Information and stories on education.

E-learning in Mexico
In Mexico, education has led discourse within the public and private sectors. Improvement efforts in education depend greatly on government administrations. However, the country’s government has been hindered in its efforts to improve education. Mexico has grown a lot in the last decades, but structural inequality and regional economic disparities are prevalent. Four out of every five people are in situations of poverty or are vulnerable to poverty. Additionally, only 40% of people in rural areas have internet access and the pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. Due to COVID-19, internet service has become crucial to guarantee proper education, as well as tools for students and entrepreneurs. Increased use of e-learning in Mexico is imperative now more ever.

Previous Projects in Education

Approximately two decades ago, Mexico began to carry out several academic-related projects. Universities, such as Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the government worked together to provide information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural and remote communities. More precisely, the Virtual University of the Tecnológico de Monterrey established an initiative that built over 1,000 Community Learning Centers.

These centers guaranteed online education to rural communities by providing computers with internet access. Faculty members, teachers and students all contributed to this effort. They provided support and guidance to these rural and remote communities, which directly contributed to the development. The beneficiaries of this initiative reported that these centers helped them obtain employment opportunities, carry out their businesses and facilitated educational involvement.

In 2012, México Conectado (Mexico Connected) was implemented. The project’s aim was to provide a national network that guaranteed internet connectivity for the entire population, especially for those in rural communities. This achievement would promote greater access to all people and also contribute to social inclusion. By the end of 2012, there were approximately 14,000 connection points around the nation. Three years later in 2015, the 14,000 connection points skyrocketed to a total of 101,000 connection points. This initiative helped reduce the digital gap and promoted e-learning in Mexico’s public schools and universities.

Current Status

The pandemic has generated a shift in social demands. Actions are needed to provide e-learning — not for comfort, but out of necessity. Public health, social equalities, economic prosperity and effective education all rely on increased access to e-learning in Mexico. Currently, around 30 million Mexicans in public schools must learn from their homes. In cities, the number of people enrolled in online courses skyrocketed, but distance learning in rural areas has become challenging. The cost to rent a computer with internet access — a requirement for remote learning — is approximately $0.50 an hour. This cost may seem low but the reality is that the income in some areas in Mexico can be only $5 a day. Furthermore, nearly half of the educational institutions previously utilizing México Conectado for internet access no longer have internet service.

As a result, Internet para Todos (Internet for All) replaced México Conectado. The new program seeks to provide internet service to remote and highly marginalized areas. It aims to facilitate government actions and promote economic development. Nonetheless, budgetary insufficiencies and improper management of resources have hindered contract renewal with the suppliers as well as the overall availability of e-learning in Mexico.

As a result, the Mexican government was forced to create a distance learning program through television and radio. Although it is a way of solving the problem, it is an outdated method that does not contribute in the same way as e-learning does to the economic development of communities. Investment into the education sector is undervalued as an effective mechanism for poverty reduction. Improved e-learning infrastructure is crucial in order to achieve integrated economic development and sustainable growth.

A Call for Increased E-Learning

Education is a fundamental pillar for the progress and integral growth of societies. It is necessary to implement strategies to fulfill the current social and economic needs of communities. Currently, the education sector is shifting to e-learning due to remote schooling during the pandemic. Even after quarantine measures end, innovative internet technologies will have permanently shifted education strategies. Location will no longer inhibit access to education, as quality education is becoming accessible anytime and anywhere.

Social programs should provide these tools to all the national territories to give students and entrepreneurs the necessary tools to continue creating prosperous communities. E-learning in Mexico enables economic development and poverty reduction, making it the way to a brighter future.

Isabella León Graticola
Photo: Flickr

Libraries Helping Communities Around the World
Libraries are often the cornerstone of communities. Libraries offer people free internet, resources, events, workshops and books. These resources allow many people to pursue education. In the United States, more people have easy access to libraries than in developing nations. However, there have been libraries helping communities all over the world find creative ways to access the resources a library can provide.

The Zambia Library Service

The Zambia Library Service aims to bring more provincial and public libraries to the country, to improve the libraries in schools and colleges, and to provide more digital resources to educators. This library now has a collection of more than 60,000 books, despite struggling to receive government support. The library service started six provincial libraries that serve about 400,000 individual members and 850,000 institutions every year. Furthermore, it established the Zambia Knowledge Center in 2011 to help provide Zambia’s educators and students with a wealth of online sources from around the globe.

