Information and stories about Literacy Information.

reading skills in brazil
Researchers from the Frontiers scientific community recently conducted a study in Brazil to examine the cause of low reading skills in Brazil’s young children. The study tested 106 children ranging from ages six to eight. The study found that poor memory skills are closely correlated with lower reading skills.

The 106 children tested came from a variety of backgrounds. Half of them live below the poverty line, half above. Researchers intentionally split participants this way to determine the impact of socioeconomic status on basic reading skills. After testing the children, researchers found that memory skills had the most severe impact on young readers, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The testing consisted of 12 cognitive assessments. Researchers were able to determine that memory skills correlate with reading abilities based on the fact that the children who were evaluated by their teachers as “poor readers” scored the lowest on the Working Memory/Cognitive Flexibility sections of the test. The other three components of the assessment were Interference Suppression, Selective Attention and Response Inhibition.

Higher level readers, on the other hand, consistently performed better on the Working Memory/Cognitive Flexibility sections of the test. The difference between high and low level readers’ results were not as significant in the three other areas. Therefore, the examiners conducting the test were able to hypothesize that memory and reading skills are related somehow.

A strong memory allows a child to concentrate on an activity for an extended period of time, which may account for children with strong memories who find reading easier at a young age. These children have a greater attention span and can focus on learning how to read for a longer period of time than children with weaker memories.

In countries where student to teacher ratios are poor and classrooms are small, the potential for distractions in the learning environment is very high. Children with strong memories and, therefore, extreme concentration abilities can focus on their studies better than students with less cognitive flexibility.

Unfortunately, distracting conditions are common, meaning that some children inevitably will score lower on reading tests. By providing funding to decrease student to teacher ratios and build more functional classrooms, it is possible to decrease distractions in classroom settings which hinder learning in children with weaker memories. By fixing the classroom environment, educators can solve a seemingly un-fixable problem.

Emily Walthouse

Sources: Frontiers, Psyblog
Photo: Economist

A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that girls have consistently achieved better grades in school than boys for decades. Despite this revolutionary finding, there is still a disproportionate amount of girls around the world who are not granted equal access to education.

What was thought to be a recent “boy crisis” of boys falling behind girls in school has proven to be false. Girls have consistently done better in school for decades without any significant change.

Data collected between 1914 and 2011 in over 30 countries has shown that girls have persistently achieved better grades in every subject across the board. The regions included range from North America, to Europe, to the Middle East and Africa, with the grades of 538,710 boys and 595,322 girls from 308 studies.

Grades given by teachers and official grade point averages were used from elementary, middle and high school, as well as undergraduate and graduate levels. The largest gap was found to be in languages and the smallest gap in math and science. Although boys tended to score higher in math and science in standardized tests, this is only the test of aptitude for a given moment, whereas school grades require hard work over longer periods of time.

Co-Author of the study, Susan Voyer, notes that this phenomenon of girls out-performing boys appears to be a well-kept secret considering how little global attention it has received.

In 2011, UNICEF found that there were 31 million primary-school-aged girls and 34 million lower-secondary-school-aged girls who were not enrolled in school. That the study took place in countries across the globe, and not exclusively in one country or even one region, proves that there is a great deal of untapped potential. Imagine how much more could be achieved globally if every girl had access to education.

The benefits of allowing girls equal access to education are endless. When girls attend school, they delay marriage and in turn delay the age of child bearing. This saves the lives of both women and their children, because there are fewer risks when girls wait until after adolescence to bear children. UNESCO found that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, maternal deaths could be reduced by 70 percent, and child deaths reduced by 15 percent if all girls completed primary school.

The benefits continue to the next generation, as girls that attended school are far more likely to send their children to school. Girls can also earn higher wages and therefore gain economic independence as a result of receiving an education. When girls complete one year of secondary education, their wages later in life increase by 25 percent.

According to UNESCO, women make up two-thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate people. This is unfair given the existing research that shows that if given the opportunity, girls will continuously perform better in school than boys. Although girls should not have to prove themselves in order to receive equal access to education, this study is a testament to the mass amount of potential being lost by denying girls this human right.

– Kim Tierney 

Sources: UNICEF, PsyBlog, APA, UNESCO
Photo: She Knows

Education in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is the size of Western Europe with a wide variety of natural resources available within it. Although the economy is thriving due to the vast availability of these resources, the people of Kazakhstan have to live with the health effects of many of the Soviet-era decisions.

