KINDMillions of children throughout Africa struggle to learn while sitting on dirt floors or the ground outside for hours at a time. In Malawi, three out of five students don’t have a desk or chair.

Since 2010, Kids In Need of Desks (KIND) has placed more than 148,755 desks in 575 primary schools in Malawi, providing actual workspaces to nearly half a million students who would otherwise be sitting on the floor. The fund has also provided over 718 scholarships to girls to complete all four years of high school.

KIND also benefits the Malawian community outside the classroom. Every desk made for Malawian children is manufactured locally. This has created numerous jobs for residents over the past five years.

The fund was created by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell after a 2010 service trip to the country. There, O’Donnell learned firsthand that the number one item Malawian school teachers said would best improve the lives of students was desks.

According to Malawian teacher Saulos Mzuwala, “In as far as education is concerned a learner is more comfortable sitting at desks than on floors. They use their knees as desks which leads to poor handwriting.”

Students too, complain about the difficulty of learning and practicing writing from this position. “We fold our legs when we’re sitting and when we try to write, our papers get damaged and that wastes a lot of our time. It’s distracting and makes it hard to do well in school,” says student Lajab Saidi.

On top of this, sitting on the floor makes their clothes dirty faster, says teacher Nema Samalira. “It’s hard for these kids to afford soap especially if they have to clean their clothes every day. If their clothes are dirty they don’t come to school.”

During that trip, O’Donnell connected with UNICEF and a Malawi woodworking shop. He paid for them to make 30 student desks. With three kids to every desk, that first delivery enabled 90 students to move from dirt floors to desks. This change happened within a single week. Now, five years later, the KIND fund has received more than $10.5 million in donations.

“Ten million dollars was beyond my wildest dream when I started KIND with UNICEF. I am in awe of the generosity of our audience. There are hundreds of thousands of students sitting at desks instead of on the floor today thanks entirely to our audience. There are girls in high school today thanks entirely to our audience. This is proof that small acts of kindness can make a big difference in our world,” says O’Donnell.

Kara Buckley

Sources: MSNBC, PR News Wire, UNICEF USA, Vimeo
Photo: MSNBC

Imagine being too poor to attend your local school, too poor to go to college. Imagine your entire community and many others are in this predicament. Now imagine that you are offered the chance to travel to a new country, study, earn a degree and learn skills that will help you build a career.

Would you take it?

Nigeria failed to complete the global education goals it set for 2015, according to The Guardian. These goals included expanding early childhood education and care, achieving universal primary education and adult literacy.

Corruption and lack of investment have earned Nigeria one of the worst education systems in the world. Over ten million Nigerian children are not receiving a proper education.

The Mike Omotosho Foundation is trying to make a dent in the number of uneducated children by offering 10,000 Nigerian students the opportunity to study abroad. Because so many Nigerians struggle to afford even local education, scholarships are available for each student.

The purpose of the program is “to gain quality education abroad and hopefully bring this knowledge, expertise and quality back to Nigeria.”

To earn a scholarship, students need at least four credits in their O Level Examination, an international exam distributed by the British Council, and an eligibility date no later than June 2016. The process is simple, but competitive enough that students are required to put forth reasonable effort.

The scholarship offers a tuition waiver of up to 50 percent, but those who demonstrate outstanding scholarly abilities may receive a complete waiver from some universities. The nature of the waiver encourages students to put forth their best effort to achieve good grades even before they set foot abroad.

Countries participating in the program are Malaysia, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Russia and India. Nigerian students will have their pick of foreign cultures to learn from.

One benefit of studying abroad is a unique education. Each country offers its own education style. International students have the opportunity to experience more than one learning method, expanding their minds and providing them with a wider range of effective techniques.

Graduate schools look favorably upon former international students because they know these individuals are dedicated to their studies.

Another benefit to studying abroad is that it creates more career opportunities. Students who study abroad gain new perspectives, language skills and confidence, all of which help them stand out to potential employers.

The students who participate in the Mike Omotosho Foundation scholarship program will be better equipped to find work upon their return to Nigeria, keeping them out of poverty. Furthermore, they will bring back new skills and knowledge, which they can use to improve Nigeria’s education system and its overall quality of life.

Perhaps, in time, Nigeria will no longer have 10 million education-less children, but rather millions of youth educated, informed and ready to help their country.

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: Mike Omotosho Foundation 1, Mike Omotosho Foundation 2, British Council, International Student, NGR Guardian News,
Photo: Wikimedia

Anyone and everyone can change the world, even in the slightest way. An organization known as Read to Feed gives children the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of families living in poverty.

