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Archives for Youth

After-School Activity Changes a Student’s Outlook and Plan for Future

Malek Haidar, a fourteen-year old student at Zahle Public School has benefited from extracurricular activities. Photo Credit: USAID/Lebanon

Submitted by Elias Alhaddad

Lebanon Education Assistance for Development (LEAD) has inspired Malek Haidar to change his plans for the future by providing him the opportunity for after-school activity.

Malek, a fourteen-year old student at Zahle Public School, used to skip school and was nearly expelled for poor behavior and attendance.  Then he was required to improve his behavior in order to be accepted in a school play.

Taking an important role in the play, the role of a mother, helped change Malek into a disciplined hard working student, with the dream of becoming a professional actor.  “I know that to become an actor I will have to work hard and doing well in school is a large part of that,” said Malek.

The change in his attitude was noticeable to his parents, friends, and teachers, who were amazed at his discipline and new perseverance to attend all classes.  “He was no longer the same person.  There was a 180 degree change.  He was no longer a burden but a pleasure,” observes Maria Hadchiti, the school’s principal.

Implemented by the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), this extra-curricular activity is one of over 160 similar programs throughout Lebanon, which foster a positive school spirit and environment and develop creativity among teachers and students.  These USAID-funded activities include sporting events, health and craft fairs, and community enriching activities.  To date, IOCC has assisted 228 public schools throughout Lebanon and  supported more than 110 school clubs and 116 parent-teacher associations under the LEAD program.

The Reading Crisis among the World’s Poorest Schoolchildren

Crossposted from The Brookings Institution.

Written by: David Barth, Director of the Office of Education for the United States Agency for International Development, and Rebecca Winthrop, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Universal Education, The Brookings Institution

Editor’s note: On September 8, the Brookings Institution and International Reading Association co-sponsored an event entitled, “Early Reading: Igniting Education for All.”  Panelist David Barth and host and moderator Rebecca Winthrop offer comments on considerations going forward.

The International Literacy Day event at Brookings on the crisis in early reading should be a wake-up call to all who are concerned about the future of education in the developing world. Recent data on the literacy skills of students in the early grades are stark. Children around the world may be going to school, but many of them are not acquiring even the most basic of reading and writing skills. Many children find themselves passing through two, three, four or more years of education and are still unable to read even a single word in their native languages. These alarming findings are softened, if only a bit, by the potential range of solutions. Between special assessments, targeted teacher training, relevant and appropriate materials, and support for students, teachers and parents, this trend can be reversed. As a matter of fact, we can achieve dramatic gains in literacy when the proper package of interventions is implemented.

Among the most interesting findings discussed yesterday was the fact that transparency and accountability seem to have a powerful effect on learning outcomes. Rapid reading assessments in the early grades generate the kinds of data that can be highly influential in community and national policy level dialogue. The development of persuasive data sets is most valuable when that data is placed in the hands of demanding consumers (parents and care-givers), as well as concerned service providers (government, teachers unions and sometimes the private sector).

When the permanent secretary of education in the Gambia became aware of the low level of reading attained by students in his system, he was provoked to action. He partnered with international donors and NGOs to train teachers and to ensure that the right materials were made available to his students. In Liberia, the simple act of releasing assessment data to teachers, parents and administrators seems to have been the catalyst behind a 29 percent gain in words per minute over baseline in literacy after only three and half months. One interesting effect of a similar experiment in Kenya is that teachers who were part of the control group not being provided additional training sought out independently to learn “the tricks” of teaching reading that was being provided in other schools. Their hunger to excel at work and their desire to get the most current and effective methodologies in the classroom moved those teachers to extend themselves to acquire new tools. That’s a powerful thing.

Rapid assessments of reading and math in the early grades provide direct and nearly immediate measures of education quality. Results can be easily reported and interpreted by teachers, parents and school administrators — people who are in a position to change their behavior to achieve better results. This raised awareness and changed behavior in turn will contribute to improving institutional effectiveness and opportunities for multitudes of learners. Linking this type of information about school-level learning outcomes with how schools and education systems are financed through national education accounts would be one possible strategy for how to use education resources more effectively to ensure the children are learning.

Another important conclusion from yesterday’s event on early reading was that there is still more to learn. USAID will be looking to work with the Center for Universal Education at Brookings and other concerned actors to delve more deeply into the connection between transparency, accountability and educational achievement. For many years, educators have repeated the mantra, “knowledge is power.” In the case of the crisis in early grade reading, wide-spread knowledge of the quality of performance of a school system may be the most powerful tool for reform.

