School Feeding Program in RwandaRwanda is a small, densely populated country in Africa, located just south of the equator. Though the country has made great strides in poverty reduction since the 1994 genocide, 55% of the population still lived in poverty in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic halted a period of economic boom and, as a result, the World Bank expects poverty to rise by more than 5% in 2021. International aid and development programs in Rwanda are more important than ever, especially when it comes to providing reliable, nutritious food sources. Chronic malnutrition affects more than a third of Rwandan children younger than 5 and the World Food Programme (WFP) considers nearly 20% of Rwandans food insecure. One key initiative aiming to eradicate malnutrition in Rwanda is the WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda.

History of the Home Grown School Feeding Initiative

The WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding initiative works with local governments, farmers and schools to provide nutritious, diverse daily meals for students and enrich local economies. These Home Grown School Feeding programs currently operate in 46 countries with each program tailored to the needs of local people.

The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda began in 2016, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Mastercard. The program serves daily warm meals to more than 85,000 learners in 104 primary schools. The program benefits both students and their families in several major ways.

5 Benefits of the Home Grown School Feeding Initiative

  1. Improves Nutrition. Agriculture is the basis of Rwanda’s economy, but desertification, drought and other problems are decreasing harvests. As a result, many families struggle to grow enough food to feed themselves. The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda provides students with meals of either maize, beans or hot porridge. The school-provided meal is often the only regular, nutritious meal available to many students.
  2. Improves Hygiene. Along with kitchens and ingredients, the WFP also supplies schools in Rwanda with materials to teach basic nutrition and hygiene. One strategy includes installing rainwater collection tanks and connecting them to handwashing stations. Additionally, WFP workers build or renovate bathrooms at each school. Connecting the school to a reliable water supply also benefits the local community by decreasing the distance villagers travel to access water. School handwashing stations are also open to the community, improving health and hygiene for everyone.
  3. Improves Focus, Literacy and School Attendance. According to Edith Heines, WFP country director for Rwanda, “a daily school meal is a very strong incentive for parents to send their children to school.” In primary schools where the WFP implemented the Home Grown School Feeding Program, attendance has increased to 92%. With the implementation of the program, students report increased alertness in class and better grades and performance. One child from Southern Rwanda, Donat, told the WFP that before his school provided lunch, he was often so hungry that he did not want to return to school after going home at lunchtime. Now that his school provides lunch, he looks forward to class each day. Literacy rates have also improved dramatically at schools where the program operates and the WFP reports that student reading comprehension has increased from less than 50% to 78%.
  4. Teaches Gardening and Cooking Skills. The WFP develops a kitchen garden at every school involved in the Home Grown School Feeding program. Children participate in growing and caring for crops, learning valuable gardening skills that they can take home to their parents. Children are also instructed in meal preparation and in proper hygiene.
  5. Diversifying Crops at Home. Students also receive seedlings in order to provide food at home and to diversify the crops grown in food-insecure areas. Crop diversification can help improve soil fertility and crop yields. Sending seedlings home also promotes parent and community involvement in the program, ensuring the program’s long-term stability.

Looking Ahead

The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda has improved the quality of life for many children living in poverty as well as their families. By fighting to end hunger in food-insecure areas of Rwanda, the WFP has improved hygiene, nutrition, school attendance, literacy, crop diversity and more. The continuation of the program in Rwanda and in other countries around the world will enable further progress in the fight against global poverty.

Julia Welp
Photo: Flickr

Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy
An estimated 750 million youth and adults worldwide can neither read nor write. This is one of the many challenges that prompted UNESCO’s 40th General Conference. The agency’s Member States proposed a solution, “Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy,” on Nov. 15, 2019. This strategy’s grand objective is to extend UNESCO’s undivided support to all countries. A special focus will be on members of the Global Alliance for Literacy, the majority of whose populations show the highest literacy levels.

