According to recent statistics provided to UNICEF by the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education, about 2 million children are attending school throughout the country.

However, despite this seemingly good news, the classroom environment provided in the Zimbabwe education system suffers from a chronic lack of funding. In many classrooms throughout the country, they go without the proper facilities, materials and supplies for students to learn. In addition, the Zimbabwe education system’s curriculum is considered unbalanced and leaves students unprepared for higher education.

In response to this crisis in education, in 2013 the government of Zimbabwe instituted a series of reforms to revitalize the education system, including a review and overhaul of the curriculum.

An article titled “Education: Literacy is not enough,” published by the Zimbabwe Independent in 2014, states that the country maintains a literacy rate of approximately 90 percent, making the people of Zimbabwe among the most learned African scholars.

However, despite the growing literacy rate in Zimbabwe, very few people pass the national exams. The Ordinary Level Exams are the country’s measure of competence – roughly the equivalent of high school exit exams.

As seen in a report by UNESDOC, the United Nations Development goals for Zimbabwe for 2013-2015 show that education is a clear priority for development. The UN’s goals for the education system in Zimbabwe are to:

  1. Stabilize the teaching force
  2. Increase participation in education and training
  3. Increase participation in higher education and tertiary schools

But challenges remain. A story published by National Public Radio recounts the tale of a 14-year-old girl who was held back from attending school because of the fees. Government schools charge about $40 to $90 per child to attend. In poorer areas of the country, the families just cannot afford it.

An article by the African Report has the dropout rate at roughly 43 percent of students, forced out of school because they cannot not pay the government fees. This amounts to about 13,000 students in Zimbabwe last year.

Finding qualified teachers is yet another significant obstacle for the education system in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations is working closely with the government of Zimbabwe to help rectify these issues. The international community through the United Nations is committing $166.2 million to ensure that primary school children receive a proper education.

Robert Cross

Sources: African Economist, Education Zimbabwe, The African Report, The Independent, United Nations 1, United Nations 2, UNICEF
Photo: African Economist

Global Education Industry Summit Challenges Education Systems

The First Global Education Industry Summit brought together education policy makers and education-related industry leaders to exchange ideas on how education has evolved and revealed strategies for innovation.

Held in Helsinki, Finland on Oct. 19 and 20, the summit was the ideal location because Finland is known for its strong education system.

“Finland’s education system is well regarded worldwide for its teacher education approach, and for the status that the teaching profession enjoys,” said Education Minister Hekia Parata.

The summit was jointly organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Commission (EC) and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.

During the summit, Finland’s Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen discussed the importance of social change and how this correlates with keeping children in school and continuing their education.

“We need to challenge our education systems in order to keep up with current social change and expectations to encourage people to learn continuously,” said Grahn-Laasonen.

Since the digital era has made an immense impact on education, Finland announced it will introduce a new national curriculum emphasizing digital skills in August 2016.

Ranked fifth in the world for education, Finland also desires to place more emphasis on phenomenon-based learning.

Instead of passively receiving information from teachers in traditional subject learning, students have the opportunity to work alongside teachers to develop projects while taking responsibility for their own learning.

Phenomenon-based learning also deals with the incorporation of modern technology, in particular, online instruction and game-based learning.

Through these strategies, Finland hopes to prepare its students for the evolving demands of higher education and an ever-changing workforce.

“One of the common themes of the discussions was how much education systems can learn from each other, but it is also important to recognize that each system is particular to its own culture and society,” says Minister Parata.

While the next summit will be held in Israel in 2016, representatives and international organizations hope education reforms will trigger more students to receive the education they deserve to succeed.

Alexandra Korman

Sources: Noodle, Ranking America, Scoop, Xinhua Net
Photo: Flickr

Early childhood development (ECD), or the time from a child’s birth to turning 8 years old, is considered the most critical window of childhood development.

During this eight-year window, children undergo intensive physical and social growth, shaping their bodies and perceptions of society.

But many children in developing nations lack the nutrition, healthcare and social engagement necessary during ECD to have a strong foundation for future growth and development.

ECD initiatives, ranging from parental training to preschool, have been shown to dramatically improve children’s earning potential and help them to escape the poverty cycle.