The program encourages childhood reading while raising awareness of extreme global poverty in young minds. Read to Feed teaches and informs students of the realities of malnutrition and poverty, inspiring them to help those in need and providing an educational incentive to do so.

Here’s how it works: A child chooses a sponsor for each book he or she reads during a period of time set by his or her Read to Feed leader. The sponsor agrees to provide a certain amount of money for each book read or hour spent reading. Then, after the books have been read and the funds collected, the child chooses an animal through Heifer International to give to a family experiencing poverty.

Heifer International is an organization dedicated to ending global poverty and world hunger. Heifer provides families in impoverished communities with livestock and training to combat malnutrition as well as build a sustainable lifestyle.

Furthermore, Heifer encourages the families they have helped to share the training they receive with other families in their communities and pass on the first female offspring of their livestock to another family in need, thus creating a cycle of sustainability that has the power to lift entire communities out of poverty.

The wide variety of livestock provides families with meat, milk, wool and manure to grow their own agriculture. Kids can participate in Read to Feed individually or in groups; however, the program most often takes place in a classroom setting.

Furthermore, Heifer provides Global Education Lesson Plans so that teachers can inform students of the realities of global poverty and the impact that they can make in changing its course.

Read to Feed ultimately provides children with a way to make a difference in many lives. Reading a book is a fun incentive to end extreme poverty, both stimulating a child’s mind by increasing the number of books they read, and their knowledge of the world. Anyone can make a difference and everyone– no matter what age– deserves the chance to try.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Heifer 1, Heifer 2, Learning to Give
Photo: Hiefer International

Entrepreneurs are individuals that go beyond the status quo in order to make change happen. “They pursue poverty alleviation goals with entrepreneurial zeal, business methods and the courage to innovate and overcome traditional practices,” says the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs.

Reform and change are never made without a struggle. Social entrepreneurs in education are no different.

Many struggle with receiving the support and funding necessary to keep programs running. But despite hardships, they press forward in order to make improvements.

Occasionally, an entrepreneur will find a break in the form of investors. Schwab, Skoll and Ashoka are three such foundations that provide this relief to individuals making change happen around the world.

One such fellow, or entrepreneur, that found relief works for an organization by the name of abcdespanol. Based in Colombia, the organization worked to create a new methodology for teaching reading, writing and math skills.

Javier Gonzalez discovered that the issues across Latin America were not due to the people, but the methodology while playing a game of dominoes. “González then created abcdespañol and “ABC de la Matematica”, an innovative learning solution employing games as a teaching methodology.”

For many, this is how it works. Social entrepreneurs in education see an issue and then fight to find and put into practice new ideas to correct the issue. The journey doesn’t stop there, though.

Going back to Javier, “he continued searching for additional ways to make the learning process more interesting.”

Education isn’t an easy fix and is not a one solution fits all circumstance ordeal. Teaching the world’s future leaders takes innovation and improvement. Social entrepreneurs, like Javier, know this and continue to seek out a better way.

Ashoka fellow Flick Asvat of South Africa is another excellent example of this.

In the country of South Africa, Asvat found that many youths become more discouraged than not by the truism that education is the path out of poverty due to the strikes, violence, and other issues that have continuously interrupted such attempts.

To fight this, “Flick is putting children in control of their own out-of-school educational programs. She has developed a concept, Bugrado, based on the idea that human beings have the power to change their circumstances.”

Through innovative new techniques, real change was seen in schools. “Flick has successfully created five pilot programs around Johannesburg and is now focusing on Alexandra Township, where the program is operating in four schools, reaching approximately six thousand students.”

As a social entrepreneur in education, Flick resigned from her job as Minister of Education to solely focus on the implementation of the Bugrado program.

Such stories have become increasingly common. Through simply opening one’s eyes and caring about making a difference, individuals have made change happen. When one thing doesn’t work, new ones are tried. In this way, education is constantly improving.

Jeff Skoll, Founder and Chairman of the Skoll Foundation has expressed the importance of these social entrepreneurs around the world.

On their site, it is stated that it has become, “the premier global event for social entrepreneurship…the Forum has increasingly become a showcase to highlight large scale impact that social entrepreneurs are having on the big challenges facing the planet.”

By connecting social entrepreneurs with the resources and connections they need to improve conditions, the Skoll Foundation helps millions experience the impact of positive change.

In short, these entrepreneurs are alike in a fundamental thought process. As Skoll puts it, “I believe “a lot of good comes from a little bit of good,” or, in other words, where the positive social returns significantly outstrip the amount of time and money invested.”

Katherine Martin

Sources: Schwab Found 1, Schwab Found 2, Ashoka, Skoll
Photo: Wikimedia

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