USAID Provides New Schools to Earthquake Affected Communities in Haiti

School children at the Leogane School Opening.

School children at the Leogane School opening. Photo credit: Janice Laurente

In Léogâne, the town that was the epicenter of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, you see signs of recovery and life resuming.  People have returned to markets to sell their crops and wares, rubble is being removed from key thorough fares, and schools are being rebuilt.

On August 25, USAID and the Digicel Foundation inaugurated École Louis de Borno, the first school built under a new public-private partnership to construct new schools for people affected by the earthquake.  Approximately 50 schools are planned that benefit up to 30,000 children.

“Immediately after the earthquake, 4,800 schools were damaged or destroyed.  USAID is proud to play a role in helping children return to school through a number of our projects,” said USAID Haiti Mission Director Carleene Dei.  “This new partnership with Digicel illustrates USAID’s commitment of exploring new and innovative approaches meet the educational, economic development and job-training needs of Haitian communities.”

Under the USAID partnership, some of the schools will be constructed with U.S. military shipping containers which are being converted into school campuses.  USAID procured about 100 shipping containers that had been used as part of the Joint Task Force-Haiti’s humanitarian mission in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The project is also employing youth for the construction of the schools through the USAID-funded IDEJEN livelihood initiative.  IDEJEN provides out-of-school youth ages 15-24 with basic, non-formal education and vocational training.  This effort, which will employ up to 100 people at a pre-fabrication plan in addition to those on site assembly will serve to get money to Haitian families in need, stimulate the economy and help develop a workforce able to participate in upcoming reconstruction efforts.

Water Education for African Youth

John Etgen, Senior Vice President of the Project WET Foundation, wrote a great piece this week for Johns Hopkins University’s Global Water Magazine on the booming youth population and the benefits of educating students about water. Here’s a bit of what he had to say…

In the 16 African countries where the Project WET Foundation has trained teachers and localized water science education materials in cooperation with educators and education ministries, teaching about water has led to real change that has improved lives—not only for schoolchildren but also for the community at large.

At the Lake Victoria Primary School in Entebbe, Uganda; for example, students who had been taught about water quality as well as sanitation and hygiene formed an after-school environment club to tackle some of the issues the lessons raised for them.

Their first action was to resurrect an old rain barrel that had fallen into disuse and connect it with new gutters on the school to collect rain water for use in hand washing and other school water needs.

For the full story, be sure to visit the Global Water Program.

Improving Access to Education for Girls in Sudan

Submitted by Angela Stephens, USAID/LPA

Following more than two decades of civil war, Southern Sudan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world.  The areas in Sudan’s north-south border zone also suffered greatly during the war, including Blue Nile state, bordering Ethiopia.  Girls have been disproportionately affected, with lower rates of literacy and school attendance than boys.  To help alleviate these challenges, USAID this year opened the Granville-Abbas Girls’ Secondary School in the Blue Nile town of Kurmuk.  The school is named in honor of John Granville, an American diplomat who worked on democracy programs for USAID in Sudan, and his Sudanese colleague Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama. They were assassinated in Khartoum on January 1, 2008.  The school, which can accommodate 120 female students, has three sets of classrooms, a library, theater, cafeteria, dormitories, and teachers’ offices.  A USAID-supported learning center attached to the school provides students with Internet access and computer training.  Watch this two-part video of the school dedication ceremony and tribute to Granville and Rahama.

To see PART TWO, click here.

Celebrating Literacy in Liberia

Submitted by Justin Prudhomme – USAID/Liberia

How do you celebrate International Literacy Day in a country where half the population cannot read and literacy is often viewed with suspicion?

This was what the staff of USAID’s mission in Liberia wrestled with as we prepared to acknowledge International Literacy Day on September 8th.

Beneficiaries of the Ambassador's Girl's Scholarship Program in Liberia Photo Credit: USAID/Liberia

During the civil conflict years, Liberia’s education system quickly deteriorated as fighting erupted throughout the country. Rebel factions frequently targeted schools as places to recruit soldiers, taking children who should have been getting an education and plying them with drugs and guns, and conscripting them into combat units to fight in one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts.

Today substantial progress has been made in rebuilding the education system thanks in part to USAID’s Core Educational Skills for Liberian Youth (CESLY) project, implemented by Education Development Centers (EDC) and Research Triangle Institute (RTI).

