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

Mobile Library
Their love for each other and the endangered lemur species led Shana and Vlad Vassilieva to Madagascar for their honeymoon. However, engaging in rich cultural exchanges and exploring Madagascar beyond its designated tourist zones left the Vassilievas with an admiration for Malagasy people and culture, beyond anticipation. Their respect for Malagasy culture helped the Vassilievas discover the mass poverty that Malagasy endure. With the desire to help alleviate poverty in Madagascar, the Vassilievas founded a mobile library system in partnership with an NGO called Zara Aina. It aims to tackle poverty through educational empowerment.

Poverty and Education

Access to education is a guarantor of poverty alleviation. Studies have proven that educational empowerment and opportunities protect individuals from socio-economic vulnerabilities. Education also equips individuals with essential skills that increase employment opportunities, along with the likelihood of attaining sound employment. With just essential reading and writing skills alone, an estimated 171 million people could escape poverty.

Poverty in Madagascar

In 2019, nearly 75% of the Malagasy population were living below the international poverty level. The country’s economy is mainly dependent on agricultural production. However, constant locust invasions and severe droughts, among other things, result in low economic productivity. This leads to inadequate food production for the country—nearly half of the Malagasy population under 18 suffering from severe malnutrition.

Additionally, according to UNICEF, two out of every three Malagasy children do not complete primary school. Just 17% of students reach minimum reading standards by the end of their primary education. Also, only 20% reach minimum mathematics standards.

The Madagascar Mobile Library Project

Upon recognizing the correlation between educational empowerment and poverty alleviation, Shana and Vlad Vassilieva founded the Madagascar Mobile Library Project. It promotes literacy-based skills to help the population escape poverty.

Each month the mobile library travels to four villages for two days, in coordination with schools. It improves literacy, community health, livelihood and protection of the environment. The program provides educational resources, including books, reading lessons, agricultural documents, workshops, community events and literacy materials to Malagasy communities. Both children and adults can borrow books from the mobile library and receive rewarding incentives such as new clothing for completing books. The program also hosts relevant group discussions and workshops, focusing on environmental issues, acceptable health practices, literacy lessons, events related to UNICEF and much more.

Furthermore, the founders of the program have also begun a seed sharing system in which people receive seeds from the library, plant the seeds and harvest them. Afterward, those people return some seeds, which will then be distributed to others, creating a sustainable cycle. This encourages agricultural practices and provides a source of nutrition for many.

The Path Ahead

Overall, the Madagascar Mobile Library project has made tremendous progress since its founding in 2015. At that time, the library had just one van able to distribute just a small amount of books to villagers. Today the program has two vans, reaches many more people and offers a wider variety of books and resources. The program’s seed sharing program has also done tremendously well as it provides a source of nutrition for children in schools. Many of these trees are ananambo trees that offer medicinal value and valuable nutrition. The Madagascar Mobile Library Project’s goals demonstrate a unique but simple solution that can be implemented in many other places in the world in efforts to eliminate poverty.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

literacy rate in mozambiqueBefore 1975, the education system in Mozambique was selective and disproportionally catered to the Portuguese populations. Churches owned private schools to serve the upper-class Portuguese. The only schools available for Mozambique natives were missionary schools. This system discriminated against Mozambique natives and led to some disastrous results. In particular, many Mozambique natives attended a school that taught inefficiently because the missionary schools had low budgets. Some teachers did not show up, and schools did not provide enough textbooks; if they did, they were outdated. This combination created antiquated learning curriculums with no standardization or structure. When Mozambique declared its independence from Portugal, the National System of Education (SNE) was created to run standardized education for all populations in Mozambique. Over time, the literacy rate in Mozambique has increased, a change that can be attributed to the SNE as well as other important initiatives.

The Current Education System

Mozambique law requires that all citizens attend school through the primary levels, grades one to six. After grade seven, the law requires students to take a national exam in order to qualify for entrance into secondary school, which runs from grades eight to 10. After secondary school, the majority of students either return to their parents’ subsistence farms, gain employment as teachers or are unemployed due to limited space in universities.

However, Mozambique’s primary school population more than tripled from 1995 to 2005, going from 1.3 million to 3.8 million. The number of unenrolled children in primary school accordingly decreased from roughly 470,000 in 2010 to 354,000 in 2018. Meanwhile, the gross enrollment ratio for students in secondary school has steadily increased, going from roughly 25% in 2010 to 35% in 2017. The gross enrollment ratio for students in university (tertiary) education has increased slowly from roughly 4.5% in 2010 to 7% in 2018. The end result of these numbers naturally increased the literacy rate in Mozambique. For example, the literacy rate in Mozambique among those 15 or older has increased from 25% in 1980 to 60% in 2018.