Strategic Priority Areas

The Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy aligns with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, this plan follows SDG 4, “Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

The strategy has four key priority areas:

  1. Support Member States in the development of strategies and national literacy policies and strategies. To achieve this, UNESCO will work hand-in-hand with the Member States to develop learning techniques. The techniques will have a comprehensive perspective and undergo integration into public systems.
  2. Aid the education needs of disadvantaged groups, such as women and girls. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population comprises women. Consequently, UNESCO’s strategy will focus on women and other specific populations that face disproportionate disadvantages. Indigenous peoples, refugees, immigrants, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities will also be a priority in the plan.
  3. Leverage digital technologies to increase access to education and improve learning outcomes. UNESCO will help the Member States fully exploit technological innovations — such as Artificial Intelligence, Open Education Resources, etc. — that can potentially transform their learning environments. To do this, UNESCO will reinforce partnerships with outstanding research institutions and private corporations.
  4. Monitor progress and assess literacy skills and programs people’s literacy skills. To assess progress with SDG 4.6.1 indicator, UNESCO will deploy data-based learning assessment systems and powerful tools like the Global Education Monitoring Report, among others.

Literacy Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic: Attainable or Impractical?

The Coronavirus pandemic has left education systems hanging by a thread and exposed the many cracks that existed even before the pandemic. In her opening statement of the UNESCO 2020 Global Webinar, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, encouraged nations to make literacy “a force of inclusion and resilience” as they strive to reconstruct and attain more sustainable development.

UNESCO conducted a survey on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on literacy programs in August 2020. It revealed that out of a total of 49 adult literacy programs, more than 90% underwent suspension as a way to abide by coronavirus containment measures such as lockdowns.

In response to the coronavirus, UNESCO has developed the Global Education Coalition. So far, the coalition has helped over 70 countries to counter the effects that the pandemic has had on their education systems. This platform has made it possible for 82,000 teachers and 500,000 students in Senegal to carry on with their studies through the Ministry of Senegal’s “Ministry Distance Learning” platform. Furthermore, UNESCO has projected to add another 1.5 million learners and teachers through a partnership with Microsoft.

UNESCO has also assisted in creating educational resources, such as handouts, videos and guides for instructors and parents in Lebanon. These many programs have contributed to enhanced learning during these unprecedented times.

Not Easy but Possible

Despite the frailty that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, UNESCO’s Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy is thriving. The strategy is concrete proof that although the journey toward literacy is not a walk in the park, the end goal is still attainable. So long as nations are willing to push for it, literacy is possible all across the world, even during COVID-19.

Mbabazi Divine
Photo: Flickr

Improve Education in BangladeshIn a speech given at a Boston high school in 1990, Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For many of the world’s impoverished, education is not an option. Today, more than 72 million children of primary education age are not in school and nearly 759 million adults are illiterate. While many maintain the capacity to survive without an education, the knowledge and awareness garnered through school allows the impoverished to improve their living conditions and rise out of poverty. USAID and the World Bank are working to improve education in Bangladesh as a means of addressing poverty.

The State of Education in Bangladesh

In the last 10 years, there has been progress when it comes to improving education in Bangladesh. According to USAID, nearly 98% of children of primary school age are enrolled in school. In 2016, 50.9% of all enrolled students were girls, meaning total gender parity. Both of these statistics are major accomplishments but there is much more to be done to improve education in Bangladesh.

While enrollment is high, the quality of education that the children are receiving remains quite low. Reading fluency is the barometer that is used to measure a school system’s quality, and in Bangladesh, most students are unable to pass basic fluency assessments. To put exact numbers to this, USAID conducted an assessment and determined that “44% of students finish first-grade unable to read their first word and 27 % of third-grade students cannot read with comprehension.”

This lack of literacy not only puts these students at a great disadvantage but stunts prospects of economic growth for Bangladesh. Education plays a significant role in sustaining and developing countries and economies which is why USAID and the World Bank have invested in improving Bangladesh’s education system.

The World Bank’s Education Efforts

On January 18, 2021, Bangladesh signed an agreement with the World Bank, financing $6.5 million to help more than 39,000 kids receive primary school education. The package also allocates funds to vocational training schools for approximately 8,500 dropouts. Mercy Tembon, the World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, says that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the education of children from lower-income households. The additional financing will help slum children and vulnerable youth to build the foundations necessary to improve their lives and increase their opportunities. The World Bank has given Bangladesh the means necessary to improve the quality of their education system and thus support the greater economy.

