Education in Peru

Education in Peru is an area in need of improvement, especially for children living in the most vulnerable parts of the country. In 2017, the Peruvian government spent only 3.92 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education. While this represents an improvement from 10 years prior, with only 2.63 percent of its GDP spent on school improvement, there is a significant disparity between private and public education.

Private schools have a reputation for offering the highest quality education in the country, but only families with deep pockets can afford the high fees. For instance, the Markam College, one of the top bilingual schools in Lima, costs $12,500 for middle school and $8,500 for high school and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program.

Most middle and lower class Peruvians cannot afford such high school fees. The situation is even worse in the Peruvian Andes and Rainforest regions, where indifference and tremendous cultural and linguistic barriers often hinder children from receiving an education at all. To solve these problems, UNICEF Peru started the Multicultural Bilingual Schools Initiative or “Friendly Schooling” in 2017 to tackle the three main obstacles that Andean and Rainforest students face: isolation, gender inequality and language barriers.

Education in Peru: Isolation

When referring to isolation, in many cases, children have to walk for hours to school. Others may discontinue their education altogether due to family pressures or gender discrimination. That is why Peru’s “Friendly Schooling” works closely with community leaders and parents, keeping them informed of the academic progress of their children. Parents and the rest of the population participate in the children’s education, even taking time to educate new teachers on their culture. “Friendly Schooling” also emphasizes that for the community to develop, education must be a priority.

Education in Peru: Gender Inequality

The 2015 documentary “The School of Silence” shows the desperate situation of girls in Andean schools and the reality that the main role of females in the school environment is to do chores and serve as assistants to their male counterparts. Girls were rarely seen taking on leadership roles and in general, female participation in the classroom was almost nonexistent.

“Friendly Schooling” aims to destigmatize this cultural bias. In this new school environment, both girls and boys equally participate in keeping the classroom clean. However, the most significant contribution is that girls now have the possibility of participating in class elections. Now, thanks to cooperation between teachers and parents to uplift female students, girls are taught that they are equal to their male counterparts.

Education in Peru: Language Barriers

The biggest obstacle to overcome is the language barrier that exists not only between the authorities and the community but also between students and teachers. When the “Friendly Schooling” initiative first started, several schools were selected from three provinces where native languages such as Quechua and Aymara are primarily spoken rather than Spanish. Learning in a language they barely understood caused many female students to forgo continuing their studies. In fact, according to Brookings, “along Peru’s northern Pacific coast, where the Afro-Peruvian population is most heavily concentrated, only 26.9 percent of those girls access education, compared with an average of 42.3 percent for all girls in the same geographic area.”

The point of this bilingual education initiative is not only to teach children in their native tongue but also to ensure adequate training for teachers and the provision of quality materials for students. The program also leverages the use of ICTs in delivering instruction in Spanish and the given native language of children.

Implementation Worldwide

Peru’s “Friendly Schooling” Program can serve as an example for many countries whose native populations are suffering from a lack of educational opportunities. Indigenous communities can become empowered if their culture is formally recognized in their studies.

– Adriana Ruiz and Kim Thelwell
Photo: Flickr

education in India

As India’s population continues to grow, the number of education initiatives from both nonprofits and the government has increased. The approaches to modernizing and unifying education for India’s 1.3 billion people vary, with some focusing on equality and others on upgrading the curriculum. Educate Girls, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and The Akanksha Foundation are three programs looking to improve education in India, through different methods.