Increasing the Literacy Rate in Mozambique

The Ministry of Education initiated a new program to decentralize curriculum development and monitoring so that only 20% of the national curriculum would be allocated for “local” curricula. These local curricula would teach students specific skills or techniques they may need in their particular region or district. Importantly, the initiative has led to the increased enrollment of students as well as an increased literacy rate in Mozambique.

The Mozambique government has also made great strides to increase access and efficiency of the education system. It has taken away school fees and invested in creating more schools while providing more resources for students at the primary level. The education secretary now receives almost 15% of the state budget, which has significantly helped push for an increased enrollment rate and literacy rate in Mozambique.

The 2012–2019 Education Strategic Plan and the 2015–2018 Primary Education Operational Plan focused on two areas to improve upon: quality and access to education. The government wanted to focus on pre-primary and primary education so that students receive a solid foundation for learning. This would increase the population’s and future generations’ literacy rate. To accomplish this, the government has cited the following priorities: promote increased access to early learning and school readiness, improve quality of primary education, promote increased access for vulnerable children, retain adolescent girls and create efficient capacity building for better planning, management and monitoring at the national, sub-national and local levels.

International Aid and Assistance

World Education is an organization that creates programs to help improve education in countries all over the world. It has contributed significantly to the Ministry of Education’s planning for increased literacy rates within the country. In particular, World Education has helped implement the Early Grade Reading Project. This project would train more teachers in creating instruction materials, evaluating students and understanding reading improvement. World Education has also introduced the Let’s Read program to Mozambique. This program helps develop students’ skills in writing and reading in the local language. It also improves their speaking and listening skills in Portuguese.

The World Bank has also provided significant funds and assistance for the increased literacy rate in Mozambique. In 2015, the World Bank approved more than $107.9 million to support quality, access and equity of education. Some of the activities these funds help to support include improving school readiness through early childhood development programs, implementing curriculum reform, adding more teacher-training, enhancing local and state governance in curriculum creation and focusing on resources for more vulnerable students.

What Is the United States Doing?

The United States has recently allocated $15 million to the Mozambique Ministry of Education during the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds will help set up a crisis management team; provide distance learning programs through technology; enforce psycho-social support for children experiencing distress, anxiety or trauma; re-stock textbooks when school re-opens and adjust classes  for students who are falling behind or have special education needs.

Final Takeaway

The Mozambique government has persevered in improving its literacy curriculum, increasing access to education and resourcing schools. The literacy rate in Mozambique has steadily increased since 1980 as a result. Importantly, this increased literacy rate will continue to serve the Mozambique people as they work to further improve education.

Aria Ma
Photo: Flickr

female education In India
Around the world, school years often begin with back-to-school shopping. Students buy new notebooks and fresh pencils, but what about motor scooters? New scooters just might be on the shopping list in India. In Assam, a state in northeastern India, the government has started a new program to incentivize female education. This program provides scooters to school-age girls, promoting female education in India through safer transportation.

Female Education and Literacy in India

In recent years, rates of female education in India have increased. More than 10% of young women from 11-14 did not attend school in 2006. However, this number dropped to 4.1% by 2018. However, the dropout rate for women remains unusually high. Save the Children, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting for children’s needs, found that around 70% of girls in India will drop out of school. Higher dropout rates among young women cause disproportionate literacy rates. Approximately 65% of Indian women are literate in contrast to 82% of men. The gap in literacy rates is even higher in rural areas than in urban areas. As of 2011, around 50% of females in rural areas are educated compared to 74.1% of men. In urban areas, 88.3% of men are literate in comparison to 76.9% of females.

The Culprit: Unsafe Transportation

A former sarpanch (elected head of a village government in India), Savita Parmar, told the Times of India that the reason for this distinction might be a lack of access to secondary schools in rural areas. In particular, a lack of safe transportation might caution parents against sending their daughters to study far away from home. One of the most significant barriers to education that women face is hassle-free transport to school. The Thomson Reuters Foundation conducted a poll to determine the worst countries for women to use public transport in 2014. India ranked quite high as the fourth most unsafe country.