USAID’s Educational Assistance

USAID has taken a more hands-on approach in improving the quality of education. It works directly with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Primary and Mass Education to improve early grade reading for children to ensure that all children learn to read in their first years of schooling. USAID’s education programs in Bangladesh have:

  • Expanded access to schooling to almost 30,000 out-of-school children
  • Increased the reading fluency of third graders by 18%
  • Increased the first-word reading fluency of first graders by 36%
  • Trained nearly 17,000 new teachers on how to teach early grade reading
  • Issued more than two million reading materials to primary schools

Education as a Key to Poverty Reduction

Every young mind deserves the opportunity for education and with the help of the World Bank and USAID, Bangladesh has the means to offer that. Efforts to improve education in Bangladesh will uplift an entire nation. The state of education in the world is progressing and thus bringing about poverty reduction success.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

tutudesk campaignA healthy learning environment means adequate school supplies and sufficient and quality learning materials. School desks are often less thought of but are also essential resources that impact a child’s learning. UNESCO conducted a study examining the impact of school desks on children in the learning environment and found that a proper school desk is a determining factor in how a child processes information. In another study, it was found that sufficiently designed furniture is an essential factor in the development of the capabilities of school children. The quality of the learning environment influences the quality of education that a child receives. The Tutudesk campaign has found that more than 95 million children throughout sub-Saharan Africa lack school desks for classroom learning.

Education for Poverty Reduction

An adequate education can be the deciding factor in whether an impoverished child is able to progress out of poverty in adulthood. UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) team conducted an analysis of the influence of education on poverty in 2017. It was found that an estimated 420 million people could be alleviated from poverty with the completion of secondary education, reducing the number of global poor by half and reducing the number of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by two-thirds. Since school desks are essential for education, organizations are putting desks at the forefront of their initiatives.

The Tutudesk Campaign

South African human rights activist, Desmond Tutu, founded the Tutdesk campaign in 2012 in partnership with the United Nations Special Envoy for Education. The Tutudesk campaign recognized the dire need for school desks and workstations for students throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The campaign aims to supply portable and sustainable workstations for children in need of desks both in school and at home. Made from a robust, child-friendly blend of polymers, the Tutudesk workstation can last the duration of a learner’s school career. Since its launch, the nonprofit organization has provided more than 1.5 million desks to disadvantaged children. The Tutudesk campaign believes that the Tutudesk provides a viable solution to literacy development and the general infrastructure crisis. The organization’s current goal is to combat the severe desk scarcity throughout sub-Saharan Africa by delivering 20 million desks to children in need by 2025.

The K.I.N.D. Campaign

Lawrence O’Donnell in collaboration with UNICEF launched the K.I.N.D. (Kids in Need of Desks) campaign in 2010. When visiting  Malawi school teachers expressed the dire need for school desks to O’Donnell. O’Donnell collaborated with UNICEF and a local woodworking shop to fund the production of 30 school desks. This small initiative developed into the K.I.N.D. campaign. The organization seeks to provide desks for schools in Malawi as well as secondary school scholarships for Malawian girls. The K.I.N.D. campaign has brought desks to more than 938,000 Malawian children. The K.I.N.D. campaign hopes to enhance education for children in need through its efforts.

Desks, Education and Poverty Reduction

Education is the gateway to economic progression and thus the answer to solving global poverty. School desks play a prominent role in this. Quality education can provide a way out of poverty for poverty-stricken children around the world.  By providing desks to the impoverished, the K.I.N.D. campaign and the Tutudesk campaign address both education and poverty simultaneously.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

BOOK FAIRIES ADVANCE LEARNINGChildren are the world’s future but half of children account for the world’s poor. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 59 million children, aged between 5 and 17, work to provide for their families instead of attending school. Therefore, every fifth child ends up in child labor. Even in richer countries in Europe, one in five children lives in poverty and 25% were at risk of poverty in 2017. Since poverty and literacy correlate, both must be improved. In Africa, 48 million youth aged 15 to 24 are illiterate and 30 million primary-aged children are not in school. Globally, literacy rates have improved in the past 20 years but women and children still lag behind in literacy. The main cause of illiteracy globally is a lack of books. Organizations like The Book Fairies advance learning in developing nations and address illiteracy.

The Book Fairies

Founded by Amy Zaslansky, The Book Fairies began in Long Island, New York, as an organization accepting new and used books that are donated to libraries and schools that lack funding for educational resources for children.

Developed in 2012, The Book Fairies has donated more than 130,000 books to 25 school districts and 100 organizations across New York. Now, the organization has expanded globally, donating over two million books to date.