3 Approaches to Better Education in India

  1. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
    Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the Indian Government’s flagship program for universalizing elementary education. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan mandates education for children ages 6 to 14 under the 86th amendment to the Constitution of India. SSA is implemented in coordination with state governments to reach 192 million students, with a particular focus on girls and children with special needs. SSA also has an emphasis on community-specific education, in order to address the particular needs of all communities, especially indigenous communities. India has almost 600 Indigenous communities, most of which are rural. Those who live there speak almost 300 Indigenous dialects, meaning that education policies cannot be one-size-fits-all.SSA looks to open new schools in villages that lack infrastructure, or where existing infrastructure is inadequate. For existing schools, the goal is to strengthen teaching staff and increase access to teaching materials and resources such as computers. Many schools in urban areas have significantly benefited from SSA, seeing improvements in textbooks and consistency with teacher salaries. However, rural villages are not seeing the same benefits. In the Keonjhar district, the school does not have proper classrooms and only three teachers for the almost 90 students it serves. The community has appealed to the government for nine years but has received little assistance.
  2. Educate Girls
    Educate Girls works to increase government accountability for education in India’s rural villages. Educate Girls is a non-profit organization established in 2007 by Indian native Safeena Husain. The organization focuses on mobilizing forces in local communities to advocate for better education opportunities in India. Educate Girls currently operates in 13,000 villages with an overall goal of reaching 16 million children cumulatively by 2024.Educate Girls works to increase education in India by lobbying existing governmental networks to improve education conditions for both boys and girls, as not to duplicate services. Husain feels that by forcing the hand of the government, not only do they reduce the risk of duplicating service, but they also hold the government accountable to its citizens and avoid government dependence on non-profit services. Educate Girls uses a base of community volunteers to identify, enroll and retain girls in school to help improve literacy and numeracy rates.The organization aims to change the behavioral and social approach to girls’ education to create an environment where equal opportunities are automatic in India. Volunteers currently go door to door in villages to identify every girl who is not in school. Educate Girls takes pride in their survey’s 100 percent saturation rate by knocking on every door in the village they are targeting. This initiative led to the re-enrollment of 380,000 girls.Thanks to Educate Girls’ in-depth research, it has partnered up with the UBS Optimus Foundation and the Children’s Investment Foundation to create the first-ever results-based bond program. Educate Girls was also just named an Audacious Project of 2019. The Audacious Project is an organization funded by numerous donors and housed by TED, which chooses a few organizations each year to showcase for donors and to present at the annual TED conference. Educate Girls was one of eight organizations selected for this year’s Audacious Project.
  3. The Akanksha Foundation
    The Akanksha Foundation has taken education in India out of the hands of the government, creating a network of public-private schools that are built, staffed and managed by the foundation. Although the schools are privately funded, the organization establishes partnerships with the community as a whole in which it operates. Akanksha schools believe that nurturing home environments is equally as crucial to academic success as a positive school experience. Its academic model starts with an initial evaluation of needs and goal setting. Then through constant evaluation, Akanksha schools tailor their standard curriculum to each community’s needs. Akanksha schools also believe in a focus on extracurricular activities to help develop social and emotional intelligence, teaching students to be responsible and compassionate citizens.Akanksha has 21 schools in Pune and Mumbai, reaching 9,300 students. Within those districts, 12th grade passing rates in the Akanksha schools are higher than the government-run high schools. Ninety-two percent of 12th graders from Akanksha passed compared to only 86 percent passed in the public high school. Similarly to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan government initiative, the results are seen in urban areas, but rural areas are still not receiving comparable resources or attention. India tasks local governments with auditing and enforcing education in their communities, but efforts are often obstructed by cultural opinions about education.

– Carly Campbell
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Developing CountriesEducation is a determining factor in a country’s economic and political success. The more educated the population becomes, the more a country will flourish. Traditionally, women’s education in developing countries has been pushed to the wayside due to gender stereotypes and traditional household roles. Lotus Outreach International supports girls’ education in developing countries to help them break through these boundaries and gives them a voice to change the environment around them.

What is the Lotus Outreach Program?

The Lotus Outreach Program, founded in India in 1993, began as a way to aid Tibetan refugees in India. It then expanded its focus to neglected groups in developing countries worldwide, and now has an affiliate in California which supports efforts to improve women’s education around the world. Lotus Outreach International is currently working in India and Cambodia to empower women and has broadened access to education in the two countries.

Lotus Outreach International has provided 1,449 high school scholarships for female students in India, along with 327 university training scholarships. The organization has also provided 2,500 bikes to female students as transportation to and from school. Lotus Outreach International has also donated 409,020 kilograms of rice for educational programs.