Scooters to Keep Girls in School

Assam’s new policy aims to mitigate this problem and increase rates of female education in India. Education Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya explained to the Thomson Reuters Foundation that “this will help many girl students to have hassle-free transportation to their respective colleges.” For girls that score the highest on their final exams, the government will reward them with a brand new scooter. The top 22,000 female students that score 60% or higher will be rewarded sometime in mid-October 2020.

Everyone Benefits from Female Education

The lack of safe transport options for women in India highlights the importance of Assam’s new policy. By providing scooters, not only is the government incentivizing girls to stay in school and rewarding them for academic achievement, but it is also providing a way for girls to continue their secondary education. By fighting for female education in India, Assam is working towards creating a better society for girls and women in India. Better-educated women are able to make more informed choices and earn higher levels of income, and they are equipped with better family planning skills, all of which can elevate their respective households and communities. Higher literacy rates can also boost the economy. According to Bloomberg, higher rates of female literacy can “yield a growth premium in GDP.”

There are still barriers preventing universal female education in India. However, with innovative solutions like Assam’s, India has the potential to empower its young women and ensure their equal access to education. A new scooter today could mean better literacy rates tomorrow.

Anushka Somani
Photo: Flickr

internet access
In sub-Saharan Africa, more people own a mobile phone than have access to electricity. About 41% of sub-Saharan Africans use the internet and 33% own a smartphone. Importantly, these numbers are on the rise. The region’s internet access has greatly expanded in recent years, especially in rural areas. This, in turn, allows for more people to use digital services such as online education and telemedicine. Widespread access to these key services benefits rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa by promoting socioeconomic development. All of these benefits, made possible through internet access in sub-Saharan Africa.

Expanding Access to Telemedicine

Rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa typically have fewer health resources and doctors readily available. Moreover, people may need to travel long distances to reach the nearest hospitals. The region holds 13% of the world’s population, but only 2% of the world’s doctors. With mobile devices and reliable internet access, people can access basic healthcare regardless of their geographical location. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 41% of respondents in sub-Saharan Africa “use the internet to access information about health and medicine.”

By facilitating telemedicine systems, internet connectivity can improve the quality of care in community health centers and reduce patients’ transport times and medical costs. For example, the Novartis Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on projects that improve health, launched a telemedicine system in Ghana in 2011. This system allows frontline health workers to connect with medical specialists across the country. Available 24/7, doctors and specialists at teleconsultation centers provide advice for treatments and help manage emergency cases.

Increasing Literacy Through Online Education

According to the Pew Research Center, the large majority of surveyed sub-Saharan Africans believe that “the increasing use of the internet has had a good influence on education in their country.” As internet access has increased dramatically in recent years, digital learning has become a more promising opportunity to improve literacy rates in the region. Also, because more people own smartphones, online learning resources are more widely available and ubiquitous.

Digital learning is a more cost-effective way to increase access to education, which will directly benefit impoverished communities. Educated people are more likely to be employed, earn a higher income, participate in politics and ensure that their children are also educated. Therefore, increased access to education can lift individuals and communities out of poverty — having a lasting, positive impact on the sub-Saharan region as a whole.

Looking Ahead

Numerous governments, telecommunications providers, nonprofit organizations and private companies have invested in sub-Saharan Africa’s internet connectivity in the last decade. Telecom providers have expanded internet connectivity by selling and distributing solar off-grid kits to individuals. This, in turn, also helps to promote renewable energy in the region. In May 2020, Facebook, along with African and global telecom partners, announced plans to build 37,000 kilometers of subsea cable infrastructure. This project, called 2Africa, will create a direct high-speed internet connection between 16 African countries, Europe and the Middle East.

Overall, as internet access expands across sub-Saharan Africa, more people will be able to access digital services with extensive socioeconomic benefits. Telemedicine and online education are accessible only to those with a reliable internet connection. However, these benefits can have a massive impact on health, literacy and poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa — especially in rural communities.

Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr

poverty in Ethiopia
There have been both strides and setbacks in recent years in the process of decreasing poverty in Ethiopia. Poverty in the region has been steadily falling. Several factors, including increased agriculture and a decreasing fertility rate, are responsible for this decline. However, the developing nation needs to do much more to stay on track.

The poverty rate in Ethiopia has been on a steady decline for the last 10 years. As a result, the country’s health and quality of life have been improving. The World Bank reported that the national poverty rate decreased from 29.6% to 23.5% between 2011 and 2016. Here is a breakdown of what is decreasing poverty in Ethiopia. 

