Improving Child LiteracyChild literacy is often taken for granted, but around the world, millions are growing up without the ability to read or write. What many do not realize is that literacy has a direct effect on poverty. According to a study conducted by the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization, there are links between illiteracy and higher unemployment. The study also found that illiterate adults are more susceptible to illnesses, exploitation, lower pay, and human rights abuses.

The inability to read or write is a self-perpetuating cycle because it traps illiterate communities in poverty without the tools to help themselves out. These conditions make illiterate communities more at risk of violence and conflict. In fact, 40 percent of illiterate children live in countries with active conflicts. The issue prompted the United Nations to launch the International Literacy Decade in 2003, which has taught around 90 million people to read and write. Despite this effort, there are still millions of vulnerable children around the world that need assistance to escape illiteracy and its negative consequences. There are many organizations dedicated to improving child literacy rates and these are just three NGOs working hard to bring education to the world.

3 NGOs Improving Child Literacy Across the Globe

  • Room to Read: Room to Read is an NGO founded in 1998 that began its work in Nepal. Room to Read’s vision is to improve literacy and access to literature in low-income communities, with a special focus on gender equality in education. The NGO has now spread all over Southeast Asia and Africa and has benefited around 16.6 million children worldwide. The NGO has distributed 24.1 million books, trained 15,285 librarians and teachers, and has partnered with 30,337 schools to implement its literacy program. In addition to the literacy program, Room to Read also has a specific program for girl’s education which aims to close the gender gap in classrooms of developing countries. Room to Read has received many commendations, most recently receiving a perfect “four stars” rating from Charity Navigator for the thirteenth year in a row.
  • World Literacy Foundation: The World Literacy Foundation was founded in 2003 with the guiding mission to provide books, tutoring and literacy tools to children in communities that otherwise would not have access to these resources. WLF began transporting books to Africa in 2005 and shortly after developed low-cost eBooks that could be distributed in local languages. In 2016 WLF designed and implemented “Sun Books”, which are solar powered tablets that bring educational books to classrooms in Uganda without electricity or the internet. In 2014, WLF ran the first World Literary Summit to increase cooperation with other literacy organizations. Since then, the summit has been held in 2016, 2018 and is scheduled again for 2020. So far, WLF has been active in more than 93 countries, has provided access to literacy resources to 250,101 children, and last year alone reached more than 350,000 children and adolescents.
  • Pratham: Pratham was founded in 1995 in Mumbai, India with the goal of having “every child in school and learning well.” Pratham is one of the largest NGOs in India, operating in 21 out of 29 Indian states and with volunteers in 300,000 Indian villages. Its mission is to improve literacy and the quality of education in India by supplementing government efforts and supporting teachers and parents. Pratham’s lead program, Read India, was launched in 2007 and has reached more than 30 million children. The program also provided training for around 61,000 teachers to improve literacy all across the country. Pratham has been a strong advocate for education reform to improve basic competencies like reading, writing, and arithmetic in Indian school children. Several state governments use Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Reports to plan yearly education programs. In 2013 Pratham was named one of the top 100 NGOs in The Global Journal for their pioneering work in primary and literacy education in India.

There are still 124 million children and adolescents that are not enrolled in school and one in four children in developing countries is illiterate. Tackling child and adult illiteracy is no easy task but it is NGOs like Room to Read, WLF and Pratham that are making big strides in closing the literacy gap. By providing training and resources to the neediest communities, these three NGOs provide disadvantaged children the fundamental tools needed to escape poverty.

– Isabel Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Floating SchoolsFloating schools are exactly what their name suggests, they are schools floating on water, typically on a boat. They are essential to providing year-round education in regions where rainy seasons and flooding often disrupt the school year for the most vulnerable children. Floating schools have proved to be incredibly effective in providing an uninterrupted education in places like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Colombia where extreme weather often makes getting an education more difficult.


Bangladesh is located in the massive delta created by the Ganges, the Meghna and the Brahmaputra Rivers meaning that the majority of the country is below sea level. The monsoon season, from June to October, can leave up to two-thirds of the country under water. Naturally, this extreme flooding makes it impossible for children to get to school for a significant part of the year which can be very harmful to a developing mind.

Enter the nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha and its 23 floating schools. The floating schools usually take the form of large boats and use solar panels to provide electricity and power computers. These schools bring the classroom to Bangladeshi children when they cannot get to it themselves. In addition to the school boats, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha operates a flotilla of boats acting as libraries, adult education centers and solar workshops. In 2012, the organization won the U.N. Prize for Inspiring Environmental Action.