Partnered with US-Africa Children’s Fellowship (ACF), a nonprofit that gives supplies to impoverished schools in Africa and refugees in Jordan, The Book Fairies provided 80,000 books in 2017 to ACF. Approximately, this figure accounted for 50% of ACF’s shipped donated books that year. Every year, the organization ships thousands of books to Africa.

The Book Fairies advance learning and literacy in underdeveloped global nations such as Africa, India, China, South America and the Caribbean Islands. Even with COVID-19, students in poor communities in the U.S. and abroad still have access to books due to the organization’s efforts.

Other Book Fairies Hiding Books Globally

The influence of this organization has spread. In 2017, a similar reading organization launched in Europe, also known as The Book Fairies. To be a book fairy, a person chooses a book that they have read and enjoyed, they then put an official book fairy sticker on it that reads “take this book, read it and leave it for the next person to enjoy.” Then, the book is hidden in public for someone else to find and read. This little tradition has expanded to almost 9,000 people sharing books in over 100 countries.

Actress Emma Watson is a notable book fairy. After starring in the 2019 film “Little Women”, the actress launched a Little Women campaign. A whole 2,000 copies of the book were hidden around the world, with a handwritten note from Watson herself that promotes The Book Fairies’ organization.

Alleviating Illiteracy and Poverty Through Books

The main missions of book organizations such as those above are to end the cycle of poverty by improving literacy. The Book Fairies advance learning by providing books of all kinds to poor communities and countries and give children a fighting chance to take themselves out of poverty.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in LiberiaExtreme poverty is a persistent challenge in the West African Nation of Liberia, where people continue to feel the after-effects of a 14-year civil war and the 2014 Ebola epidemic. The World Bank estimates that 54% of Liberians live on less than $2 per day and 59% of eligible children attend school. Despite these realities, the future has promise: the growing Liberian Youth Orchestra (LYO) is working tirelessly to empower children and to target poverty in this country.

The History of LYO

In 2018, Julie McGhee, a musician from Canton, MI, formed the Liberian Youth Orchestra (LYO) string program. The program runs at Heart of Grace School, in Lower Johnsonville, just outside Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. McGhee recalls that she had traveled to Liberia on three prior mission trips before she visited any schools. When she visited Heart of Grace School in 2016, she discovered there were no developed music programs. McGhee states, “Some schools had choirs, but that really was the extent of music education in Liberia.”

The path to securing the LYO was quite difficult, requiring took two years of planning, securing donations, and overcoming major obstacles. For example, Liberian customs held LYO’s donated string instruments in customs for five months, delaying the start of the program. As a last resort, McGhee emailed Dr. Jewel Howard-Taylor, a senator who would eventually become Liberia’s vice president. Dr. Howard-Taylor was able to free the trapped shipment from customs, and in November 2018, the LYO officially launched. McGhee traveled to Liberia again and spent six weeks conducting a string orchestra camp at Heart of Grace School. She has continued LYO’s impact by regularly teaching lessons via video call from her home in Michigan, as well as intermittently traveling to Liberia. Meanwhile, McGhee’s teaching assistant, a young Liberian man named McGill Kowula, handles on-the-ground operations.

LYO’S Impact on Children

LYO has quickly become a source of pride in the community, as involvement in the orchestra is helping children learn to read. Literacy is a requirement to enter the LYO, motivating children to study and to work hard to enter the program. In 2020, 12 prospective orchestra members learned to read and obtained acceptance into LYO.

Several of LYO’s 43 string students have experienced other dramatic academic successes after becoming members of LYO, McGhee said. One such student was Mary, who began formal education in 2016 at the age of 11 but failed her first year. She transferred to Heart of Grace School in 2017, where she began playing in the LYO the following year. After involvement in the orchestra, Mary not only became a better student but jumped two grade levels. McGhee interviewed each student at the beginning of the string program and again a year after it started. According to McGhee, “I noticed that by the second interview, Mary told her story in a completely different way. She said, ‘I played my violin in front of the president, and that’s something no one in my family has ever done.’

