On the occasion of International Literacy Day and USAID’s Education Week, I wanted to address the fact that so many school children in developing countries are not learning to read in the vital first few years of primary school. Failing to acquire basic literacy skills in the early grades holds them back from staying at and succeeding in school. Tragically, there are even a number of children, who spend four, five, or even six years in school and cannot read simple sentences. While this is clearly a crisis for the families whose children are struggling to acquire even the most basic literacy skills in the classroom, collectively it also spells a major crisis for the ability of the world’s poorest countries to improve economically and provide a better quality of life for its citizens.
Conventional wisdom in international development held that increasing a population’s average years of schooling would spur economic growth. We now know that increasing economic growth has much less to do with just the number of years spent in school and much more to do with the knowledge acquired and skills developed while in school. And while it took the work of several skilled economists to develop the evidence base for this claim, we should not be surprised by their insight. It is not rocket science to understand that a student who spends four years in school learning to read, calculate, and problem-solve is in the end going to be more valuable in the labor market than someone who spends six years in school not learning to do any of those things.
Students participate in activity time at the Roma Education Center in Skopje. Photo Credit: Foundation for Open Society Institute Macedonia and USAID Macedonia
Submitted by Lela Jakovlevski and Alexander Woods, USAID/Macedonia
Roma Education Project
The five Roma Education Centers in Skopje, Kumanovo, and Prilep are always buzzing with activity. Each day, four groups of children arrive for two hours at a time for after-school lessons, educational games, and important socializing. The younger children focus on literacy, numeracy, and Macedonian practice while the older groups get homework assistance, English lessons, and preparing for graduation exams. All eagerly express their happiness for the help, fun environment, and how they feel much more confident when they go to school.
The overall condition and situation of the Roma community in Macedonia is considered better compared to other European countries, as there is a Minister for Roma issues in government and Roma MPs in Parliament, a Roma mayor, and Roma print and broadcast media in country. However, many of the chilling statistics remain: extremely high unemployment, low level of education participation and attainment, pervasive poverty and considerable community health risks. In education, achievement rates are low due to a number of factors such as household financial constraints, lack of community role models, and systemic exclusion from mainstream opportunities. The biggest problem these children face is discrimination and stigma simply based on where they are from.
Submitted by David J. Barth, Director, Office of Education, USAID
I enjoyed following a webchat today sponsored by the Brookings Institute on achieving Millennium Development Goal 2: universal primary education. While I didn’t agree with everything that my friend David Gartner said, I agreed with most and it got me thinking about the progress that we have made and the prospects going forward. Universal primary education remains a central objective of US foreign assistance.
The USAID budget for basic education has risen almost tenfold since FY2000. This reflects a broad understanding that education is foundational to achieving all of our development objectives. Literate citizens have healthier families, are more productive farmers, participate meaningfully in their communities and contribute far more to national economies. Basic education is one of the most effective bulwarks against HIV and AIDS. But, as we applaud the world’s focus on getting children into school, it is vital that we not neglect the quality of the instruction that they get when in the classroom. Universal enrollment is not enough. We need to understand MDG 2 to be about universal access to a quality basic education.
The goal has to be literacy and numeracy, not just attendance. And while there has been substantial progress in getting children, especially girls, into school, I fear that we may be reaching a plateau. 72 million children do not have a chance to go to school. And these children are the ones who will be hardest to reach. These are the marginalized, the poor, the vulnerable and the disabled. These are kids displaced by war, natural disaster and economic necessity. We will know that we are really making progress towards achieving MDG 2 when we can show that our efforts are reaching the children who need us the most.