The people of Kazakhstan have to deal with the after-effects of nuclear testing and toxic waste dumping in addition to a higher incidence of HIV/Aids and increased addiction to drugs. In addition, due to poor irrigation plans during the Soviet Union, the Aral Sea is heavily polluted and shrinking quickly.

Kazakhstan has one of the fastest growing economies out of Central or Eastern Europe. This growth in the economy has led to the creation of a strong education system.


Here are 3 facts about education in Kazakhstan:


1. Education Reform.

In recent years, the Kazakhstan education system has been undergoing reform. There has been increased expenditures on education as well as an increase in requirement for the minimum years of education.

2. Increasing Attendance.

Around 9,000 children in Kazakhstan are not in school. This is the lowest rate of no school attendance for countries in eastern and central Europe. The rate of primary attendance is 91 percent while the rate of secondary attendance is 92 percent.

3. Quality of Education.

A survey that monitors the amount of learning reports that around 75 percent of students are proficient in literacy and mathematics. However, the performance of students in urban areas is much higher than for those in rural areas. In addition, teachers are underpaid, which is significantly harming the education system.

Although Kazakhstan has vast resources and funds available to them, there are still parts of the education system that are lacking. However, the government has worked on changing the education system in recent years, and will continue to reform the system until the students have a better quality and greater access to education.

– Lily Tyson

Sources: BBC, UNICEF
Photo: Telegraph

Education is one of the very few opportunities for poor people living in impoverished, underdeveloped countries. Basic education programs provide children with the skills necessary to acquire employment, as well as basic knowledge pertaining to health, hygiene and disease prevention. And yet, according to the U.N., 250 million children — even those who have spent at least four years in school — are not able to adequately read, write or count.

While many factors play into this staggering statistic, hunger is a key culprit when it comes to the millions of uneducated children worldwide. Here’s how hunger hurts learning:

1. Children who are malnourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year, which means 160 missed school days.

2. Vitamin A deficiency, which is directly linked to malnutrition, is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness in developing countries; The World Health Organization estimates that each year, 500,000 children go blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency. Blindness makes it increasingly difficult for children to learn alongside their peers.

3. Malnutrition intensifies the symptoms and effects of diseases, such as malaria and measles. Children who are unable to combat these diseases lack the physical capacity to attend school and learn.

4. Malnutrition stunts not only physical, but also mental development, in young children, preventing them from reaching their full human and socio-economic potential as well as their potential to learn.

5. One out of five children born from an under-nourished mother is born with low birth weight. Low birth weight in children is linked to mental retardation, learning disabilities and blindness, all of which may prevent a child from receiving an education.

Hungry children suffer not only from malnourishment—and the litany of other harms it causes—but also from the incredible disadvantage of not being physically well enough to learn. Global education and global hunger are not mutually exclusive issues. A brand-new school with ample resources in Tanzania, for example, is useless without a classroom full of healthy children who are ready to learn.

Expecting Malaria-infected children to attend school and absorb information from excellent basic education programs is also impractical. We have a global responsibility not only to support education programs in third-world countries, but also to ensure that children are able to take advantage of the incredible opportunities education holds for them.

Due to the difficulty of learning while hungry and ill, in order to provide effective education, it is crucial that aid programs also address the global health and hunger crises in impoverished countries.

Elizabeth Nutt

Sources: World Hunger,,, Hellen Keller International
Photo: Your Mind Your Body

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Turkmenistan was granted independence for the first time in over 100 years.

According to data gathered by the Soviet government officials in 1991, at that time Turkmenistan’s population was nearly completely literate. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, education in Turkmenistan has significantly changed. Here are five facts about education in Turkmenistan.

1. Reform

President Berdimuhammedov, appointed in February 2007, encouraged hope for the people of Turkmenistan that reforms in education would occur. In addition, in 2007, Turkmenistan underwent an over 500 percent increase in their gross domestic product (GDP) due to increased oil and gas prices. Since 2007, the Turkmenistan government has made a number of educational reforms, such as raising the amount of compulsory education, the proliferation of “model schools” and the creation of curriculum guides.

2. Attendance

In Turkmenistan, there is a primary school attendance rate of 97 percent. However, there is only an 85 percent attendance rate for secondary schools.

3. Equality

Despite the relatively high percentage of attendance, education in Turkmenistan is not equal for all citizens. While there is near gender equality, there is significantly higher attendance in urban instead of rural areas. Enrollment in primary education is at 67 percent for Turkmenistan’s capital city, Ashgahat, but only 11 percent for Lebap, a rural region.