LYO Needs Sustained Support to End Poverty in Liberia

State schools in Liberia are available at no cost, but many families prefer private schools. Unfortunately, 25% of young Liberian children report sexual abuse by a staff member. Private schools are often thought to be safer. However, the high rate of poverty in Liberia means that many families may struggle to afford private school fees, which are equivalent to about $100 per year. As a result, LYO students often receive sponsorship to stay in school, which may come through private donations or through other means. For example, the Jewels Starfish Foundation (JSF) is a female empowerment organization, run by Vice President Howard-Taylor, that sponsors education for girls grades 7-12. JSF currently pays tuition for 11 girls at Heart of Grace School.

Though McGhee is hopeful that she will be able to start a youth orchestra at another school in Liberia, LYO needs $44 per month per student to cover operational fees, and the current chapter of the orchestra has not received enough funding for the 2020/2021 school year. According to McGhee, LYO can benefit greatly from sustained monthly giving, though any financial gift is appreciated. Donations large and small will help LYO to continue its work and to reduce poverty in Liberia.

– Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

Create Sustainable Change
A new resource center in Jua Kali, Kenya is using the community to maximize its impact and create sustainable change. It is working with government and school officials to provide free, life-enrichment services not previously available to locals.

Although Kenya boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, 36.1% of Kenyans live below the national poverty line, according to the latest report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The Leo Project targets Kenyans aiming to empower marginalized communities.

But how does one accurately identify what a community needs to empower itself and create sustainable change? The team at The Leo Project has come up with a simple solution: just ask. By working with community leaders, schools and locals, The Leo Project has created a model of community-driven, positive social change centered on the idea that Kenyans know best what Kenyans need to create sustainable change.

The Leo Project

Jessica Danforth, executive director of The Leo Project, founded the organization in honor of her best friend Caitlin O’Hara who died of cystic fibrosis in 2016. The mission of the project is to move beyond the limits of a traditional classroom. Moreover, it intends to provide supportive services and create opportunities not traditionally available to vulnerable populations in Nanyuki, Kenya.

Schooling in Kenya is highly focused on students passing two standardized examinations that determine whether they can progress to the next level of education. As such, formal classroom settings tend to only offer subjects or activities pertaining to standardized exams. To address this issue, The Leo Project partnered with two local primary schools to teach students computer skills, digital literacy, coding, music and art. It also worked to provide them with tutoring, a library, counseling and mindfulness services.

“I think part of the reason that we opened the project is to open kids’ eyes to different opportunities that there are available for them,” Danforth said in an interview with The Borgen Project.

Danforth explained that children in Kenya often want to become lawyers, doctors or accountants because they do not have exposure to the alternatives. Part of the mission of The Leo Project is to give them exposure to opportunities in fields such as graphic design, art, coding or therapy.

Creating Sustainable Change Through Community Participation

Since the resource center’s opening in January 2020, The Leo Project’s mission and services have evolved based on conversations with community leaders and members, resting on the idea that Kenyans know what Kenyans need. The Leo Project uses these conversations to both confirm that Kenyans need the services it plans to offer and to discover new areas to dive into.

During pre-opening meetings, heads of schools expressed the need for literacy classes, because parents would come to them unable to read their child’s report card, Danforth said. The Leo Project’s numeracy and literacy classes emerged from this conversation.

Mental Health Services

According to government statistics, around 11.5 million Kenyans have suffered from a mental illness at least once in their lives, but cultural stigmas surrounding mental health prevent people from seeking help and create a lack of qualified professionals who can provide treatment. In Kenya, there are only 88 psychiatrists and 427 psychiatrist nurses trained in the mental health field. As a result, when Danforth and the team approached community leaders and heads of schools about the mental health services they planned to offer, leaders jumped at the idea.

Engaging the Community

“Spending time with the community and actually getting them very involved and hiring people from the local community and not trying to impart our beliefs or our views as an American, I think, is really important,” Danforth said.

Additionally, Danforth explained that the fact that The Leo Project is not a school or government entity has allowed it the freedom to pilot programs, react to real-time feedback and adapt as necessary without the hindrance of bureaucratic red tape.

“We’re hoping that The Leo Project becomes a place where the community can sort of unite as a whole,” Danforth said, “and we’re hoping to educate as many people as possible.” To reach more people, Danforth hopes to replicate this model across Kenya with the first step being to conduct more fieldwork and data analysis in other communities to better understand their needs, noting that every community is different.