Educational Statistics from India

Since Lotus Outreach International primarily operates in India, it is important to understand the scope of the educational system in the country. India has one of the largest school-age populations in the world, with around 270 million children between the ages of 5 and 17. Education is required from 6 to 13 and the educational system has four tiers: pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary. Pre-primary is for children from 3 to 6 years old, primary is between ages six and 10, secondary is between ages 11 to 17, and tertiary is between ages 18 to 22. The current primary to secondary transition rate is high for female students, with 90.37 percent of females continuing to secondary education in 2016.

The country still has low secondary and tertiary female enrollment, however, which Lotus Outreach International is addressing through programs and aid outreaches in rural areas around India. Many students are struggling in both math and reading, as seen through mean achievement scores from 2015. During that year, the mean achievement score for math in rural areas was 247, while the urban score was 256. In English, the mean score was 19 points higher in urban areas than in rural ones. For these reasons, Lotus Outreach supports rural women’s education to close the urban/rural gap.

Lotus Outreach International Programs

The organization has created multiple programs to support girls’ education in developing countries. Some notable programs include Blossom Bus, Lotus Petals and Education Quality Addition.

  1. Blossom Bus provides female students with safe transportation to and from schools, as it is widely believed to be unsafe for females to travel alone in many parts of India. Fears about safety often end female education at the primary level, and girls are kept at home without the chance to continue learning. This program, specific to Mewat, Haryana, India, provides bus transportation to secondary and tertiary educational facilities with trustworthy drivers. Blossom Bus aims to counteract the extremely low female literacy rate in Haryana, which currently stands at 36 percent. The program currently provides transportation for over 300 female secondary students and 48 tertiary students, helping to break the cycle of early marriages and supporting young women as they try to get an education.
  2. Lotus Pedals targets women who would be easily susceptible to sex trafficking and abuse. The program helps to provide affordable, safe and reliable transportation to young girls who would otherwise have to choose between a meal and a taxi ride to school. Lotus Petals supplies all-terrain bicycles to girls living more than a mile away from the nearest schools and has provided more than 2,316 bicycle scholarships so far. The Lotus Petals outreach helps female students in Cambodia as well. These bicycles help further girls’ education in developing countries by giving students a safer way to get to school.
  3. The Education Quality Addition program is an after-school enhancement program for migrant worker students to ensure that these girls are able to keep up with educational standards. The program enrolls students into all core classes needed to ensure that their education level is where it should be based on their age. EQU+ works with students in Delhi, India who would otherwise be unable to attend classes due to high tuition prices. Currently, the program is serving 25 to 30 students under 14 in the Delhi area to ensure that these girls are able to keep up with their education and prevent them from dropping out of school entirely.

Lotus Outreach International has worked tirelessly through multiple programs to support girls’ education in developing countries. These three programs and many more are increasing female enrollment and helping more women finish their education.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Wikipedia

closing the gender gap in Southeast AsiaGender equality is an important factor in determining the future of civil and social development in a country. However, gender norms and traditional roles in Southeast Asia, sustained by historical-cultural contexts such as religion and village class systems, create a preference for boys and a belief that motherhood is a woman’s primary role. This perception diminishes the skills of women, affecting the way they view their own capabilities and futures.

On average, women in the Southeast Asian region are 70 percent less likely than men to have a career. While it is difficult to assess the full economic standing of women in Southeast Asia, it is evident that countries with higher poverty rates experience greater barriers to gender equality.

Listed below are some of the ways countries at the forefront of gender equality are closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia.

Job Opportunities

According to the Asian Development Bank, most women in Southeast Asia earn between 30 and 40 percent less than men. In addition, the average percentage of workforce female participation in Asia is only 55 percent.

In contrast, Vietnam’s informal and formal workforce holds 80 percent of the country’s women. Influenced by the rise of working women during the Vietnam War, Vietnam’s current rate of participation is due to increasing numbers of self-employed women, especially as the manufacturing industry becomes more prominent than farming. For example, according to the Mekong Development Research Institute, new road development in the Mekong Delta has allowed more women to travel to work in nearby textile factories while their husbands stay in town to farm. As a result, women in the delta have gained equal standing and in some cases even higher pay, thus balancing power dynamics in the family unit.