In the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations specifically addressed the value of ECD in Goal 4, stating that by 2030 all children will “have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, echoed the importance of providing aid to ECD for the termination of global poverty, saying, “Children have been educated who otherwise would have missed out.”

Through aid efforts, programs are sprouting throughout some of the world’s poorest regions, showing promising results.

The World Bank reports that children in developing nations who have participated in ECD programs have higher levels of cognitive and academic performance than their peers.

Children who have benefitted from ECD initiatives are also more prepared to enter primary school and learn more efficiently while in class. This early success in schools has led to lower levels of dropouts and grade repetitions.

As educational levels rise, so does earning potential. Especially for girls. For every year of primary education a girl receives, her earning potential rises 10 percent to 20 percent, and for every additional year of secondary education, her earning potential rises another 15 percent to 25 percent, empowering her in the workforce.

As the workforces in developing nations expand with more educated and skilled laborers, the population at large benefits from an expanded consumer base.

With increased earning and buying power comes a more complex and stable economy that is less susceptible to shock and a higher gross domestic income.

According to UNICEF, this increase in school attendance shrinks the gap between the wealthiest and poorest families, hoisting children and their families out of the poverty cycle.

Claire Colby

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2 UNICEF, UN, USAID, World Bank
Photo: Sharp School

Coding for EqualityCode to Inspire gives female students in Afghanistan equal opportunity.

For three decades, conflict has stunted Afghanistan’s education systems. Just 13 years ago, women and girls in Afghanistan were excluded from educational opportunities, according to USAID. The country continues to suffer from low life expectancy, high under-five mortality rates, illegal drugs and gender-based violence.

At the same time, Afghanistan has managed to improve through the turmoil. With the help of the Afghan government, USAID and international donors, education reforms over the past few years have improved the country’s school systems.

“Today, more than 8 million students are enrolled in school, including more than 2.5 million girls,” reports USAID.

This is exactly what Code to Inspire, a nonprofit that teaches female students in Afghanistan how to code, is building upon. Code to Inspire provides Afghan women with the skills they need to attain technological jobs and start a career in coding.

Fereshteh Forough, the organization’s founder and CEO, champions digital literacy and communication without borders, along with the empowerment of women. Having received a bachelor’s degree from Herat University in Afghanistan and teaching as a professor in its Computer Science Faculty, she saw a gender gap in the computer science field and filled it.

The organization is currently in the fundraising phase, seeking funds to establish a programming center in Herat, Forough told Women in the World. According to the article, Code to Inspire has already met its goal to purchase hardware and equipment for the labs.

However, the coding initiative is not without obstacles. According to the organization, educating women in Afghanistan is still controversial, and many people are still trying to prevent these efforts.

That is why Code to Inspire prepares for local adversity. Their goals include giving their students the opportunity to market their skills to companies outside Afghanistan, where the local wages for such work are not as much as those found elsewhere.

Code to Inspire has already made great strides for women in Afghanistan and is providing high school girls with the tools they need to be successful, independent technological entrepreneurs.

Ashley Tressel

Sources: Code to Inspire, USAID, WarChild, NY Times
Photo: Wikimedia

empowering teachersOctober 5th marked an important day for educational discussions worldwide. World Teachers Day, or WTD, focuses on empowering teachers in order to build sustainable societies within developing countries.

When it comes to poverty reduction, education is one of the key target areas. When a child is educated, he or she is more likely to obtain better skills and jobs to build up the community and make healthier decisions.

This education is not possible without teachers, though, and our world is currently at a shortage of qualified individuals to take up this position.

Teachers for EFA, or the International Task Force on Teachers For Education For All, has calculated that “25.8 million school teachers need to be recruited to provide every child with a primary education, which includes 3.2 million new posts and the replacement of 22.6 million teachers expected to leave the profession.”

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals includes the target of ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and to promote lifelong learning. Part of this goal includes drastically increasing the number of quality educators in developing countries.

As things stand now, UIS projects that 33 countries will not have enough teachers to achieve the 2030 goal.

Of these 33 countries, sub-Saharan Africa will face the greatest challenges in meeting the educational goal.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization reported, “For every 100 children of age to start school today, there will be 142 in 2030. As a result, countries across the region will need to create 2.2 million new teaching positions by 2030 while filling about 3.9 million vacant positions.”