The Leo Project currently partners with the Africa Yoga Project, Daraja Academy, Flying Kites and Education for All Children is looking to expand its partner base. The creation of sustainable change in a community is a large-scale project. The more people and partners working on a project, the broader the knowledge-base that shapes that change and the more effective it becomes. As a result, the goal is to partner with as many organizations as possible and, by doing so, make The Leo Project more sustainable in the long run, Danforth said.

The COVID-19 Shift

The Leo Project is located just outside Nanyuki, Kenya and was serving around 4,000 beneficiaries until the coronavirus pandemic hit. Despite having closed its doors in March 2020, The Leo Project has transitioned to providing relief services to its community and those farther away.

Other educational organizations in Kenya have made a similar shift in activities in response to the pandemic. Danforth and The Leo Project team have been in contact with partner organizations to discuss both strategies for aid and best practices in this new environment, applying the project’s pre-pandemic model of communication to ensure a positive impact and basing pandemic-time services on community need.

Danforth explained to The Borgen Project that people had issues getting incorrect information about COVID-19 in Kenya from social media platforms. In an effort to combat this, The Leo Project created an online learning platform where Kenyans can access factual information about the virus. Through this platform, the center has also continued its adult literacy and numeracy, financial literacy and computer classes.

How The Leo Project Inspires Other NGOs

The organization has had a number of other NGOs reach out about using the model for their own projects post-COVID-19, Danforth said. With the help of chiefs, community leaders, government officials and locals, The Leo Project has been distributing two-month supplies of food to the most vulnerable families in the surrounding communities. As of Aug. 18, 2020, The Leo Project reached over 1,000 families and plans to continue this until January 2021 when Kenya has scheduled the reopening of schools.

When the pandemic hit, The Leo Project also hired local women to make masks for distribution and built hand-washing stations throughout Jua Kali and in surrounding communities.

The organization’s model of community participation to create sustainable change has driven its efforts during the pandemic, as it has worked with local leaders, community members and partner organizations to aid Kenyans through the crisis.

– Olivia du Bois
Photo: Jessica Danforth of The Leo Project

Data Literacy
Since 2015, Nepal has been on the rise from a period of political turmoil. The country faced social unrest, economic instability and a shift to a three-tiered government. After a difficult transition, Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2015 and held elections for government members. These democratic changes brought Nepal some peace as well as hope for a better and more consistent future. One key element of a Nepali future hinges on data literacy.

Nepal’s new government aims to achieve the status of a middle-income country by 2030. To achieve this goal, it is imperative that all members of society are able to access and properly use data. Citizens need to have data literacy to inform decision-making, create developmental opportunities and much more.

What is the Power of Open Data?

Prioritizing the collection and making official statistics accessible to the population is essential in boosting policymaking and delivering public services. Professionals possessing data literacy can use data to change these systems in evidence-based ways that better serve the population. For example, education or sanitation fields can improve with a greater understanding of how they currently function within the country. If Nepal wants to transition to a middle-income country by 2030, data collection and analytics will be essential to making evidence-based fiscal decisions.

The public in Nepal has had access to government data since 2007. However, reports state a limited public understanding of how to request such information. There is also a widespread “culture of secrecy” in regard to public data. Another barrier to accessing open data is internet speed and access to an internet connection in private households.

What is Nepal Doing to Encourage Data Literacy?

Nepal launched the Open Data Awareness Program in 2017. It aims to bring awareness to Nepali youth about data literacy, as these youth are the future generation of leaders and policymakers for the country. The program strived to raise awareness through training sessions at colleges and youth organizations. The program then culminated in a hackathon event where youth from all over Nepal collaborated in data-oriented problem-solving.

In 2019, the World Bank worked with Nepal to create a 100-hour Data Literacy Program. The first phase of the program involved 40-hour in-person training on data literacy. During the second phase, program participants trained people in their community using the information learned in the first phase. The third phase was another in-person training, this time 60 hours, involving participants from various diverse Nepali organizations. This training also covered data literacy topics such as python, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Later that year, the World Bank, Asia Foundation and UKAID collaborated to organize a two-day Solve-a-thon at the Kathmandu University School of Management. This event provided a platform for professionals with backgrounds in programming, research, development and data science to collaborate on data projects to further development in Nepal. These participants worked in teams on different projects that tackled issues such as air pollution, gender equality and tourism. The program held open debates on complex issues and how to use data to find efficient and effective solutions. Youth and professionals were able to come up with interesting prototypes from the Solve-a-thon. Two creations were a chatbot that tracks Nepal’s air quality and a dashboard that monitors tourist flow.