The library continues to advocate for the expansion of copyright laws so that more people can receive access to videos, e-books, audiobooks, journals and websites. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zambia Library Service aims to provide new opportunities for community members to engage with the library. It hosts movie nights, events for International Girl Child Day and a Girl’s Club.

Bangkok’s The Library Train Project

Police Major General Jarumporn Suramanee started The Little Train Project in Bangkok in 1999. He converted two old train cars into a library and education center. These cars have a school area for classroom lessons and a library with books, computers and a television. Suramanee initiated this project because the number of homeless children in the city had been steadily increasing. As such, it was designed to give children an opportunity to receive an education, a place to stay during the day and options for a better future.

Bangkok’s library train features lessons in typical academic subjects and classes on topics such as manners, sports and gardening. Though children are not required to attend class, many enjoy coming to the library to use the resources it has to offer. Furthermore, the library has aided its patrons in other ways, such as helping individuals find a job or helping homeless children find families who want to take them in. It is also intentionally located in the park so it is as accessible as possible.

Norway’s The Bokbåten Epos

Norway’s The Bokbåten Epos was a boat that aimed to give books and other cultural resources to small, rural, fjord communities. The ship visited 150 small villages in less than a month after it was built in 1959. The boat was designed to hold 6,000 books, but it often circulated 20,000 books at a time. Furthermore, the ship would often bring other events such as concerts and plays—usually the only cultural events these villages would see in a year.

Unfortunately, The Bokbåten Epos shut down in 2020. This upset many Norwegian citizens. However, the government hopes to find a solution that is more cost-effective, environmentally friendly and that can access more areas. The Bokbåten Epos could also serve as a model for other libraries committed to helping communities.

Zimbabwe’s Donkey-Drawn Libraries

A nonprofit called Rural Libraries and Resources Development Programme (RLRDP) started a mobile library project to help provide more resources to Zimbabwe’s rural schools in 1990. These schools struggled to be acknowledged and receive the needed funding. These 15 mobile libraries can hold up to 1,000 books each. Additionally, four donkeys pull these books along to increase the distance the mobile libraries can travel.

These mobile libraries work with communities to tailor services to people’s needs, such as using bikes to deliver books or making more stops if there are elderly patrons or patrons with disabilities. Additionally, some of these carts have solar electricity and internet access that allow access to e-books and educational resources, as well as make it possible to hold movie events. These mobile libraries have helped nearly 1,600 people and have become an integral part of communities.

Many people who live in impoverished, rural areas do not have access to books or other services that libraries provide. These innovative libraries are focused on helping impoverished communities and have successfully helped thousands of people. Efforts like these around the world have the power to transform education in developing countries.

– Mikayla Burton
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Poverty in Mexico
Mexico has a rich tapestry of cultures mixed together. Its indigenous community reflects its own diversity with many different traditions and languages. However, indigenous poverty in Mexico is very prevalent and many seldom discuss or address the issue. Here are some facts to shed light on the challenges indigenous people face along with examples of their opportunities for a thriving future.

Poverty Statistics

Nearly 26 million indigenous people live in Mexico today. Furthermore, 68 different indigenous communities live in the country. A staggering 75% of these families live in extreme poverty. The majority work in low-skilled, manual labor jobs with little hope of upward social mobility. As a result, many have to migrate from their homes to find economic opportunities elsewhere.

The Government’s Clumsy Attempts To Help

Mexico’s government has noticed indigenous poverty in Mexico. In fact, Mexico has attempted to address the vast economic disparity by investing in large infrastructure projects and supplemental programs. However, the government did not consult with indigenous communities on implementation or whether it may unintentionally harm social and cultural values. Mexican President Obrador announced the construction of a 948 mile-long train to boost tourism in historic Mayan territory in 2018. Many activists perceived the Maya Train as an encroachment on indigenous sovereignty as it would cut through ancient jungles in the Yucatan Peninsula. Furthermore, environmental concerns arose when the construction of the train uncovered thousands of artifacts.

Education Challenges

The 2018 Report on the Evaluation of Social Development Policy indicated some harsh truths about education levels within indigenous Mexican communities. It indicated that adults between the ages of 30 and 64 had an illiteracy rate of almost 20%. More than half of the indigenous population never sought education past the primary level. This reinforces extreme poverty.