In environments like this, women are even attaining more positions as executive officers. The Boston Consulting Group reported that 25 percent of CEOs in Vietnam are women. Vietnam boasts a 17.6 percent rate of female board members in a survey of 50 companies, compared to more developed countries like South Korea and Japan, which have some of the lowest rates of female board members.

With 13 million members throughout the country, the Vietnam Women’s Union is an organization that is closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia and implementing gender equality policies in the private sector. VWU has helped to increase the rate of female employment in Vietnam by collaborating with SNV to support activities under the Enhancing Opportunities for Women Enterprises (EOWE) project that assists women in both Vietnam and Kenya. By supporting small and medium enterprises led by women, one of the initiative’s key focus is to ensure 20,000 women in Vietnam gain greater business and workforce techniques by 2020.

Political Participation

The rates of female representation in Asia’s parliaments and political bodies differ from region to region. However, the Philippines boasts some of the highest numbers of female lawmakers. The WEF Global Gender Gap Report in 2018 listed the Philippines 13th place, out of 149 countries, based on its empowerment of women in politics. Female participation rates in Philippines politics is still relatively slow growing with an overall ratio of one woman to every two men holding top positions in government. Yet, in the Philippines Lower House, women occupied almost 30 percent of the seats in 2016 and overall, more than 40 percent of positions in civil service were filled by women. The growing push toward closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia through female representation in Philippine politics is attributed to some of the organizations that are mobilizing more Filipino women.

The Philippines’ future goal is to have more women engage in conversations about gender equality. The Philippine Commission on Women assists that goal by focusing on strengthening areas of women’s empowerment. One of its specific focus areas is the Women’s Priority Legislative Agenda, which creates thorough policies that stand before the government for consideration and also removes existing discriminatory laws that hinder the abilities of all Filipino women.

Education

The narrative around girls’ education has been improving in some countries of Southeast Asia. For instance, in Malaysia, women in Malaysia surpassed men in primary, secondary and tertiary education enrollment rates in 2017. Female enrollment rates in secondary school topped 78 percent compared to male enrollment which stoood at 72 percent.

Since the 1970s, National Union of the Teaching Profession Malaysia has sustained the futures of teachers. With a total membership of 172,995, it has reached many Malaysians nationwide. Its different branches host member activities and local committees. A few of the union’s accomplishments have been establishing counselor positions in schools, extending maternity leave time from 60 days to 90 days and increasing the basic salary of teachers by 13 percent. These successes challenge the systemic problems around education and push the government to make necessary changes to support the nation’s educators.

Final Thoughts

Over the past two decades, several countries have already made progress in closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia through employment, politics and education. While female participation rates have increased in the region, improvement is still needed to ensure that equality policies are being created in all areas of Southeast Asian life and that opportunities are not withheld from women.

After all, continuing to uphold gender discrimination could result in worldwide economic loss. The OECD estimates a 7.5 percent loss of GDP. In addition, ADP found, via a simulation model, that closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia and across the world could contribute to a 30 percent increase per capita income of an average Asian economy in one generation and reduce poverty rates. Therefore, increasing women’s standing in the Southeast Asian region will also increase the region’s economic prosperity.

– Melina Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

Wealth Inequality and Poverty
Wealth inequality is an issue that plagues many developing nations, causing a widening distance between the wealthy and the poor in those nations. When a country distributes income among its people in an unequal manner, even a country with a growing economy can advance slower. Impoverished people are often unable to improve their situation due to the number of barriers they face, and some people may even be more prone to falling below the poverty line when a country’s economy advances without them. Here are examples of how severe wealth inequality contributes to poverty and how these issues can be corrected.

The Challenges of Inequality

The country the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) lists as having the highest wealth inequality is South Africa, according to its GINI index of 63 percent (a measure of inequality, with zero percent representing perfect equality and 100 percent being maximum inequality). Though South Africa has a high GDP compared to the world average, it still has a large number of people below the poverty line. In 2014, 18.9 percent of the population was living on less than $1.90 per day. In many cases, the poorest workers in South Africa are living on wages of $50 per month. Many of these issues are due to the country’s history of apartheid, which entrenched economic differences between different groups of people. Though South Africa removed that system 25 years ago, its legacy still impacts the country today.