The Agricultural Factor

One of the main ways that Ethiopia has improved its poverty rate is through increased agricultural activities, which are the backbone of its economy. Data from 2018 shows that the majority of the population, approximately 80%, live in rural areas. Additionally, the World Bank estimated that in 2018, approximately 67% of employment was in agriculture. For Ethiopians, agriculture is a vital part of their income. As a result, one of the most effective ways of targeting poverty in Ethiopia is stimulating the agricultural industry. 

The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency has been identifying and remedying obstacles in Ethiopia’s agricultural industry since 2010. According to the ATA’s website, it operates “in order to provide a platform to address the most critical systemic bottlenecks constraining fulfillment of agriculture sector goals and targets identified by the government.”

Another project that is positively impacting Ethiopia’s agricultural industry is the Second Agricultural Growth Project. This project began in 2015 and aids in commercializing and increasing agricultural production.

All of this work has been paying off. According to a report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Ethiopia’s total agricultural output in 2013/14 had risen an impressive 124% since 2004/5. With agriculture playing such a large role in Ethiopia’s economy, a continued focus on expanding and commercializing this sector of the economy should continue to help eradicate poverty in the country.

The Fertility Rate Factor

Another factor affecting Ethiopia’s poverty rates is a decrease in the fertility rate. The fertility rate is a measure of the average number of children per woman. In Ethiopia, the fertility rate has fallen from approximately 6.5 children in 2000 to 4.2 children in 2018. Fertility rates often correlate with poverty because the birth of fewer children results in a smaller drain on the nation’s resources. Countries with lower fertility rates can often offer better resources to citizens because more resources are available to each child.

Setbacks

While the nation is working towards overcoming poverty, it still plagues daily life in many ways. One particular effect of poverty on public health is a lack of resources for maintaining hygiene, which is particularly vital in the era of COVID-19. A lack of running water in the country has led a chunk of the population, around 22%, to practice open defecation. This practice has many health risks for the Ethiopian public, as it often leads to people coming into contact with fecal pathogens.

Another hygiene-related issue tied to poverty in Ethiopia is a lack of running water to wash hands. In Ethiopia, approximately 30% of the population is without a facility in which they can practice basic hand washing. During the era of COVID-19, hand washing is more important than ever, and this lack of washing facilities could be detrimental to the country.

Steps Forward

The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Project at World Vision Ethiopia has made great strides in providing clean drinking water and sanitation to Ethiopia. WVE’s project “principally aims to reach children and families with a holistic suite of WASH interventions.”

WVE has made a big difference since it started the WASH project in 2011. Between 2011 and 2018, WVE successfully provided 2.4 million Ethiopians with dignified sanitation. In addition to this success, it was also able to make sure that 2.45 million Ethiopians are practicing good hygiene.

In addition to the WASH project, WVE also works to fight disease and sickness. The organization’s programs contribute to the health of more than 3.5 million vulnerable children in Ethiopia. Over the past 10 years, the organization has successfully built a hospital, 55 health centers, 257 health posts and 131 additional maternity blocks. The programs also renovated 11 outdated facilities and worked to provide the facilities with the necessary equipment.

WVE has also committed itself to combating illiteracy in Ethiopia, a necessity in any developing country. It offers a literacy program to children in Ethiopia, which is to help the children further their reading skills.

Over the past 10 years, there have been great steps forward towards decreasing poverty in Ethiopia. While these improvements are cause for celebration, it is also vital to address the poverty that still exists in the developing nation. All too often, people see progress as a sign that efforts are working and that they can simply maintain them or even cut them back. Ethiopia’s recent success is an encouraging sign, but one that needs to spur, not curtail further action.

– Sophia Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Literacy in TuvaluThe World Bank has awarded a grant to improve early childhood development and literacy in Tuvalu. The grant will help Tuvalu provide a better educational infrastructure for its citizens, while also preserving aspects of Tuvaluan culture. There are only 198 teachers on the island leading to a high ratio of pupils to teachers at 18:1. The scarcity of educators creates a disadvantage for students whose one-on-one time with teachers is crucial to their development.

Tuvalu’s Educational System

Tuvalu became independent from Britain in 1978; Tuvalu’s colonial past has greatly influenced the country’s modern society and culture. For instance, although both Tuvaluan and English are the official languages of Tuvalu, many schools only teach in English. The current system may cause the next generation to forget their native language. Consequently, some citizens worry the current educational system may lead to the disappearance of the Tuvaluan language altogether. 