In Egypt USAID is supporting the Ministry of Health (MOH) by providing full, two-year scholarships for a total of 25 ministry employees to attend U.S. – based MBA programs. This program targets a small number of employees who have leadership potential to be change agents to implement Egypt’s health sector reform program; and it responds to the country’s need to develop a cadre of business-minded professionals. In addition to their academic studies, the students are expected to participate in an internship activity during their two years to practically apply the skills they are learning. Past participants returned to Egypt and are now serving in critical positions in the Ministry of Health, contributing new knowledge and experiences to improve health programs, policies and procedures. Through this successful partnership USAID is significantly contributing towards improving health coverage of underserved populations and strengthening the technical and managerial capacity of the Egyptian health sector.
In Lebanon the Opening of the “Live Akkar” trade fair that will increase awareness, visibility, and sales of local products and services of Akkar. This four-day trade fair will open its doors again to visitors from Akkar, the North and all of Lebanon. This trade fair will increase awareness, visibility, and sales of local products and services of Akkar. It will also stimulate local enterprises, agriculture, and tourism. “Live Akkar” will feature around seventy enterprises from Akkar exhibiting agricultural products, local foods, handicrafts, garments, and other items. Presentations on local production of commodities such as dairy, olive oil and mushrooms will be provided by experts on a daily basis. In addition, the trade fair will have cultural and family attractions including daily performances by popular local artists, puppet shows and traditional music concerts.
In Dominican Republic a press trip to The Salto de Jimenoa, which was recently declared as National Protected Area. The Ministry of Environment and the USAID Environment Protection Program will lead a discussion with media attending the importance of this area and the benefits it provides to surrounding communities. The main highlight is protecting the environment and biodiversity of the area and the importance of hydraulic resources that the Salto de Jimenoa provides.
In Zambia USAID has partnered with World Vision to implement The Community Based Prevention Initiative for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, Youth and other Vulnerable Populations Program to strengthen community response and leadership for HIV prevention and improve the quality of life for orphans and other vulnerable, at-risk children. USAID and World Vision will work with the Zambian government to strengthen community response and leadership for HIV prevention; improve the quality of life for orphans and other at-risk children through educational, psychosocial, food and nutritional support and by improving their access to health care, child protection and legal services.
The American people’s response to HIV/AIDS in Zambia has contributed significantly to the scale up of HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. Notable among the successes has been a significant number of community-based care programs for orphans and vulnerable children, care and support programs for people living with HIV/AIDS, increased access of pregnant women to Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission services, establishment of a network of trained volunteer caregivers and peer educators, a significant number of Zambians accessing Anti-retrovrial Therapy and a decrease in the prevalence of HIV from 15.6 percent to 14.3 percent between 2001 and 2007.
In Indonesia a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Information Computer Technology (ICT) lab at the Al-Ahliyah religious junior secondary school (Madrasah) in Karawang, West Java. The event highlights a public/private partnership to support quality and relevance of education through strengthening the use of ICT in education. The school will receive a state-of-the-art computer lab, with equipment, software and educational resources from private sector partners. USAID is providing teacher training and support, The Office of Defense Cooperation has also provided resources for construction of the lab building and donated staff time and resources.
A summary map on the activities announced or underway in Pakistan.
During Dr. Raj Shah’s whirlwind two-day visit to Pakistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the ongoing Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, the U.S. announced more than $500 million in new development assistance for Pakistan.
The new projects include the completion of two hydroelectric dams in South Waziristan and Gilgit-Baltistan that will supply more than 34 megawatts of additional power to 280,000 residents in those areas, the renovation and construction of three medical facilities, economic growth programs and seven projects to improve water distribution and efficiency in the country. Much of the assistance will be delivered by USAID.
The United States shares with Pakistan a vision of a future in which all people can live safe, healthy, and productive lives. Dr. Shah spoke with press about USAID’s role in Pakistan, saying that “Our commitment is broad and deep,” and one that encompasses programs ranging from health and energy to economic growth and agriculture.
In Lebanon Haigazian University will be presented with $450,081 to directly support its student financial aid program. 356 Haigazian University students with demonstrable financial need from all over Lebanon will be given scholarships with these U.S. funds, made available through USAID. Without this assistance, these students would not be able to study at Haigazian University. Lebanese American University (LAU) will be presented with $1,178,122 to support its Financial Aid & Scholarships Fund for both campuses in Jbeil and Beirut. 249 qualified Lebanese students benefit from this program.