Brazil is another country where wealth inequality contributes to poverty in a significant capacity. Despite others earmarking the country as one quickly moving towards becoming a developed nation, 10 percent of the population still lives in extreme poverty. Though the country’s economic growth is significant, 61 percent of that growth from 2001 to 2015 has gone directly to the richest 10 percent of the country. This means that the majority of Brazil’s population has only seen 39 percent of all of its economic progress.

This inequality contributes significantly to the problem of poverty and prevents the poorest of the country from improving. Progress in Brazil on this issue with regards to specific groups of people is slow. By current projections, women in Brazil will not close the wage gap until 2047. As for black Brazilians, estimates determine that they will not earn as much as white Brazilians until 2089 by the current rate.

What Can Countries Do?

One should note that while wealth inequality contributes to poverty, the exact causes behind wealth inequality can vary greatly and come about as a result of many different social, political and economic factors. South Africa’s inequality as a result of historical institutions may be an issue more difficult to tackle. According to experts, however, a good start would be to offer more opportunities to those who those institutions have systematically excluded.

In Brazil, access to education remains seriously dependent on one’s family income. As a result, the majority of Brazilian adults have no secondary education. Expanding access to more education opportunities may be key to alleviating income inequality and poverty in Brazil.

Inequality is a serious issue in countries like South Africa and Brazil, and the issues that connect with it contribute to poverty’s continued existence and expansion. According to a study published by members of the U.N., there is a strong link between income inequality and poverty. In order to reduce poverty, it follows that countries must also correct inequality. With more legislation and NGOs assisting individuals severely disadvantaged by income inequality, ending poverty seems a lot more accomplishable.

– Jade Follette
Photo: Flickr

Seven Facts About Girls' Education in Peru

Girls’ access to education is a topic that has rightfully garnered a lot of attention in recent years. With organizations such as Girl Rising, which began as a 2013 film documenting girls who faced obstacles in receiving education and has since become a renowned advocacy group, the circumstances prohibiting girls from receiving proper education have come under scrutiny. From societal pressures to financial hardships, there is a variety of reasons as to why millions of girls can’t reach their potential through education.

Like in many countries around the world, girls in Peru are at a disadvantage when it comes to their educational opportunities. While there are girls around the Western South American country who are able to complete primary and even secondary schooling, education beyond that is often not accessible, especially for girls in rural areas. The following seven facts about girls’ education in Peru explain how the girls in Peru are at a disadvantage for their education.

7 Facts about Girls’ Education in Peru

  1. There is a 6 percent gap in literacy rates between genders in Peru. An estimated 97.2 percent of males 15 years and older can read and write, while 91.2 percent of females 15 and older are literate. While this difference is not huge, it is still significant.
  2. With 45 percent, and still rising, of the population under 25 years old, Peru’s education system is faltering. The government is being forced to spend more on education than is allotted in its budget in order to provide free education to children between 6 and 15 years old. While this free education is meant to be mandatory, many students, male and female, are still unable to attend. In fact, only 36 percent of girls in rural areas of Peru end up graduating from secondary school.
  3. Of Peru’s 31 million citizens, 22.7 percent live below the poverty line; that’s more than seven million people in less than liveable conditions. Many families living under the poverty line also live in rural areas, creating more obstacles for girls wanting to go to school. These girls would have to walk to and from school, and in cases where only afternoon classes are offered, many would be forced to stop attending out of fear for their safety.
  4. In 2001, a law improving access to education for girls in rural areas was passed. However, the results have been more surface-level than actually yielding tangible progress. Mainly, the law has resulted in activism on the subject of girls’ education. While more awareness is always helpful, active change in education opportunities is the ultimate goal.
  5. Because Peru’s population is largely made up of young people, there is a disproportionate ratio of students to teachers available to work. These scarce and largely underqualified teachers are unable to provide adequate learning environments to students, let alone give guidance to further propel students’ education opportunities. Some teachers are not even fully versed in the subjects they are meant to be teaching.
  6. Organizations such as Peruvian Hearts are working to make tangible differences. Working directly with Peruvian girls and young women living in rural areas, Peruvian Hearts not only offers quality educational opportunities but also one-on-one guidance and community involvement to create well-rounded young women.
  7. Basing their selection on the girls’ financial needs and display of ambition and willingness to learn, Peruvian Hearts gives their selected girls financial scholarships, college tuition and room and board. Their 100 percent success rate with girls completing secondary school means that more girls can continue their education in college. Additionally, the organization provides the girls with English lessons to further prepare them for higher education.