The World Bank initiative will foster more teacher training and activities for children. Moreover, The Tuvalu Learning Project will aid communities in educating the population on the importance of health and physical activity in early childhood.

The Tuvalu Reading Program

The World Bank believes that early reading is critical to ensure a promising future and build a better society. This mission is addressed by the Tuvalu Reading Program, which teaches students to read in Tuvaluan. The curriculum introduces students to new reading material and relies on teacher-led lectures. The program exposes students to a robust curriculum and assesses them on what they have learned.

The Tuvalu Learning Project and Reading Program expand on existing initiatives, including the Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning Project (PEARL), which was initiated in 2014. The Tuvalu Reading Project enhances PEARL by focusing on Tuvaluan children and preserving their native language. 

Helping the Tuvaluan Community

The World Bank will direct additional funds toward increasing community access to education overall. For example, schools located in outer-island regions will recieve funding to increase their internet connectivity. Better internet in these areas will increase students’ access to valuable educational tools and improve their communication with teachers. Furthermore, The Tuvalu Learning Project also hopes to add more school activities that benefit students through the availability of technology. 

The World Banks’ contribution of $14 million is estimated to benefit 10 thousand people on the island. New job opportunities from the program will extend to teachers, community leaders, and the department of education.  In Tuvalu, 26.3% of people live below the poverty line. For this reason, the expanded education sector can create more opportunities, increase literacy in Tuvalu, and eventually raise the country’s overall standard of living. 

Sarah Litchney
Photo: Wikimedia

Literacy for Kids in South Africa
Consistently low reading scores among South African children can confirm one thing: the country is undoubtedly facing a reading crisis. In fact, eight out of 10 children in South Africa cannot read properly, and in the Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) study in 2016, South Africa ranked last out of 50 countries. While there has not been much improvement in literacy for kids in South Africa in the past, some people are stepping in and banding together to change that by making reading a priority.

The Reading Crisis

South Africa’s reading culture has been weak for many years. Literacy can transform lives, but unfortunately, a lot of students in South Africa are not succeeding in this skill. A scientific study revealed that 27 percent of children under 5 years old are not undergoing proper brain development. It is not uncommon for low-income public schools to overlook the importance of comprehensive reading. Moreover, the study showed that 78 percent of fourth-grade students that it tested could not read for meaning in any language. Many parents do not spend time reading to their children because they are not literate themselves. Another reason why South African children are not succeeding in literacy is that they do not get the opportunity to explore the world of stories due to a lack of quality books and resources. But what if stories could come to them?

 Meet the SSRS

The Schools Reading Road Show, better known as the SSRS, aims to make stories accessible to children. Founders Jann Weeratunga and Kim Hunter have organized a traveling group of authors to improve literacy for kids in South Africa. Interacting with local children’s authors can inspire children to read, and this is precisely the goal of the SSRS. Children’s authors, including Fatuma Abdullah, travel around the country visiting underprivileged schools and meeting with students. The children get to listen to the authors read their books, ask questions and even play with puppets that resemble characters from the books!

The SSRS’s hope is that meeting local authors will inspire children and motivate them to start their own reading journey, and maybe even begin writing their own stories. The members’ favorite part about the entire experience is getting to see the children’s eyes light up as they discover the excitement of reading.

The Future of Literacy for Kids in South Africa

This hands-on experience opens up a whole new realm of learning for the students. When the authors visit well-funded areas, they sell their books to students. They then use that money to purchase books for the under-resourced schools. With volunteer groups like the SSRS swooping in to improve literacy for kids in South Africa, the future is optimistic. An ignited curiosity for reading can both inspire and shape the future for many kids.

– Hadley West
Photo: Flickr

Literacy Rates in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, a landlocked country in south-central Asia, houses many different ethnic groups and extremely important trade routes. The country also has a longstanding history in literature, with poets such as Reza Mohammadi and Khaled Hosseini. Unfortunately, due to the spread of the Taliban regime and devastating wars, literacy rates in Afghanistan are among the lowest in the world at about 45 percent for men and 17 percent for women. In 2018, Idress Siyawash had the vision to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan with the implementation of his mobile bicycle libraries.