However, with these statistics stacked up against poverty’s favor, several countries have been formulating plans to empower teachers.

Throughout World Teachers Day, countries and organizations met and developed various plans of attack.

The Incheon Declaration during WEF 2015, for instance, stated its recognition of the critical role of empowering teachers. “At the forum 1,600 participants from 160 countries committed to “ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.”

One of these countries is Israel. MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, has begun to address the challenge of finding, empowering and recruiting teachers by conducting pieces of training.

MASHAV conducts these pieces of training both in Israel and abroad in order to “present adaptable advanced pedagogical methods and new schooling techniques to enhance quality and flexible schooling.”

Other countries that have pledged to help empower teachers include France, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, the U.K. and others. Each has produced its own plan of action that will bring in more qualified teachers to achieve a 12-year education for all.

With 58 million children out of school and populations continuing to rise, it is clear that more teachers will be required. These children are the future and the key to reducing global poverty.

But none of this is possible without the dedication, encouragement and direction of qualified teachers.

On the site for WTD, it shares this encouragement: “Everyone can help by celebrating the profession, by generating awareness about teacher issues, by ensuring that teacher respect is part of the natural order of things. Take the opportunity of the day to discuss, compare, learn, argue, share and improve.”

Katherine Martin

Sources: Teachers for EFA, Mashav, UIS, UNESCO, World Teachers Day,
Photo: Flickr

Malala Yousafzai

In 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot three times by the Taliban because she was fighting for her right to attend school. Three years later, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner is creating a social movement through her activism regarding global education.

Now 18 years old, Yousafzai has called on the United States and other leading powers to devote more of their foreign policy to educational opportunities for needy children around the world.

“World leaders…are only focusing on six years of education, or nine years,” she said at a panel event co-hosted by Foreign Policy, Vital Voices, and the Malala Fund at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. “This is not how we are going to achieve success in our future. It is necessary we provide 12 years of quality education to every child.”

Around the world, 57 million children of primary school age do not attend school, with half of these children living in sub-Saharan Africa. Out of these children, 54 percent who do not attend primary school are girls.

Yousafzai argues that leading world powers spend too much on their military forces and should promote, “Books, not bullets. Books, not bombs.”

According to the U.S. Department of Defense archives, $663 billion of the U.S. budget goes towards the military while a mere 0.1 percent is used for foreign aid, including global education.

As Yousafzai continues her global activism and promotion of the Malala Fund, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is finishing her high school education in England because she is afraid the Taliban will kill her if she tries returning to Pakistan.

While finishing school is her top priority, the activist also has a documentary being released on October 2. The documentary “He Named Me Malala” will follow Yousafzai’s life as she completes schoolwork, visits schoolgirls in Nigeria, and viewers will even have the opportunity to see the aftermath of the gunshot injuries as she undergoes surgery and physical therapy.

“I made a choice not to tell the global political story,” said film director Davis Guggenheim during the Q&A after the Telluride Film Festival screening. “As a father of two daughters, I wanted to tell the story of… why did this amazing girl happen?”

As the documentary’s release date to the public approaches, there are high hopes that the film will start a conversation and make a lasting impact on the current state of global education.

Alexandra Korman

Sources: BMZ, Fast Coexist, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times

Photo: Flickr


Education plays a vital role in transforming a developing country into a fully developed nation. By educating the youth, countries are able to ensure a stronger future and promote innovation in their own communities, thus making them more globally competitive and increasing the overall quality of life.

The Basic Education Coalition is “an independent, non-profit organization working to ensure children around the world have access to quality basic education.” Working together with 17 other organizations, the Basic Education Coalition will be a key player in the development of the developing world and the bettering of children’s lives throughout the world.

In 2000, several global leaders founded the Basic Education Coalition with the established goal of Education for All (EFA), with the goal that “all children receive an education that enriches their lives, expands their opportunities, and empowers them to participate in society.” In order to set more distinct goals for themselves, the EFA developed six goals which were then endorsed by several member countries and their leaders.

One EFA goal is to expand and improve the comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for disadvantaged children. The key aspect in this is the provision of both care and education. Often, children in extreme poverty are made to worry about where their next meal will come from, if their parents will come home and if they will be able to survive.