These seven facts about girls’ education in Peru highlight the setbacks many young girls face regarding their access to education. However, these facts also shed light on the progress made both in legislation and through organizations. Ultimately, despite the obstacles, more girls are slowly gaining the education they deserve.

– Emi Cormier
Photo: Flickr

asante africa foundationEducation has a massive impact on global poverty rates. According to the Global Partnership for Education, around 171 million people globally would escape poverty if every child left school with the ability to read. However, according to the Brookings Institute, one in four primary school-aged children in East Africa are not receiving an education. Asante Africa Foundation is working to combat this statistic. The non-profit organization aims to provide quality education and job skills to underprivileged children in Kenya and Tanzania through a four-pronged approach.

The Leadership and Entrepreneurial Incubator Program

The sub-Saharan workforce is the least skilled in the world. According to an Inter-University Council of East Africa report from 2014, a mere 49 percent of employers in Kenya believe graduates are prepared to succeed in an entry-level position. Only 39 percent of employers in Tanzania believe graduates are prepared. Asante’s leadership program works with children to build skills that are applicable in the workforce.

The program is a three year curriculum focused on personal development, job readiness and entrepreneurship. Skills like goal setting, financial literacy, leadership development, professional etiquette, industry exploration, project planning, interviewing and resume building are taught to children in the program. The programs five year impact report states that around 60 percent of participants have a leadership position in their communities, more than 70 percent have completed internships and participants have seen a 40 percent increase in salaries as opposed to those not involved in the program.

The Girls’ Advancement Program

According to Human Rights Watch, over 49 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa are out of primary and secondary school. Tanzania was found to have policies harmful to girls’ education. Human Rights Watch discovered that school officials conducted pregnancy tests and expelled pregnant students. The Girls’ Advancement Program teaches female students about sexual maturation, reproductive health, children’s rights and also assists schools in providing safe environments for girls.

The program has greatly benefited female students. Financial literacy is at 95 percent, 85 percent of participants feel they can attend school while menstruating and 70 percent know the importance of HIV awareness and prevention. The program also involves male students and helps them learn about male and female health.

Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program

The third of the four ways Asante African Foundation is educating impoverished youth in East Africa is by improving educational resources and classroom environments. The Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program provides intensive teacher training, a learner-centered education model and low cost digital resources to schools. Over 3,000 teachers have been trained to use digital resources in the program. According to Asante, 63 percent of students involved saw increases in English and critical thinking skills.

Scholarship Program

According to UNICEF, direct and indirect costs of schooling are a large barrier to education, especially among girls. Asante provides scholarships for primary, secondary and university level schooling. The primary school scholarship covers food, school materials, uniforms, personal items, boarding and transportation. The secondary and university scholarships cover all the aforementioned items except transportation and are based on academic performance. All of the scholarships cover one year of expenses and are given to rural and poor students of East Africa.

Asante has positively impacted over 500,000 lives through their programs. According to Global Partnership for Education, programs like Asante’s help reduce poverty rates, increase individual earnings, reduce income inequality while promoting economic growth. Asante has received awards from UNESCO, the Jefferson Awards Foundation, the Khan Academy, the African Achievers Awards and the United Nation Girls’ Education Initiative for their effective and beneficial work. The four ways Asante African Foundation is educating impoverished youth in East Africa and strategies like them are essential for the development of that region, and according to the U.N., imperative in ending extreme poverty.

– Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr

Coding in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is primarily an agricultural country, with more than 80 percent of its citizens living in rural areas. More than 108.4 million people call Ethiopia home, making it Africa’s second-largest nation in terms of population. However, other production areas have become major players in Ethiopia’s economy. As of 2017, Ethiopia had an estimated gross domestic product of $200.6 billion with the main product coming from other sources than agriculture.