Unique Challenges of Indigenous Women

Indigenous poverty in Mexico puts women at a greater disadvantage. A study by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography revealed that indigenous women showed the lowest literacy rates and education retention. In addition, the report showed indigenous women reported high rates of domestic violence, health problems, pregnancy risks and mortality. Psydeh is an NGO that launched projects to empower women from indigenous communities. Furthermore, it is currently raising thousands of dollars to train women to launch self-sustaining initiatives for long-term community growth such as distributing stove ovens and growing organic farms.

Indigenous poverty in Mexico has a lack of upward mobility, poor quality of life and a lack of educational opportunities. Many measures have undergone implementation to alleviate inequality. Moreover, the Mexican government has provided mixed results. However, with help from organizations such as Psydeh, indigenous people can obtain more opportunities for a better life.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Misconceptions of Human Trafficking
An estimated 25 million individuals are trafficked globally on any given day. About 5.4 people per every 1,000 people in the world were victims in 2016. Additionally, one in four of these victims were children and three in four were women or girls. Approximately 89 million people have experienced some form of human trafficking within the last five years. Some victims suffer for a few days while others suffer for several years. Human trafficking is widespread and pervasive, and it is imperative that people understand the problem before addressing it. There are several common misconceptions of human trafficking that can make it difficult to identify and provide relief to victims. Here are five of these misconceptions.

5 Common Misconceptions of Human Trafficking

  1. Human Trafficking is Always Violent and Involves the Use of Force: Human trafficking is more than just kidnapping. The United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.” Human trafficking also includes any commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, coercion in minors, as well as organ harvesting and the use of child soldiers. Kidnappings and abductions are not the only factors in classifying human trafficking, as people typically traffic victims through fraud or coercion. Many victims may lack the personal documents or financial resources to escape. They may also fear for their safety.
  2. Human Trafficking Only Involves Commercial Sex: Sex trafficking is the most sensationalized form of human trafficking in the news. However, experts believe that there are more instances of labor trafficking worldwide. It is difficult to measure the scope of labor trafficking because sex trafficking cases receive more attention from the media and law enforcement. Labor trafficking receives less awareness largely due to this misconception of human trafficking.
  3. Human Trafficking Only Happens in Illegal Industries: Illicit and legal industries both report cases of human trafficking. Trafficked individuals often work alongside free employees. Some of the many legitimate industries in which trafficked individuals might work include restaurants, hotels, cleaning services, agriculture, construction and factories. However, people can also be exploited for criminal activity such as in street-level drug distribution businesses and cross-border drug smuggling schemes. Gang and drug dealing activity often occurs alongside sex trafficking business models as well.
  4. Human Trafficking Only Happens in Developing Nations: Both developed and developing nations experience human trafficking. Depending on their vulnerabilities, certain individuals are at a higher risk of being trafficked. Rachel Parker, the Program Manager of the Anti-Human Trafficking Division at World Relief Triad, told The Borgen Project these vulnerabilities include poverty, lack of education, violence and gang activity. She highlighted that native populations are an especially vulnerable demographic. Additionally, Parker noted familial factors, including having “too many mouths to feed” or parent-child separation as a result of immigrating in search of work. Lastly, she cited institutional variables such as a “lack of appropriate government support” as risk factors.
  5. Individuals Being Trafficked Always Want To “Get Out”: Victims of human trafficking do not always identify themselves as victims. Every trafficking situation is complicated and unique. Perpetrators often manipulate victims into human trafficking. In addition, some experience shame, guilt, fear and even feelings of loyalty towards their trafficker. These circumstances can prevent a victim from seeking help. Parker states, “Even if they don’t see [trafficking] as the worst thing to happen to them, we still have to respond.” She says they often see this in cases with minors who have experienced other traumas such as sexual assault. They might see their trafficking situation as the lesser of two evils. Parker emphasized that this is one of the largest misconceptions of human trafficking: the question of “Why didn’t they leave?”

Parker stated the one thing she wishes she could tell everyone about human trafficking is that “it is a crime of egregious exploitation, and if unaddressed in partnership throughout the world, it will continue to grow.” Furthermore, she emphasized that people should not fight by themselves, but that “the community and world need to take responsibility.” For example, governments can work with local providers to disseminate information, attend to gang violence and develop service infrastructure for survivors.