4. Completion

Only 0.1 percent of students who attend primary school in Turkmenistan drop out, while 0.8 percent of students in Turkmenistan repeat a grade. However, 99.8 percent of students who attend, finish primary school.

5. Infrastructure

A challenge that education in Turkmenistan is facing is the quality of its educational buildings. Due to the lack of investments in education prior to 2007, many school buildings are deteriorating. Around 15 percent of schools have structural problems that make them too dangerous to use for classes.

While there is a greater wealth access to education in Turkmenistan than in surrounding countries, there is still a necessity for further educational reforms in Turkmenistan.

— Lily Tyson

Sources: BBC, CountryStudies, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

From May 12 to May 14 the Global Education for All summit will be held in Oman, at the Al Bustan Palace. The secretary-general of UNESCO’s Oman National Commission for Education, Culture, and Science stated that Oman was chosen because it “has been quite successful in achieving the EFA goals.” Between 52 and 70 countries are expected to attend and participate in discussions regarding the Education for All (EFA) goals and the 2013/2014 EFA Global Monitoring Report. In addition to these UNESCO member countries, many EFA agencies, UN organizations, and research organizations will participate.

UNESCO established the six EFA goals “to meet the learning needs of all children, youth, and adults,” with a set completion date of 2015. Released last month, the 11th Global Monitoring Report is titled Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All, and evaluates progress towards the completion of the EFA goals. Though progress has been made, the report makes it clear that it has not been enough to meet the 2015 deadline. The following is a summary of reported progress that has been made on each of the EFA goals since 1999.

Goal 1: To expand and improve comprehensive childhood care and education.

  • The global pre-primary education gross enrollment ratio was 50 percent in 2011, up from 33 percent in 1999, though in sub-Saharan Africa it reached only 18 percent in 2011.
  • Over this period, enrollment in pre-primary schools grew by 60 million children, but 57 million still have no access to primary education.
  • It is estimated that 48 percent of the 141 countries with data will reach the goal of pre-primary education gross enrollment ratio of 80 percent by 2015.

Goal 2: To achieve universal primary education

  • It is estimated that 14 countries have a population of 1 million or more children out of school.
  • Between 1999 and 2011, the number of children out of school decreased by half.
  • Between 1999 and 2011, the net intake rate for the first year of primary school increased from 81 percent to 86 percent.

Goal 3: To provide access to necessary learning and life-skills programs for youth and adults

  • The gross enrollment rate for lower secondary school increased from 72 percent in 1999 to 82 percent in 2011.
  • Since 1999, the number of out of school adolescents has fallen to 69 million, a decrease of 31 percent.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of out of school adolescents remained at 22 million between 1999 and 2011, due to population growth that counteracted increased enrollment.

Goal 4: To increase global adult literacy by 50 percent

  • It is estimated there are currently 774 million illiterate adults.
  • It is projected that by 2015, this number will fall to 743 million.
  • Nearly two-thirds of illiterate adults are women.

Goal 5: To eradicate gender disparities and achieve gender equality in education

  • It is estimated that by 2015, roughly 70 percent of countries will achieve equal enrollment of boys and girls in schools.
  • In 1999, 43 percent of 150 countries surveyed had achieved gender parity.
  • By 2015, it is expected that 56 percent of countries will achieve gender parity.

Goal 6: To improve the quality of all aspects of education

  • In 2011, 26 countries of the 162 surveyed had a primary education student/teacher ratio that exceeded 40:1.
  • Between 1999 and 2011, the student/teacher ratio in primary education rose by 20% in nine countries, but decreased by that much in 60 countries.
  • In one-third of countries with data, roughly 75 percent of teachers were not trained according to national standards.

At this rate, it is unlikely that the global community will achieve the EFA goals by 2015. However, both UNESCO and the UN are developing agendas to continue current growth and increase progress towards a new set of goals after 2015.

— Kristen Bezner

Sources: EFA Global Monitoring Report, Muscat Daily, UNESCO
Photo: Blackberg TV


Education is one of the key weapons to combatting poverty around the 
world. Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come up with unique programs and solutions to allow greater access to education in developing countries.

1. Barefoot College was founded in 1972 in India and works to build skills in rural villages. The founders of Barefoot College wanted to apply traditional knowledge to modern day problems by teaching locals specialized skills. They believe that literacy is learned in school, but education is gained from “family, culture, environment and personal experiences, and both are important for individual growth.” Their entire campus is powered by solar energy, teaching the local community about sustainable energy. Barefoot College teaches the local community about modern technologies and women’s empowerment, to help them grow as human beings.