Today, 1.2 million Ethiopians have access to fixed telephone lines, while 62.6 million own cell phones. The country broadcasts six public TV stations and 10 public radio shows nationally. 2016 data showed that over 15 million Ethiopians have internet access. While 15 percent of the population may not seem significant, it is a sharp increase in comparison to the mere one percent of the population with Internet access just two years prior.

Coding in Ethiopia: One Girl’s Success Story

Despite its technologically-limited environment, young tech-savvy Ethiopians are beginning to forge their own destiny and pave the way for further technological improvements. One such pioneer is teenager Betelhem Dessie. At only 19, Dessie has spent the last three years traveling Ethiopia and teaching more than 20,000 young people how to code and patenting a few new software programs along the way.

On her website, Dessie recounts some of the major milestones she’s achieved as it relates to coding in Ethiopia:

  • 2006 – she got her first computer
  • 2011- she presented her projects to government officials at age 11
  • 2013-she co-founded a company, EBAGD, whose goals were to modernize Ethiopia’s education sector by converting Ethiopian textbooks into audio and visual materials for the students.
  • 2014-Dessie started the “codeacademy” of Bahir Dar University and taught in the STEM center at the university.

United States Collaboration

Her impressive accomplishments continue today. More recently, Dessie has teamed up with the “Girls Can Code” initiative—a U.S. Embassy implemented a project that focuses on encouraging girls to study STEM. According to Dessie, “Girls Can Code” will “empower and inspire young girls to increase their performance and pursue STEM education.”

In 2016, Dessie helped train 40 girls from public and governmental schools in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia how to code over the course of nine months. During those nine months, Dessie helped her students develop a number of programs and projects. One major project was a website where students can, according to Dessie, “practice the previous National examinations like SAT prep sites would do.” This allows students to take practice tests “anywhere, anytime.” In 2018, UNESCO expanded a similar project by the same name to include all 10 regions in Ghana, helping to make technology accessible to more Africans than ever before.

With the continuation of programs like “Girls Can Code” and the ambition of young coders everywhere, access to technology will give girls opportunities to participate in STEM, thereby closing the technology gender gap in developing countries. Increased STEM participation will only serve to aid struggling nations in becoming globally competitive by boosting their education systems and helping them become more connected to the world in the 21st century.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Cups in Africa

Today, about 10 percent of African girls miss school because of menstruation-related issues and complications. As many individuals cannot afford feminine hygiene products from the store, they often have to resort to using rags, socks and even paper. To make matters worse, many of these adolescent girls also lack access to private toilets at school. However, things are looking up as multiple nonprofit organizations are collectively working to provide all female students with free menstrual cups in South Africa.

What is the Menstrual Cup?

Menstrual cups are a little known, but effective, feminine hygiene products made out of medical-grade silicone. Their shape resembles a small beaker. As the product can be washed, reused and can last up to a decade, it is a far more sustainable alternative, both financially and economically speaking, to its more conventional counterparts (sanitary napkins and tampons). The cups generally cost between $15 to $40. The price depends on factors such as brand, material and size.

Menstrual Cups in South Africa

Currently, there are multiple initiatives and partnerships in South Africa related to providing school girls with free menstrual cups. Perhaps most notable is the MINA Foundation.

Launched in 2015 by three women in Johannesburg, South Africa, the foundation has now partnered with over a hundred schools and distributed over 30,000 menstrual cups. By working with girls’ clubs at schools, the organization has also succeeded in delivering comprehensive menstrual and sexual health education to adolescent girls. A lively purple cartoon girl presents the information in educational videos and books.

Other Places

Menstrual cup campaigns have also sprung up in many other developing countries. Some countries, for example, are the Philippines, Nepal and India. Much of this progress has been led by a similar organization called Freedom Cups.  A team of three sisters founded the organization in 2015. It operates on a buy-one-give-one model and has since distributed over 3,000 cups in seven countries.

In addition, many for-profit companies also have their own projects and partnerships that work to support feminine hygiene. For instance, both Saalt Co. and the Diva Cup are currently partnering with various organizations. Their partnerships allow them to donate a portion of their profits to feminine hygiene advocacy organizations.

