable if they don’t.

Unfortunately, in too many countries today, although millions more are going to school, young people are leaving school without the knowledge and skills they need to secure jobs and take care of their families. That’s why our new strategy focuses not just on helping young people go to school, but also to make sure they learn. Our strategy’s premise is simple:

  • Invest early, because the ability to learn throughout life is best acquired in early childhood.
  • Invest smartly, because national, family and donor resources are limited compared to our education mission and must yield results.
  • Invest for all, because learning opportunities must be available to all and not just to the smartest or richest.

If you have just three minutes, please watch our video that captures the main messages. And if you like it, please pass it on. I hope you will join me and my colleagues at the Bank in making this the decade of Learning for All.

Get additional information on the World Bank Group Education Sector Strategy at

Education Strategy 2020 (pdf, full document 1.27MB)
Executive Summary (pdf, 985KB)
Strategy Brochure (pdf, 4.97MB)
Learning for All video

Vivian’s Story—Breaking the Cycle of Poverty by Educating and Empowering Girls

Vivian O. was born in the outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, and is said to have entered the world smiling.  Life for Vivian and others in her rural fishing village was challenging, requiring families to rely on ingenuity and perseverance in the face of little resources.  With the support of her family and her local community, the opportunities created by U.S. assistance programs, and the force of her determination, Vivian would achieve more than she’d ever imagined.

By the time Vivian finished fourth grade, her mother had a stable job selling used clothes in the open-air market in Kisumu.  Girls in rural communities like Vivian’s typically receive a low level of schooling.  However, having completed high school herself, Vivian’s mother prized education and overcame obstacles to enroll Vivian in a proper primary school.  Vivian was one of the top students in her province and eventually secured a place at Starehe Girls’ Centre, a highly competitive secondary school for gifted girls.

While in high school, Vivian became a member of the Global Give Back Circle, a circle of empowerment designed to transition a girl from poverty to prosperity.  The program mentors and supports girls so they can successfully transition from high school to college to a career and to global citizenship.  As the girls graduate, they commit to mentoring the next generation of girls in the circle.

In 2011, USAID announced a $3.5 million award for the education and empowerment of girls through the Global Give Back Circle.  The award is matched by an additional $3.5 million in private sector funds through a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment, so that the program can help over 500 Kenyan girls progress to higher levels of education and employment.  The process is implemented by the Kenya Community Development Foundation—a program by Kenyans for Kenyans.

Vivian has had many opportunities through the Global Give Back Circle.  She completed a nine-month Microsoft IT course, which allowed her to access educational resources online, research colleges, and obtain a full scholarship to a U.S. college.  She is studying pre-med and IT, aspiring to give back by helping millions through the connection of technology and medicine.  Vivian met the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, and pledged to actively participate in improving investments in people in Kenya.  As a result, she made presentations to private sector CEOs in Kenya and invited them to invest in girls.  Vivian says, “I feel privileged and honored to be able to be a voice for the empowerment of girls in my country.”

On March 8, 2011, Vivian joined two other young women of excellence—Maryam from Afghanistan and Terhas from Ethiopia—as special guests to the State Department’s International Women of Courage Awards, followed by a private meeting with Secretary Clinton.  Vivian then visited the White House as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama for a celebration of International Women’s Day.  Two sixth-grade girls, who have benefited from a girls education program in Burkina Faso administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in partnership with USAID, also attended.

At the event, Mrs. Obama said, “We as a nation benefit from every girl whose potential is fulfilled, from every woman whose talent is tapped,” adding that countries worldwide are more prosperous and peaceful “when women are equal and have the rights and opportunities they deserve.”

Read Maryam’s Story

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