2. Room to Read was founded in 2002 to increase literacy and gender equality in Africa and Asia. This organization aims to improve the habit of reading among elementary school children and increase the number of girls who stay in school beyond elementary school. It has become one of the most well known international education programs, with 50 chapters in 16 countries. The organization relies on a model that creates programs to support girls financially and mentally, building new schools and libraries, and providing books. Since 2002, Room to Read has encouraged around 7.8 million children to read more.

3. Tostan was founded in 1991 and is dedicated to community development education and ending female genital cutting. Located in 8 African countries, this organization combines education and development goals in a “three year nonformal education program.” Instead of conforming to a standardized model of development, local communities can create own programs that suit their own needs. A facilitator is appointed to live and work with each rural community for three years, teaching them human rights concepts, health habits, reading and mathematics, project management and income generation ideas. Out of the democratically elected 17 members Community Management Committee, who carry out development projects, women must hold 9 of the positions. This ensures that the women in their community have their voices and problems heard. Since 1991, over 200,000 individuals have directly participated in Tostan.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: International Relations Online, Tostan
Photo: Tostan

In recent days, U.S. Senator Ed Royce (CA-R) announced that on April 3 the Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Women’s education in violence prone countries and how it can promote the creation of economic opportunities and counter radicalism. The hearing will count with the presence of three experts on women’s education. In the words of Royce, the aim of the hearing is to assess “how a failure to appreciate its importance can result in missed opportunities for development and counter-radicalism.”

In the last three decades education opportunities have been greatly expanded, yet women are still at a disadvantage. The difference in countries like Pakistan can be as much as 30 points. While 70 percent of men over 15 years of age are considered literate, for women this only reaches 40 percent. In Afghanistan, this difference is even more astonishing where only 13 percent of women can read and write.

According to Royce, the hearing will reinforce the correlation between women and girl’s education and the promotion of economic growth, childhood development and an increase in life expectancy overall. There is strong evidence that connects women’s education and an increase in a country’s GDP. As women enter the labor force they increase the earning potential of their family. Moreover, as women tend to spend their income on children more than men, this helps increase a child’s survival more than twenty times than families supported only by men.

Pakistan is of special interest, which is why, after the hearing, the committee will move on to considering the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act (H.R. 3583). In honor of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Malala Yousafzai, this bill would require that 50 percent of the scholarships awarded under it be given to Pakistani women.

This comes at the same time when private donors have pledged to donate 1 billion to Pakistan for the support of educational programs over the next three years. According the former prime minister and now UN special envoy for education Gordon Brown, the goal is to provide education to 55 million Pakistanis over the age of ten who are considered illiterate. Pakistan’s government also wants to dedicate more resources to education in order to eventually achieve universal education. This is good news for women and girls in Pakistan, since one of the major goals of the pledge is to get a step closer to the eradication of child marriage, child labor, and gender discrimination.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Brown, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Photo: Glamour

As the Millennium Development Goals project comes to a close in 2015, UN member states rigorously discuss new strategies and priorities for the next sustainability development proposal. Gender equality appears at the top of the agenda as a key factor that underpins all other development goals including health improvement, environmental conservation, poverty reduction and democratic stability. An article in the New Indian Express outlines the three pillars of sustainable development:

1. Economic growth
2. Environmental stewardship
3. Social inclusion

Gender equality contributes to all three of these developmental pillars. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), a regional political party in the South Indian state of Adhra Pradesh similarly sees gender equality as not only a goal in itself, but also as “a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance.” Unfortunately, in developing nations where gender inequalities dominate societal structures, women become confined to the domestic sphere, and consequentially have no say in the economic development and social advancement of their own communities. On the contrary, women play a pivotal role in all spheres of society, and have the right to be heard in all affairs that concern their interests.

One such affair concerning women’s livelihoods is food security. Women make up half of the world’s farmers, as well as 50 percent of the global fisheries workforce, yet they have little to no say in the management of these industries. Moreover, their interests are rarely taken into consideration in rural development plans and conservation initiatives. Is it surprising that there is no data collection for the contributions that women make to areas such as agriculture, forestry, water, energy and infrastructure? According to the Environment and Gender Index released by the Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), systems of data collection do not reflect gender-specific data, thus limiting and undermining the effectiveness of international development investments. The post-2015 development goals aim to address these structural shortcomings in hopes of bridging the gaps created by gender inequality.