Data Literacy During the Pandemic and Beyond

In most recent news, the Nepal Data Literacy Community on Facebook that emerged from the Data Literacy Programs in 2019, decided to tackle COVID-19, by providing the correct information using open data as its resource. The community came up with initiatives to inform the population as well as collect and spread COVID-19 crisis management information. Its initiatives aim to remove language barriers on information, investigate the relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, make data on COVID-19 publicly available and analyze global media trends around divisive pandemic narratives.

Other initiatives have also come together to launch Open Nepal, a community knowledge hub. The group produces, shares and uses data to further development in Nepal. The site is a diverse platform for organizations and individuals to share their experiences and bridge the gap in data literacy. Open Nepal involves the public and private sectors to make sure no one is left behind in the fight for Nepali development.

Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr

Schooling During COVID-19As COVID-19 started spreading, schools around the world shut down. For countries with already poor schooling systems and low literacy rates, the pandemic created even more challenges. The world’s most illiterate countries are South Sudan with a 73% illiteracy rate, Afghanistan with a 71.9% illiteracy rate, Burkina Faso with a 71.3% illiteracy rate and Niger with a 71.3% illiteracy rate. Schooling during COVID-19 has only increased the struggles these countries face as they try to promote literacy.

Literacy is an important aspect of reducing world poverty, as countries with the lowest levels of literacy are also the poorest. This is because poverty often forces children to drop out of school in order to support their families. Since those children did not get an education, they will not be able to get a high-paying job, which requires literacy. Thus, a lack of education keeps people in poverty. If countries with low literacy rates make schooling harder to access due to COVID-19, the illiteracy rate will increase, and the cycle will continue. Below are the ways that the four least literate countries are continuing schooling during COVID-19.

South Sudan

After almost a decade of fighting due to the South Sudanese Civil War, literacy rates are already low in South Sudan, as the war inhibited access to education. The government-imposed curfew in response to COVID-19 forced children to stay home. This especially challenges girls, whose families expect them to pick up housework at home due to gender norms. The government provided school over the radio or television as a virtual alternative to schooling during COVID-19. However, impoverished children who lack access to electricity, television and radio have no other option. This lack of access to education for poor Sudanese children will further decrease literacy rates. As a result, children may be at risk of early marriage, pregnancy or entrance into the workforce.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, there was already a war going on when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, creating a barrier to education. In 2019 alone, 200,000 students stopped attending school. COVID-19 has the potential to make this problem worse. Importantly, Afghanistan’s schooling crisis affects girls the most; by upper school, only 36% of students are girls. Further, 35% of Afghan girls are forced into child marriages, and not being in school makes them three times as likely to be married under 18. If they do not finish school, there is a high chance they will never become literate.

COVID-19 may exacerbate girls’ lack of access to school. When schools shut down, the schooling system in Afghanistan moved online in order to continue schooling during COVID-19. But only 14% of Afghans have access to the internet due to poverty. Since many parents are not literate, they cannot help their children with school. School shutdowns may also decrease future school attendance, especially for girls. As such, COVID-19 will perpetuate illiteracy in Afghanistan, with many children missing out on school due to poverty.

Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, school shutdowns have put children at risk of violence. Jihadist violence, tied to Islamic militants, has increased in the country. Violence forces children out of school, with many receiving threats, thus decreasing the literacy rate. Though school was a safe space for children, COVID-19 is making this situation worse.

As an alternative for schooling during COVID-19, Burkina Faso has broadcasted lessons on the radio and TV. However, many students do not have access to these technologies. Even if they do, staying at home does not protect them from violence, which could prevent them from going to school. In Burkina Faso, many children also travel to big cities to go to school. But without their parents being able to help them economically, many are now forced to get jobs, entering the workforce early. This lowers the number of children in school as well as the country’s literacy rate.

Niger

In Niger, 1.2 million children lost access to schooling during COVID-19, lacking even a television or radio alternative. Schools have since reopened, but children still feel the impacts of this shutdown. Before COVID-19, at the start of 2020, more than two million children were not in school due to financial insecurity, early marriage or entrance into the workforce. COVID-19 forced many children to give up schooling forever, as they had to marry or begin work and fell behind in school. As a result, this lowered the country’s literacy rate.