By providing care to these children, these troubles somewhat disappear and they are able to focus on their education, and on being children. Childhood is where a lot of a people’s personality is formed and if the global community raises kind and education-loving children, we are only creating a stronger future for ourselves.

Another key goal of EFA is “eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender parity in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.”

In many developing countries with relatively accessible education platforms, there is a huge gender disparity with boys being much more educated than girls. In the future, this will only lead to increases in population growth, domestic violence and lower self-esteem and self-respect for many women in the developing world.

When young girls are provided with a strong education they are able to gain the confidence to run their own businesses, innovate, support their families and make decisions that benefit their futures.

This has become an increasing focus in the global community and many NGOs have been created solely to help women and girls in developing countries to gain the confidence and education to support themselves.

Some of the other EFA goals include a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy levels by 2015, compulsory education for children, especially girls, and ensuring equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programs.

By teaming up with global leaders and several different countries throughout the world, the Basic Education Coalition has created a buddy system in which every nation must make sure that their counterparts are doing well. By working together, the youth of the world will be able to grow up in a totally different, and much better, world than our own.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: Basic Ed, Interaction
Photo: Huffington Post

Technology has helped create a learning landscape that expands the access of education to citizens living in rural villages and children living in poverty. Enrollment numbers are rising, but children are not learning enough when they enter school. Some children are not able to attend school or drop out because their families face financial challenges that keep them from learning and sometimes have to join the workforce.

Mobile phones help increase literacy rates in developing countries by providing access to reading materials. There are 123 million youth who cannot read or write and most of them do not have any access to books. Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa lack the resources to have textbooks for their students.

UNESCO found that many parents read stories to their children from mobile phones and that it helps empower women as they read six times more than men on their mobile devices.

Liza Villanueva, an Anaheim resident, had another idea for mobile learning: a mobile learning bus that travels between cities.

She created an international foundation to help children in rural villages without access to education in the Philippines through a Girl Scout Project. Her community service requirement through the Girl Scout’s Gold Award created an opportunity for Villanueva to invest her time in helping children. Therefore, the iDream Express was created in the Philippines with the support of local churches volunteering to keep the program running to provide access to education in the Philippines.

Villanueva, who is getting ready for her freshman year in college, travels to the Philippines to visit her family. She found out many of the children on the street were not attending school and developed the learning center to provide access to education for these children.

The organization is only a year old, but Villanueva says that there are about 30 children who show up at the different locations for education from the iDream Express. One challenge is that many children wander from city to city because of their living conditions on the street, which makes it hard to keep track of who is showing up to fulfill educational needs.

“I feel that every country is in need of mobile learning centers because education is not accessible, provided for, or enforced everywhere,” says Villanueva. “I plan to expand iDream Express globally, but next in line are Mexico and India.”

The Philippines ranks 80th in the world in access to basic knowledge. 88.2 percent of people are enrolled in primary school, and 75.8 percent are enrolled in upper secondary education. There are still six million young people who are not enrolled in school in the Philippines.

To help Villanueva expand education in the Philippines and around the world, you can donate to the cause on the iDream Express Crowdrise page.

Donald Gering

Sources: GSMA, The Guardian, OC Register, Social Progress Imperative, UNESCO
Photo: YASC

improving_literacyStatistically, if you walk up to someone randomly and ask them to read aloud your favorite T.S. Eliot poem, nine times out of ten that stranger will be very embarrassed by the prospect of reading aloud, and a staggering one out in ten won’t be able to read the poem at all.

According to a new report by the World Literacy Foundation (WLF), a staggering 10 percent of the world’s population is either completely or functionally illiterate, meaning they can’t perform basic tasks like reading a medicine label or balancing a checkbook.

Globally, more than 796 million people are illiterate, and according to the WLF report, this year alone it will cost the global economy over one trillion dollars.

A rare uniting factor between countries with great wealth and those with very little, illiteracy around the globe traps individuals “in a cycle of poverty with limited opportunities for employment or income generation,” said the report.

Aside from being unable to do simple things like read a nutrition label or fill out a job application, the WLF says poor literacy also affects a person’s ability to engage in critical thinking activities. Examples of these include understanding government policy and voting in elections, analyzing advertising and recognizing scams, and of course, the ability to pursue higher education or advanced training.