In a 2013 panel discussion organized by Action Aid, UN Women Deputy Director Lakshmi Puri elaborates on the assessment of the UN Millennium Goals and the future of post-2015 development strategies. The discussion emphasized the key role that gender equality plays moving forward with sustainable development and poverty reduction. Not only does Puri promote “a new renewed focus on people-centered development,” but she also encourages progress that “promotes the rights and agency of women.” Thorough assessment of the eight UN MDGs proved that large inequalities related to gender, income and ethnicity posed the biggest obstacles for progress. It is critical that the new agenda addresses these inequalities in order to overcome the challenges of sustainable development in the future. The new framework of UN Women platform sets out to target three core areas:

1. Freedom from violence for women and girls
2. Access to opportunities and resources
3. Ability to participate in decision-making and leadership

Access to resources, information and opportunities is critical for progress in the contemporary economic climate, especially for women fighting against gender inequality. With the spread of globalization, and the advancements in information and communication technologies (ICTs), nations around the world embrace a new ‘knowledge economy.’ Extending from an information-based society, the new ‘knowledge economy’ uses knowledge as the primary means to enhance growth and development. In this new world economy, equal access to knowledge and education is critical in hopes of reducing poverty and increasing welfare in developing nations. The New Indian Express article explains, “It is critical for the majority of the population to possess the means to not only obtain this information but have the necessary educational background to expand learning through discussions.” Women, now more than ever, require the need to possess and obtain valuable knowledge in order to contribute as productive and informed citizens of the new global economy.

There is still much work to be done in terms of achieving universal education. According to a UNESCO report, 774 million adults lack literacy, and two-thirds of them are women. Similarly, 123 million children are illiterate, 76 million of which are girls. Strengthening educational institutions in impoverished communities by providing equal access to resources is just one step towards achieving gender equality. Giving the other half of the world’s population equal opportunities, protection and consideration allows for a more effective and cohesive fight against poverty. Men are not alone on the road to sustainable development.

– Gloria Kostadinova

Sources: National Geographic, UNESCO, New Indian Express, UN Women, Mail & Guardian
Photo: Destiny Man

March 26 marked the grand opening of a brand new school for the Lekol S&H students in Caracol, Haiti. The students celebrated the inauguration alongside United States Ambassador Pamela White, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director John Groarke and Haitian officials, according to USAID Haiti’s Facebook page.

The new facility is one of many schools that fall under USAID’s All Children Reading program in Haiti. Also known as Tout Timoun Ap Li (ToTAL,) All Children Reading is one of the programs supported by U.S. and Haitian government collaboration in Haiti. Starting in 2011, Haiti’s Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training unveiled a plan to get more than 1.5 million students in school by 2016, says USAID.

The ToTAL program focuses on developing reading skills for Haitian students in first grade through third grade in the Port-au-Prince, Saint Marc and Cap Haitien areas. All Children Reading will provide more nearly 30,000 children and 900 teachers with critical reading curriculums to meet international literacy standards, says USAID. “In developing countries,” says the All Children Reading experts, “literacy leads to improved health, better education, greater employment opportunities, and more stable governments.”

The All Children Reading program partners with USAID, World Vision and the Australian government to utilize competitive science, technology and education grants to improve the school systems and educational opportunities for students in developing countries.

Awards are disseminated in two rounds, each of which has a different development focus. Round 1 “focuses on creating teaching and learning materials and education data applications to promote accountability and transparency” and has been awarded to 32 projects in more than 20 nations, according to the All Children Reading website.

Round 2 looks more to implementation strategies and technology solutions to improve education in Haiti. The three areas of focus for this branch of the project include promoting mother tongue instruction and reading materials, enhancing family and community engagement and supporting children with disabilities. All Children Reading prioritizes reading in the early school levels in order to instill strong education practices and create better and wider opportunities for children as adults.

Through programs such as ToTAL, the U.S government has trained nearly 900 teachers in new curriculum in both Haitian Creole and French. In addition, USAID has supplied Haitian students with more than 46,000 textbooks and workbooks. The ToTAL program has been introduced in more than 300 schools nationwide, such as the one in Caracol. In the years to come USAID hopes to reach more than 1 million children throughout Haiti, especially “as other partners extend the use of the program’s reading curricula and training methods beyond the development corridors.”

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: USAID, All Children Reading, Facebook
Photo: Save the Children