Improving Literacy Rates During COVID-19

While COVID-19 did prevent many children from accessing the education they need, many organizations are working to help them meet this challenge. One of these organizations is Save the Children. It is dedicated to creating reliable distance learning for displaced students, support for students and a safe environment for students to learn.

COVID-19 has left many students without access to education, jeopardizing the future for many. In the countries with the highest illiteracy rates, a lower percentage of children with access to education means a lower percentage of the population that will be literate. Improving literacy rates is key reducing poverty, as it allows people to work in specialized jobs that require a higher education, which then leads to higher salaries. If literacy rates drop, poverty will only continue to increase. This makes the work of organizations like Save the Children crucial during the ongoing pandemic.

Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr

SDG 4 in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has made progress in reaching SDG 4 in the Dominican Republic. To reach this goal, the country aims to achieve inclusive and equal lifelong learning for all in Quisqueya, a nickname for the small Caribbean nation.

The Situation

The Sustainable Development Goals’ site claims that the rate of net primary enrollment is going up with 92.7% of kids attending primary school. However, that rate has been falling since 2015 when it was 93.5%. The country’s education system includes three sections, much like the ones in the U.S.: Pre-school (Nivel inicial), Primary School (Nivel basico) and Secondary School (Nivel medio). For pre-school, only the final year is mandatory for children. Meanwhile, primary school is compulsory for all the kids. However, while the country legally mandates it, schools and authorities do not enforce attendance.

Baseball and Education in the Dominican Republic

In New York City, the Truancy division of the NYPD seeks kids who skip school. The Dominican Republic has no such system in place. Baseball is a big part of Dominican culture and many see it as the only way to get away from the island and onto a better life.

The MLB has a major recruitment presence in the country and many boys leave their schooling to train with MLB recruiters in hopes of reaching the major leagues. However, very few of those kids ever make it to the MLB and do not garner a proper education to carry them through life. Even those boys who are fortunate enough to make it to the MLB end up with limited education and have very little resources to establish a second career after retirement or injury.

In his paper “Children Left Behind: The Effect of Major League Baseball on Education in the Dominican Republic,” Adam Wasch proposes two solutions for this problem. The first is for the MLB to establish an international draft with the same education standard as the American draft so that the international recruits must have at least up to high school education. The other solution is for the MLB to create a Child Labor Corporate Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct would denounce the use of child labor and rearrange the recruitment and training program so that it would not interfere with the children’s education.

Improvements in School Attendance and Literacy

Fortunately, the country’s lower secondary completion rate has been steadily increasing for the better part of the last decade, which bodes well for SDG 4 in the Dominican Republic. Since 2013, when the rate sat at 77.92%, it increased to 89.34% in 2018. This means that more kids are completing at least a Primary School education than ever before. Education has taken more of a focus in the Dominican Republic. In 2016, the literacy rate for youth (15-24 yrs old) was 98.8%, which is a 5.1% difference from the adult percentage where 93.7% of the adult population is literate. Both demographics have been steadily improving throughout the last decade, meaning that not only are kids receiving a better education, the adults are also seeking out improved education.

Poverty in the Dominican Republic

Poverty in the Dominican Republic is on a decline. In 2015, it was 21.70% and decreased three years later to 13.80%. The undernourished population of the country has also reduced. In the one-year span of 2017-2018, the poverty rate decreased by 0.9%. According to the Medina Administration, from 2012-2019, 1.5 million Dominicans left poverty and 650,000 Dominicans left extreme poverty. The middle class jumped from 22.6% to 30% in the same time span. The Administration also claimed that it created 823,389 jobs in those seven years.

The Dominican Ministry of Education receives up to 22.6% of the Dominican Republic’s budget spending, making it a priority of the Dominican Republic’s government in the last few years. In the budget that received approval for the year 2020, the government assigned the Education Ministry more than RD$194,523 million. The state must spend 4% of the GDP on pre-university education.

As the new ruling political party, the Modern Revolutionary Party, settles in, the international stage is looking to the new party to see how it will continue the upward trend of education in a country that has historically struggled with providing proper education to all its citizens. Hopefully, it will continue to help the country on its path to reaching SDG 4 in the Dominican Republic.

– Pedro Vega
Photo: Flickr