Yet there is still work to be done and challenges to face, including limited resources, few qualified teachers, and a negative stigma attached to education, evidenced by a recent politician who announced his candidacy for president by promising to exclude ‘book people’ from his administration.

However, USAID/Liberia and our partners understand that in order to achieve real success, we need to change the way Liberians view education.  By ensuring that children have engaging materials to read and unlocking their passion for learning, we can teach the next generation the value of education so that they to can become advocates in their own communities. And so, to celebrate International Literacy Day CESLY is launching a writing contest across all 266 schools they support.

Students in the USAID Accelerated Learning Program Plus in Liberia Photo Credit: Creative Associates International Inc

Students will compete to write short, original stories about their lives, their communities, and the traditions of their elders.  CESLY is inviting students and guests to read stories aloud in schools, and will present each site with a new dictionary.  The winning stories will be published and distributed to students across the country to show the importance of literature by Liberian authors.

Literacy in Liberia can improve and involving young Liberians is the best way to do that.

A Word from Representative Lowey on Education

Submitted by Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-18)

As we recognize the vital role education plays worldwide during Education Week at USAID, we must commit to redouble our efforts to ensure a quality education for all children. Basic education is not a luxury we can afford to do without in tough times, but rather an essential part of the solution to the global recession, a core underpinning of long-term sustainable growth and increased stability.

No country has reached sustained economic growth without achieving near universal primary education.  The benefits of basic education have been proven time and again. Education lays the foundation for sound governance and strong institutions.  Investing in girls’ education, in particular, increases women’s incomes, delays the start of sexual activity, reduces infant mortality, increases women’s political participation and stabilizes societies.

Today more than ever, the potential exists to put every boy and girl into school and create a world that is more tolerant, peaceful and prepared to confront the challenges of the twenty-first century. However, we are still woefully short of achieving our goals, with 72 million children not enrolled in school and millions more dropping out each year.

I am confident USAID’s capable and dedicated staff will overcome many of these challenges to help developing countries improve their own education systems as we bolster our own programs around the world. Together, we will continue the hard word of laying this essential foundation for a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Focus on Literacy and Learning: The Global Community’s Failing Grade

Submitted by: Rebecca Winthrop
Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Universal Education, The Brookings Institution

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.

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USAID Macedonia Education Week Highlights

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.

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How do Moroccan Youth Make Change Happen?

Moroccan Youth in a dialogue with Moroccan NGO leaders on how they can be involved. Photo Credit: Matthew Johnson

Submitted by Matthew Johnson

On the final day of breakout sessions during Morocco’s Ramadan Youth Outreach event, the discussions focused on being involved in local government.  The morning started off with a round table discussion with seven youth leaders of NGOs.  The afternoon session was a discussion with elected officials on how young people can get involved.

Through the conference, there have been debates on how the youth can make an impact on Moroccan society.  Really the answer is simple – get involved.  If the youth in Morocco aren’t active in participating in society, change will never take place.

During the morning session with the NGO leaders, there was a very interesting discussion on reasons why youth don’t get involved.  Below are a few reasons I heard from the youth:

“I feel so behind educationally, that I don’t think I would know what to do if I got involved.”

“I want to be involved, but youth does not exist in this society.  Even if I get involved, no one will listen to me.”

“I feel ignorant of how government works.  I don’t know what I can do.”

As more and more students talked, I sensed a fear of getting involved – a fear of not knowing what to do, a fear of failure, and a fear of being inadequately prepared.

During this discussion, two young women stood up and shared their thoughts.  One young woman said, “We need to stop complaining and get involved.  We must be positive and not negative.  That is the only way we can make change happen.”

Another woman said that she never wanted to be involved in politics because she didn’t think she could ever make a difference.  But through encouragement of her friends, she decided to run for a local political office.  Much to her surprise she won the election and she’s been able to make a huge impact in her community! She told the youth that unless they get involved, they will never make a difference.  They can’t be afraid to get involved.

These two young women delivered a powerful message to the 160 youth participants.  It was so great to see two young women challenging their peers.  At the conclusion of this session, I talked to several youth that were encouraged and challenged to get involved and make a difference.

The following day during the closing ceremony, John Groarke, the USAID/Morocco Mission Director issued a perfect challenge to the participants saying, “change will only come if you make it happen.”

So how do Moroccan youth make change happen?  They get involved.

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