Mobile Bicycle Libraries

Read Books, or Ketab Lwast, is a program that Idress Siyawash started to provide books and learning experiences for children in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas. Siyawash is a student at Jahan University in Kabul, Afghanistan. Each week, he and his team travel to rural areas in Afghanistan to deliver books to children. They ride around town on bright blue bicycles with baskets full of books in order to excite the children and motivate them to learn. Then, they gather all the kids and teach them to read, write, speak and understand the importance of learning. Female volunteers travel from home to home working to encourage mothers and fathers to send their daughters to school. The female volunteers serve as models for parents who want a better, more equal life for their daughters.

Motives and Inspiration

Education rates in Afghanistan are significantly lower than those of other countries. For example, Afghanistan has an average literacy rate of 38 percent, while the international average is 84 percent. Education in rural areas is especially low. Gender inequality also affects education in Afghanistan, as many women do not have permission to attend schools, and in most provinces, the amount of female teachers is below 10 percent.

Siyawash had the determination to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan and also change Afghani attitudes regarding gender equality in terms of education. In an interview, Siyawash said, “Our idea is to show that reading is fun and explain why education is so important. If we give the children books, it might help end the way of thinking that is holding this country back.”

Obstacles and Solutions

One of the main obstacles to education in Afghanistan is distance. Some children, especially in rural areas, must walk for hours to reach their schools. For example, children in the Badakhshan province walk four hours each day to go and come back from the closest government-supported school. Siyawash’s bicycle idea tackles this obstacle effectively, bringing education straight to the children.

Another obstacle is the fear of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, especially among females. Unfortunately, Taliban members have confronted and threatened Siyawash and his team twice, but they continue to travel and provide services to children because they believe in a “different future for Afghanistan.”

Read Books has had success in its goal to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan. Over the span of just a few years, the literacy rate in Afghanistan grew from 38 percent in 2015 to 43 percent in 2018. Overall, the future of education in Afghanistan is looking brighter.

– Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Illiteracy in Nepal
Nepal is a country of Asia that lies along the southern side of the Himalayas. It is a landlocked nation with a territory of just 500 miles east to west. Nepal has long experienced isolation under a series of rulers who favored isolationist policies and remained closed off to the rest of the world up until the year 1905. Today, Nepal is a country between two superpowers, India and China. As a result of this extreme isolation, it has become one of the least developed nations in the world. This underdevelopment has also led to a heavily illiterate population. Here are seven interesting facts about illiteracy in Nepal.

7 Facts About Illiteracy in Nepal

  1. Illiteracy in Nepal: As recently as 2015, Nepal had an illiterate population of 6,784,566 people. Luckily this statistic has been on a steady decline of about 2 percent every year since 1991.
  2. Literacy in Nepal: Nepal’s literate population in 2015 was at 55 percent. Although this means that just under half the population is illiterate, it is still an extremely large increase from the 1950s, during which only 5 percent of the population was literate.
  3. Women: Only 49 percent of women in Nepal are literate. The average literacy rate for women in Nepal is 20 percent lower than men. This may be a result of fewer women completing a full education than men, a statistic that is slowly becoming more equal and challenging illiteracy in Nepal.
  4. World Vision: Thankfully, literacy rates in Nepal are rising. An organization called World Vision has been working to eliminate illiteracy in Nepal. World Vision has been training teachers in Nepal to use more engaging methods to get their students more interested in reading.
  5. Reading Camps: World Vision has also created reading camps outside of school, in addition to encouraging parents to nurture a reading friendly environment in their homes so students are more willing to read. In just two years, the children involved in the program were one and a half times better at reading than children who did not attend the program.
  6. Room to Read: Another organization, Room to Read, has created a Girls’ Education Program that has helped nearly 5,000 girls in Nepal since 2001 to read and write. Children in Nepali schools with Room to Read libraries have checked out, on average, more than 16 books per student. Room to Read has been a catalyst in helping many children to appreciate reading.
  7. Five-Year Initiative: In 2016, Room to Read launched a five year initiative with the government of Nepal, USAID and the research group RTI International to improve the country’s primary grade literacy programs greatly. This initiative has the goal of changing the lives of 1 million students in grades one to three in order to combat illiteracy in Nepal.

Illiteracy in Nepal is an issue that has significantly decreased due to the actions of these, and many other programs and initiatives, all with the goal of improving literacy rates in Nepal. If it were not for groups like Room to Read and World Vision, the people, and especially the children, would still be stuck in the darkness of illiteracy.

– William Mendez
Photo: Flickr