Human trafficking is a global problem that requires global solutions. First, however, education and awareness must eradicate misconceptions of human trafficking. Only then, can this widespread issue be adequately addressed.

– Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr

Smartphones in Madagascar
Madagascar is one of the world’s fifth-largest islands located off the east coast of Africa. Its population consists of more than 22 million people. Many of these people live in rural, impoverished areas. Additionally, many families cannot afford basic needs such as food, shelter or transportation. However, some people have found a way to find work through telecommunication. Here are some examples of how smartphones in Madagascar are bridging the wealth gap.

Madagascar’s Economy

Cell phones are efficient, fast and reliable in times of crisis. Currently, 96% of Americans own a cell phone. Now, villages in Madagascar are benefitting from telephone access as well. Since 2008, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has been doing business with Zain, a telecommunications company. IFC and Zain launched Village Phone, a campaign that helps bring change to local communities. This campaign creates jobs and promotes entrepreneurship by allowing small companies to sell mobile air time. Moreover, it helps people gain experience in areas like finance, information technology and business.

This knowledge is crucial to sustaining Madagascar’s economic future. The nation’s economy is largely based on agriculture, fishing and tourism. The economy now provides around 74% of the GDP, with 26.2% coming from the agriculture sector alone. The influx of technology will help strengthen Madagascar’s employment by enabling residents to improve in their respective fields.

Literacy Rate

Smartphones in Madagascar are also improving the literacy rate. In 2005, Madagascar’s literacy rate was at 58.4%. Meanwhile, in 2018, it climbed to 74.8%, an immense growth that rarely occurs in reality.

The relationship between growing literacy rates and texting is strong. Texting is a process that involves typing out letters, numbers and composing sentences. Thus, texting helps children gain more exposure to the written word. Greater exposure to the written word has a link to better reading skills.

Improved Education

Smartphones in Madagascar are accelerating the rate at which people receive information. Furthermore, smartphones help promote and improve access to education. Children who learn to read at an early age often become more capable of understanding syntax, grammar and literature. However, COVID-19 has caused many setbacks for students. Many schools closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. A young mother expressed concern by saying, “It does not make me happy that my children are no longer going to school. Years don’t wait for them. They have already lost a lot.”

Thankfully, alternative options for learning are now available. Radio, television and smartphones are the main pipelines that support distance learning. Most recently, CISCO, a telephone company, and the Ministry of National Education and Technical and Vocational Education (MENETP) have launched a support platform to help with limited internet access to ensure learning continues.

Smartphones in Madagascar have proven to be especially useful for informing people of the COVID-19 infection rate and teaching children to wash their hands properly. Furthermore, this technology is providing hope in creating a more sustainable future for people.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in Nepal
Since 1951, USAID has been implementing various development programs in Nepal. With a poverty rate of 25% as of 2010, Nepal is a developing country and has benefited greatly from these programs which cover areas such as agriculture, education and environmental issues. Here are some examples of USAID programs in Nepal.

USAID’s Agriculture Programs in Nepal

An important aspect of USAID’s work in Nepal has been to improve the livelihoods of those who work in agriculture. As a rural country, agriculture accounts for about 34% of Nepal’s GDP, yet malnutrition has been a persistent issue due to low productivity and limited access to markets. As a result, 36% of children in the country suffer from stunting, which further results in a multitude of lifetime ailments.

To combat these issues, USAID has worked under the U.S. government’s Feed the Future Initiative to improve crop yields and subsequently increase profits and access to quality foods for farmers. As Nepal’s terrain is mostly mountainous, the average farm is very small, with over 50% of farms being less than 0.5 hectares. Furthermore, factors such as low-quality seeds, poor soil management and substandard infrastructure further contribute to low productivity. As a result, 83% of farmers rely on agriculture for their income, yet for 60% of them, agriculture does not meet their dietary and monetary needs.

USAID programs in Nepal have the intention of addressing these issues by engaging with various governmental entities as well as the private sector. Its Feed the Future Initiative emphasizes the production of specific crops that can produce high yields and are resistant to environmental events such as drought and waterlogging. As a result, Nepal has seen increases in rice, maize, lentil and vegetable production.