In Albania USAID will open a Public Information Office in one of Albania’s District Courts. To tackle corruption in Albania’s judicial system, USAID’s Rule of Law program works with a set of pilot courts to improve their performance and accountability to citizens. One of several accountability measures introduced by USAID, public information offices serve as one-stop shops where citizens have quick and easy access to information on court proceedings and their legal rights.
In El Salvador a signing ceremony for the Global Development Alliance (GDA) with the Salvadoran Foundation for Health and Human Development (FUSAL). USAID will help expand FUSAL’s Libras de Amor program to two additional municipalities in Sonsonate to combat poor eating habits and malnutrition.
In Jakarta a forum will present eight finalists – that represent the finest – of more than 75 projects which entered a competition in Asia, organized by Climate Technology Initiative (CTI), and sponsored by USAID. Eight clean energy competition finalists, reps from more than 150 energy professionals, entrepreneurs, donors, banks, partners, project developers from Indonesia and Asia. The forum is a means to bridge the financial gap between creative innovators in clean energy with private investors who are willing to fund these opportunities.
Why Population Data Matters: Ensuring Families Around the World Have Access to Family Planning
While you are out celebrating the close of the World Cup this Sunday, don’t forget to take a minute to remember that Sunday, 11 July, is World Population Day. World Population Day is annually observed on July 11 to reaffirm the human right to plan for a family. It encourages activities, events and information to help make this right a reality throughout the world. This year’s theme, “Everyone Counts” is meant to highlight the critical role data plays in tracking population trends.
As part of our continuing series spotlighting the human face of our work in Haiti, we’d like to return to a program that we’ve already discussed here at IMPACT—the CLEARS program, that is funded by USAID and executed by our partner CHF International.
Adrien Olguine, 25, is one of 40 graduates who have been trained in operating heavy machinery and equipment by CHF International as part of USAID’s OFDAfunded CLEARS program.
Before the earthquake, CHF saw that there was a serious shortage of heavy-equipment operators in Haiti and realized that there was a tremendous opportunity to give a group of Haitians a badly needed skill-set and a chance at a better future. CHF partnered with HayTrac and set to work training 40 Haitians in how to operate heavy machinery like back-hos, bulldozers, and other equipment that would be necessary for critical new construction projects in Haiti.
Once the earthquake struck Haiti, these needs became even more acute. Graduates from the CLEARS program sprang into action and put their new skills to use clearing collapsed buildings and rubble. Here’s what Adrien Olguine, 25, one of the 40 graduates said about her ability to meaningfully contribute to Haiti’s relief and reconstruction effort:
For USAID Afghanistan civilian aid worker Laura Mendelson, tough negotiations with tribal leaders, anger from villagers and constant enemy fire are all in a days work. A Sunday Washington Post Magazine article outlines her efforts, the progress made and struggles faced by all aid providers on the ground in the war torn country.
After spending decades in exile, Saad Mohseni returned to become one of the most powerful influencers in Afghanistan. Today, he owns radio and television networks, an advertising agency, and a movie production company, among other businesses. Realizing that media messaging would be one of the most effective ways to responsibly rebuild the nation, USAID issued grants to help fund Mohseni’s work to build free press. The New Yorker and NPR profile the burgeoning media mogul and his recent successes thanks to United States support.
“Father of the Green Revolution,” Norman Borlaug established the World Food Prize in 1968. The international award recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. As 2010’s winners were announced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, together with US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, announced the creation of the Norman Borlaug Commemorative Research Initiative—a cooperative venture of USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that, as Voice of America reports, will combine the two agencies’ resources, knowledge, commitment and expertise to work together for the realization of Borlaug’s dream of feeding the world.