Challenges and Future Directions

The majority of data collected regarding the usage of menstrual cups has been anecdotal. However, various studies have made it quite apparent that many girls remain hesitant about the usage of the product. According to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago, 74 percent of South African school girls interviewed “were hesitant to use any product that had to be inserted into their vagina.” This is likely because many cultures consider topics surrounding menstruation and the female reproductive system to be taboo. Additionally, 79 percent of participants in the same study reported that they could not fully focus on their schoolwork when menstruating. This lack of concentration was due to the shame they felt about their condition.

Henceforth, an increase in the usage of menstrual cups among school girls would likely prove to be effective in providing an open discussion regarding the usage of the product. Furthermore, it could provoke increased dialogue about menstruation in general.

Conclusively, menstrual cups in South Africa have proven to be a force for good among adolescent girls. However, there is still work to be done to address the taboo surrounding these products for their potential to be fully exercised.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr

STEM Education in Sri Lanka
On March 8, 2019, Microsoft hosted a #DigiGirlz conference for International Women’s Day at the Office of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to inspire 500 women to become more active in science, technology, engineering, math or STEM fields. The conference, which is a part of the company’s #MakeWhatsNext campaign, involved keynote speakers, group workshops and coding exercises with Microsoft MakeCode. #DigiGirlz helped create a voice for female role models for the students and worked to inspire teachers and parents to encourage STEM education in Sri Lanka.

Barriers to Women’s STEM Education

Microsoft’s goal for the conference was to show female students of Sri Lanka that entering STEM fields is a possible and attainable goal despite the country’s current workforce statistics. Currently, only one-third of the women in the country have entered the workforce, and the country holds the 14th largest gender pay gap in the world. Marriage also hampers women’s ability to hold a paying job in Sri Lanka’s workforce, decreasing odds by 26 percent.

One of the issues preventing women’s STEM education in Sri Lanka is the subject itself. Many educators view STEM courses and careers as masculine, citing that female STEM work is of a lower quality than male work. Many of the current teachers believe that female students lack the desire to learn about technology, citing this factor as the driving force for lower rates of female STEM students instead of family values or problems surrounding the teaching of materials. Most women are also unable to enter the STEM workforce because nearly 40 percent lack the educational qualifications needed to succeed in these career fields.

The Conference

The #DigiGirlz conference featured Andrea Della Mattea, President for Asia Pacific at Microsoft, as one of the key speakers. Mattea held small group workshops throughout the day to help empower women to learn and participate in STEM fields around the country. Sook Hoon Cheah, General Manager for the Southeast Asia New Markets, Daiana Beitler, Philanthropies Director for Asia and other female leaders looking to improve girls’ motivations for coding, engineering and education joined her.

More women are beginning to enter post-secondary education with 9,506 males and 15,694 females enrolling in higher education in 2014. Sook Hoon Cheah noted that the enrollment numbers are not an accurate depiction of progress for female STEM education in Sri Lanka, although they are promising to female progress. Cheah mentioned during Microsoft’s panel discussion that more women are entering into liberal arts and social majors than STEM programs in universities. Therefore, Microsoft is finding new ways to draw women into higher-paying STEM careers. The female conference leaders also shared encouraging tips for problem-solving to the students, like breaking down problems into manageable steps to make issues more approachable.

After the panel’s discussion, the 500 students went on to solve group challenges using coding for the rest of the conference. The programs encouraged young women to solve real-world issues using technology and coding formats such as Python, JavaScript and Blocks. Overall, the conference goal was to encourage female curiosity and development into the STEM field through role model representation, hands-on experiences with technology and problem-solving strategies for real-world scenarios using coding and educational technology. Microsoft’s leaders are hopeful that the #MakeWhatsNext campaign and other events will help inspire women to branch into technology-based careers throughout Sri Lanka.

Microsoft’s vision for the #DigiGirlz conference was to include women from all over Sri Lanka, including less developed areas, and to inspire them to participate in STEM education and advancement. The company plans on continuing work in women’s empowerment through workshops and programs in Sri Lanka, and throughout South Asia. For more information on Microsoft’s mission to close the gender gap in STEM fields around the globe, visit its website.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Flickr