All of these hurdles placed before the illiterate severely hamper their ability to be as socially and economically productive as their literate counterparts. Illiterate people earn up to 42 percent less due to difficulties with communication and handling tasks that require some degree of literacy.

Illiteracy places even more strain on society by creating barriers to healthcare and financial planning for the illiterate, which can lead to increased crime rates or welfare dependence.

“One can put figures on the social cost in terms of welfare payments or the burden on the health system. But the real opportunity cost will never be known. These are the costs of lost opportunities to create individual financial wealth, encourage entrepreneurs, build healthier and more stable families whose members can make a productive contribution to all areas of society (political and cultural as well as economic),” said the report.

A formula developed by the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates the cost of illiteracy to a country at 0.5 percent of their GDP, meaning the wealthier the country, the more dramatic the impact. The U.S. alone stands to lose an estimated $362 billion this year due to the combined costs of illiteracy.

Ensuring access to quality primary education for all children is critical to improving literacy levels globally, and reversing the economic drain it creates, says the World Literacy Foundation. Progress has been made, said the organization and initiatives like the Millennium Development Goals and the recent Sustainable Development Goals are drawing attention to the issue, but more needs to be done, according to the WLF.

The WLF offered some recommendations in their report to bolster the current efforts to eradicate illiteracy. These included: establishing adult and parental literacy programs, establishing programs to attract and retain students in schools, and ensuring access to quality resources, training and technologies to students.

The organization even went so far as to suggest that if the global economy is going to “literally throw away money” through inaction, that it might as well actively invest in literacy programs.

Gina Lehner

Sources: The Guardian, World Literacy Foundation
Photo: Flickr

Vocational education is defined as a procedural process of instruction that prepares the students for skilled work. The skills taught a range from various aspects of industrial work to skilled craftsmanship to handicrafts, among other things.

Vocational education has become quite popular in developing countries because of its affordability and expedited completion. This approach also focuses on teaching workplace skills, so the education provided, therefore, gives a more immediate monetary return. The financial incentive is furthered by the fact that vocational education is usually of a shorter duration than formal education.

The market for skilled labor is made lucrative by offshore manufacturing industries in developing countries. The market for handicraft products from Asian and Latin American countries is also becoming popular in the West, opening up job avenues for skilled artisans.

The vast potential of vocational, skill-based training has become an exceedingly prevalent tool in the rehabilitation of refugees as well. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has initiated many programs for vocational education in conflict areas, such as Palestine, Yemen and Myanmar, as well as in countries hosting large numbers of refugee populations.

As in many other aspects of life, vocational education is also plagued with gender inequality. A multitude of UNHCR vocational programs are aimed at women to teach them marketable, employable skills to ensure their self-reliance. However, these goals are hindered by the social stigma surrounding female education and employment.

In many regions, the widely accepted notion is that vocational education equates to hard, manual labor and should, therefore, be reserved for men. In an analysis of Yemeni vocational education, early marriage was identified as one of the main reasons for the low enrollment rate for women. Another common denominator is the traditional attitude that men are supposed to be the “breadwinners” of the household, which leads to the exclusion of women from any job training. Moreover, the training curricula for certain fields exclude women in their specificity as well.

The issues plaguing vocational education are in many ways similar to those facing female education in general. However, the former has a direct immediate financial motivation for women that is potentially more prone to be heeded by society. In an attempt to use this to the advantage of women, the World Bank is focusing on decentralizing training centers. By establishing smaller, more community-focused education centers, the needs of the labor market in the particular region can be better realized, which in turn supplies a higher likelihood of employment and income for the women.

The incentive for increased household income also needs to be supplemented with pacifying the stigma against female employment. The UNHCR has initiated programs in India specifically aimed at women that combine computer and language training with more socially acceptable trades for women, such as handicrafts. The program also focuses on setting up home production centers for the women so that they may work there as opposed to traditional workplaces. These attempts have the objective of empowering women while accommodating social norms as well.

The problems that women face in acquiring a vocational education stem from the traditions of a male-dominated society. The objective of female empowerment continues to be compromised by gender inequality. With the current economic state of the world coupled with the refugee crisis in many developing nations, the gender gap for technical training and employment for women needs to be bridged now more than ever.

Atifah Safi

Sources: ILO, UNHCR, IADB, World Bank
Photo: The Conversation