USAID’s Education Programs in Nepal

USAID has also worked to improve education standards in Nepal by providing a better quality of education for younger students. It has also worked to increase access to schools for communities that the 2015 earthquake affected.

USAID has been concerned about literacy amongst Nepali children. According to a study from 2014, 19% of third graders could not read the Nepali language, while less than 13% of them were able to read Nepali “with fluency and comprehension.” To combat this, several USAID programs in Nepal regarding education have emerged to improve reading standards. The Early Grade Reading Program has a design to increase the number of students in grades one to three who can read and write Nepali. Stretching over five years, this $53.8 million program seeks to design instructional material and standardize reading standards across the country.

After the 2015 earthquake, USAID has also been diligent in rebuilding schools that experienced destruction. Along with the Government of Nepal, USAID was instrumental in building over 1,000 schools which serviced about 93,000 students. USAID equipped these schools with learning materials, sanitation facilities and training for teachers.

Additionally, USAID Nepal has prioritized gender parity in education. Along with UNICEF, it has launched the Zero Tolerance, Gender-Based Violence Free Schools project, which aims to eliminate gender-based violence in schools and create equal education outcomes for boys and girls. The segregation of girls during their menstrual cycle and child marriage also occur in Nepal and they have a negative impact on educational outcomes.

The Zero Tolerance project is a three-year, $5 million project which reaches at least 100,000 students across 200 schools in areas of the country with high levels of gender-based violence. It seeks to promote awareness of gender-based issues in order to create safe learning environments for all students.

USAID’s Environmental Programs in Nepal

As a country with an extremely high level of biodiversity, Nepal has received attention from the U.S. government due to its vulnerability to environmental issues. In addition to this, the fact that a large portion of Nepal’s population has employment in sectors that are heavily dependent on the environment further underscores the need for biodiversity conservation.

USAID has implemented several projects with the goal of biodiversity conservation. The Program for Aquatic Natural Resources Improvement, known locally as the Paani Program, aims to protect Nepal’s many river systems. While Nepal’s waterways are crucial for the livelihoods of many people as they are the main habitat for many fish species, and provide irrigation and power dams, they also suffer from stress due to overpopulation and overuse. The Paani Program aims to instruct locals on how to efficiently manage their waterways. It has identified certain indicators of river health, such as soil fertility and water quality, and instructs locals on how to analyze the data and provide data for authorities to use.

In all, USAID programs in Nepal cover a wide range of areas regarding the country’s development. By focusing on things like agriculture, education and the environment, USAID has a commitment to improving the lives of ordinary Nepali citizens.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a major tourist destination, reeling in an estimated 6.5 million visitors in 2018. However, it also hosts a largely divided society with 40% of its population falling under the poverty line. Due to this poverty, Dominican children struggle considerably, dealing with several issues that do not allow them to succeed and confine them to a life of poverty. Here is some information about child poverty in the Dominican Republic.

Limited Access to Proper Education

One of the hardest struggles Dominican children must deal with is a lack of proper public education. These children in poverty attend public schools which often provide low-quality education with a lack of resources and poorly trained professionals. Due to a lack of financial resources, these schools also suffer from ill-suited scholastic programs and buildings in need of repair. Consequently, “more than 40% of Dominican children are uneducated,” and just 60% of enrolled children complete their primary education. Another problem worth addressing is the Dominican Republic’s high rate of repetition, especially in rural areas, with 44% of students in grades one to five, being three or more years older than the appropriate age and 60% of students in grades six to eight, again being older than the age they should be. 

Child Labor

 These children are then must work in order to support their struggling families. In fact, 2.1% of Dominican children from ages 10-14 are obliged to join the workforce. In fact, 28.1% of working children work in agriculture, 8.6% work in industries such as construction and producing baked goods and 63.4% have employment in public services. Many of these jobs are unsafe for children and some even suffer sexual trafficking and exploitation, especially Haitian children who traffickers frequently send to the Dominican Republic. 

Mistreatment and Abuse

Due to a lack of enforcement and prohibition, Dominican children frequently suffer from abuse. As of 2014, reports determined that 62.9% of children experienced physical or psychological mistreatment by their caregivers. This treatment of children in the Dominican Republic is concerning and leads to adults who deem it right to use violence to solve conflict and gain power. In fact, 8% of Dominican men from ages 15 to 49 consider it justified to physically abuse their wives for at least one reason, while 2% of Dominican women in the same age range agree with this justification of abuse. 

Child Marriage

Another significant issue young Dominican women struggle with is the regularity of child marriage. In fact, 36% of Dominican girls must marry before they turn 18 and 12% marry before they turn 15. Furthermore, as of 2014, 21% of girls from ages 20-24 reported having given birth before the age of 18. These marriages are harmful to these young women, who must place their own education and goals to the side to become wives and mothers against their will. 

Lack of Identity

Another huge problem for Dominican children is the number of births that are not on the official record. “More than a quarter of births in the Dominican Republic are not officially reported,” concluding in a large number of children with no identity or nationality. This leads to huge difficulties for these children who will never be able to fully enjoy their rights as citizens. For example, the Ministry of Education requires students to have a birth certificate to graduate high school, forcing all unidentified children to be unable to get a degree, leaving them with the least amount of opportunities to succeed. 

Solutions

Several organizations have emerged and the Dominican Republic is passing legislation to aid and raise awareness on these critical issues regarding child poverty in the Dominican Republic. Some of these organizations include Save the Children and UNICEF, which raise money to support poor communities by providing potable water and promoting health and hygiene.

Save the Children also focuses on improving education for Dominican children, using its platform to refurbish school buildings, build gardens, enhance teacher’s knowledge and improve sanitary infrastructure. It has protected 1,665 children from harm and provided 27,318 children a healthy start to their lives. Furthermore, The Ministry of Labor has increased the number of hired inspectors from 148 to 205 in 2019, demonstrating moderate improvement in decreasing child labor. More than anything, the Dominican Republic has made considerable improvements in healthcare, providing healthcare to 366,236 poor citizens who had previously lacked it through the Health Sector Reform APL2 (PARSS2). These improvements target the Dominican Republic’s most critical issues, including education, child labor and sanitation, helping alleviate the prominent issue that is child poverty in the Dominican Republic.

– Juan Vargas
Photo: Flickr

Scofield orphanage
Scofield Orphanage, located in rural Kenya, is home to about one hundred orphans. Ben and Emily Okello, the Kenyan founders, instill in each child that they are capable and worthy. They dedicate their lives to this ethical endeavor and invest in the self-sustaining future of each child despite the ongoing difficulties caused by food shortages and the pandemic.

A Self-Sustaining Future

The Borgen Project spoke with Patty Congdon, a longtime volunteer who works alongside Ben and Emily Okello. Concerning the start of Scofield Orphanage, she said “Most of them, the parents have died of HIV, and therefore, they are seen as unclean, and people just leave them to die, and so, he just couldn’t stand it anymore…he said, ‘Emily, can I bring ten children home?’ And she said yes… and that was the start of Scofield.” After starting the orphanage, Ben and Emily realized that they would need to provide an education to the children. By doing so, they invest in each orphan’s self-sustaining future.

A population-based survey conducted in Kenya found that 93.9% of school-aged single orphans had never attended school. Orphans in rural parts of Kenya struggle to complete an education, and many of them never have an opportunity to attend school; without passing the national exam and acquiring a university degree, orphans struggle to acquire a job that lifts them out of poverty. Additionally, without a supportive community, orphans are at risk for exploitation, life-threatening food insecurity, medical complications and a variety of other dangerous circumstances.

Education in Kenya

In Kenya, students must pass eighth-grade national exams to advance into high school education. From there, they must pass twelfth-grade national exams to acquire university education. Patty Congdon shares that over this past decade, every single student at Scofield Orphanage has had a 100% pass rate in the eighth and twelfth-grade national exams. During the pandemic, children in Kenya faced school closures and many lost access to educational resources.

The loss of education especially affected vulnerable children in rural areas. This is attributable to the fact that remote learning is not an option in many isolated locations. Vulnerable children in rural areas are at much higher risk for food insecurity as well as exploitation. This is especially true when they lose access to the resources provided to them by schools. The pandemic heightened the struggle for children located at Scofield Orphanage in Kenya. However, they continue to find ways to provide education, food and shelter to each vulnerable child they house.

Fighting Educational Disparities

Due to the influx of young people pursuing higher education, many universities have increased their standards for grade point averages. Whereas students could previously apply to college with only a C+ average, many universities now require a B average. This heightened expectation has not diminished the opportunities available to the industrious orphans at Scofield.

Patty Congdon said, “Right now, not only are our kids going to university, but they are going to university for engineering, for medical, for computer science. They are going for high-level professional skills, which has just been the other thing that has just been unbelievable because Ben sets such a high standard for them from the minute they can walk on that they are capable. He just instills in them that they are capable, each to their own skills, and that they are to be professionals, and so, they don’t just want to be successful, they want to be successful at an incredibly high level, and it’s just amazing. So, every kid that we have right now who’s in school is going for all these advanced professional degrees on top of it and doing well.”

More than 90% of Kenya’s orphans do not attend school; meanwhile, the orphans housed at Scofield Orphanage have a 100% pass rate on both eighth and twelfth-grade national exams. Furthermore, those that have advanced to university are studying in prestigious fields. This is a meaningful step toward ensuring the self-sustaining future of each child. It also proves that, with proper support and education, the lives of orphans in Kenya can realistically improve.

The Challenges of 2020

Though Scofield Orphanage continues to succeed, it faced significant difficulties during the pandemic and locust invasion of 2020. Kenya’s government shut down all motor vehicle travel. As a result, no vehicles could come in and out of towns and villages. Additionally, Scofield Orphanage’s teachers were sent home; Ben and Emily Okello oversaw approximately one hundred children’s education.

Concerning the food shortages and travel bans, Patty said, “Ben had to go by foot to try to find food in villages that had been decimated by flood, drought and locusts.” She continued, “He had been able, in the past, to go over the border to Tanzania to try to get food. Borders were closed, and as he tried to go wider and wider—he’s doing all of this by foot— someone finally gave him a donkey cart. Can you imagine going forty miles with a donkey cart to look for grain? And then finding it and coming forty miles by foot with a donkey cart with, you know, ninety pounds of grain? It’s a lot, and everything is very expensive. So, everything’s been really difficult. Thankfully, none of the children have come down with COVID.”

Scofield Orphanage endured the food shortages as well as the pandemic, but Patty Congdon continues to advocate for consistency on the part of donors who contribute to Scofield Orphanage. Scofield needs consistent support so that they can afford food, necessities, medical treatment, teachers’ salaries and education.

The Need for Support

When asked, “What are the biggest needs facing Scofield right now?” Patty Congdon said, “Consistency in funding and at levels that are sustainable is still the number one challenge. A big goal that we still have is trying to get them solar power because they still don’t really have lights. They don’t have running water, and from a health perspective, running water would be a game-changer, and being able to have things like computers to study, it all goes back to electricity, and right now they don’t have that.” She continued, “Basics like lights and running water and being able to plug in a computer, those things don’t exist. Those are the big challenges right now.”

Scofield Orphanage faces immense difficulties and is in need of consistent support. Nevertheless, it continues to transform the lives of orphans in rural Kenya by investing in the self-sustaining future of each child. The ethical role model it provides demonstrates how to effectively help vulnerable children.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

Education in MENA
MENA, which refers to Middle Eastern and North African countries, has long struggled with promoting the value of education. Many children begin their lives with an intellectual disadvantage. This creates difficulties compounded by a drop in oil prices and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, many depend on education reforms, particularly in developing technology, to increase employment rates and stabilize the economy.

Low Education Rates in MENA

While the average adult literacy rate is 86% globally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identified that only 75% of the population in Arabic regions can read and write. This is a 30% increase from the 1970s. However, when considering elderly individuals above the age of 65, UNESCO found that the global average literacy rate is 78%, but a mere 38% in Arabic regions.

There is a rising concern about the literacy rates of young children and their education in MENA. The onset of COVID-19 closed schools as a safety precaution. An estimated 100 million students between the age of five and 17 stopped attending school. Additionally, around 14.3 million children do not attend school due to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen after the destruction of 8,850 of their institutions.

Girls’ Education in MENA

Around 67% of the Levant’s younger population think that they are not being taught enough. However, it is much worse for adolescent girls. Blatant gender discrimination controls the lives of many women, leading them to have an illiteracy rate of 42%, compared to 22% for their male counterparts.

Rates of women and girls acquiring education in MENA increased over the past half-century. The largest jump in registration was 7 million between 1950 and 1975. Nonetheless, a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that women in Egypt, Jordan and Libya must still obtain permission from the dominant male figures in their life to work independently. With the help of the United States’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), programs to fund literacy campaigns, conferences and business training sessions have also expanded the support women and girls receive in relation to their education.

Education in MENA During COVID-19

To date, the pandemic closures affected more than 100 million tertiary school students and around 830,000 school staff. These students lack access to WIFI, computers, online courses and direct contact with teachers. There are increasing probabilities that less than half of students will meet the bare minimum requirements for math and language skills.

Luckily, some tertiary schools have reformed the education system. Through the Virtual University of Tunis (VUT) in Tunisia, nearly 110,000 students have started taking classes with the 18,000 professors that are aiding the initiative. In Morocco, 12 hours of daily lectures were also agreed to be broadcasted on sports channels that regularly play on television.

UNICEF updated its 2015 MENA Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) Initiative to match these unprecedented times. The organization strives to change the teaching methods presented through in-person and remote learning. Its methodology focuses on learning and teaching, promoting multiple pathways and enabling the environment. UNICEF wants to connect education to the labor market by becoming more skills-oriented. This initiative will also address the issue that the youth unemployment rate in MENA is 25%, the highest in the world.

These approaches and more can develop the future of children in MENA. Fostering a curiosity-filled environment will stimulate a productive generation and revolutionize the working sectors in the region. Transitioning to online courses and being more inclusive of gender and financial backgrounds will increase employment rates. With governments allocating 15% to 20% of total public funds on education, MENA can prosper.

– Sylvia Vivian Boguniecki
Photo: Flickr

Education in The Sundarbans
The Sundarbans mangrove forest, one of the largest such forests in the world, lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. Being the largest river delta in the world, the Sundarbans is an archipelago of islands located in the Bay of Bengal and divided between India and Bangladesh. It is home to roughly 4.5 million people that are affected by storms, cyclones and other environmental disasters. In 2011, the literacy rate of the people in the Sundarbans was 25.71% compared to West Bengal’s 76.26%. Several organizations are dedicating themselves to innovative efforts to improving education in the Sundarbans.

Keeping Children in School

The Sundarbans islanders are dependent on fishing, agriculture and the cottage industry for their income. The location of the islands, their dwindling mangrove population, breached shoreline and similarly breached tiger territories have pushed children out of school. The unique climatic and environmental situation on the islands has made innovation key in improving education in the Sundarbans. Fortunately, many organizations have found ways to bring the school closer and made it more appealing to stay in school.

School in The Cloud

The ‘School in The Cloud’ is an independent learning lab that uses solar power. The school uses a 40-foot bamboo tower receiver for its internet connectivity in the Sundarbans. It is the brainchild of Dr. Sugata Mitra of Newcastle University. He wanted to integrate Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) in order to improve education in the Sundarbans. Leadership specifically designed these learning hubs for children who are below the poverty line and thus lack access to unrestrained holistic education. The school focuses on the reading, speaking and comprehension skills of the children. This innovative institution receives funding from the TED prize money worth $1 million that Professor Mitra received.

Sabuj Sangha & Kishalay

Biplab Das, a Sundarbans native with an MBA, founded the Kishalay Foundation. The Kishalay Foundation focuses on the improvement of education for the Sundarbans’ underprivileged children. The foundation is affiliated with the government of West Bengal and serves as a learning hub for children at various levels of their education.

Sabuj Sangha works with Kishalay in its mission to retain children who have dropped out of school. Its innovative “preparatory centers” are key in rehabilitating children back into formal education. It accomplishes this by educating children informally for a year to help aid their transition. So far, the centers have successfully rehabilitated 700 children into formal education with the help of unemployed graduate teachers. The support of many donors, including the Tata group and Pepe Jeans, sustains this multi-faceted effort. The Smile Foundation is also affiliated to amplify the efforts of Sabuj Sangha and Kishalay in improving education in the Sundarbans.

The Sundarbans, through the work of its islanders and supporting organizations, can become a resourceful community for children to grow. Developing communities such as the islands of Sundarbans benefit from continued initiatives and foundational innovations. Moving forward, the work of nonprofits and educational leaders will drive community-informed and community-focused holistic development in the Sundarbans.

– Anuja Mukherjee
Photo: Flickr