The neighborhood of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria spans across the Lagos lagoon making the region at perpetual risk of flooding and waterlogging. Around 250,000 people live in Makoko in crude housing that often deteriorates because of heavy rains. These conditions make it especially difficult to give children in this community a consistent education. The Nigerian architect, Kunlé Adeyemi, in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the United Nations, designed and built Makoko’s prototype floating school. The school was three stories, used plastic drums to stay afloat and housed around 100 students.

Unfortunately in 2016, after the school had been decommissioned, the structure collapsed during heavy rains after what Adeyemi described as “three years of intensive use and exceptional service to the community.” The Makoko community and the international community alike welcomed the school. In 2014, the floating school was shortlisted for the design of the year award and an improved version of the school is already in the design process to replace the collapsed one.


In northern Colombia, in the town of Sempegua, the rainy season invariably brings flooding and disruption. Andres Uribe and Lina Catano, in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund and Colombia’s National Disaster Risk Management, constructed and inaugurated the first floating school in Latin America in 2014. The architects behind the project designed the school so that it could float during the rainy season and function on ground during the dry season, making it operative year-round. The schoolhouse can fit 60 children and around 400 underprivileged families will benefit from the floating structure. The school is also part of a loftier project that Uribe outlined, “and when we talk about floatable housing solutions, we are not just imagining schools, but houses, health centers, sports centers, or commercial zones, so the town can continue to be productive.”

These floating schools provide consistent access to education to children who otherwise would not be able to get to school on a regular basis, but also provide viable infrastructure solutions to places where persistent flooding has been disruptive for decades. Floating schools are just the beginning; the future leaders educated inside these schools are sure to continue developing the full potential of floating infrastructures for their communities.

– Isabel Fernandez

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Top 5 Reasons for School Dropouts in Tonga
Tonga, a Polynesian country and archipelago comprising of total 169 islands (36 inhabited) has achieved tremendous progress in improving the nation’s primary school enrollment. Although these rates are high, the school completion rates continue to decrease. About 3,000 Tongan students drop out of secondary school each year. In the text below, the top five reasons for school dropouts in Tonga are presented.

Top Five Reasons for School Dropouts in Tonga

  1. Due to tight household budgets, Tongan youths are now looking to get into the workforce as soon as possible. Dropping out of school and entering the workforce is deemed necessary when household funds are low because income is needed in order to survive. It was reported that 25 percent of Tongan households live under the poverty line, not having enough money to provide for basic needs. Male dropout rates are higher compared to female dropout rates. It is important to note that there is a higher percentage of men that participate in the workforce compared to women.
  2. About 88 percent of Tongans live in rural areas, therefore, Tonga’s remote location is driving Tongan youths to search for employment opportunities in other countries such as New Zealand and Australia. Dropping out of school to look for employment opportunities in different countries is more appealing than attending and graduating from school because graduating doesn’t necessarily guarantee employment in Tonga. Tonga is currently struggling to keep up with the high demand for jobs.
  3. Religion plays a huge role in many Tongan households and it is an important cultural factor that can affect whether or not Tongan youths continue their education. In many Tongan households, most of their money is spent on personal expenses, emergencies, church donations and education. Church donations were the second most popular use of mobile money transfers and remittances. Education tends to come in last on that list due to the importance of necessities and their devotion to the church. Since household budgets are tight, there may not be enough income or it is not seen as a top priority for Tongan youths to continue their education.
  4. The lack of diverse and targeted vocational training programs in Tonga is driving Tongan youth to look for employment and educational opportunities elsewhere. Many Tongan youths become disinterested and drop out of school because they are seeking vocational programs that will equip them with skills that will help them into the workforce. Unfortunately, Tonga is not yet able to offer Tongan youths these options.
  5. About 70 percent of Tongan adults reported receiving remittances from migrant family members and relatives. Remittances have become a very common source of income for many Tongan households. Tongan youths see the importance and dependency of remittances in their households, therefore, it is seen as one of the only options to provide for their families. This also pushes Tongan youths to drop out of school.

Work of Nongovernmental Organizations

Various nongovernmental organizations have been working on providing employment and education opportunities for Tongan youths. The Skills Employment for Tongans Project aims to help the Tongan government to create a cash transfer program to help Tongan households with their tight household budgets. It also will provide technical and vocational education training courses to help Tongan youths establish skills that will allow them to become employable in Tonga and in other countries.

The Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning Project (PEARL). The goals of this organization are to help children gain skills that will prepare them for school and help them learn to read and write for their first years of primary school. Preparing Tongan children at an early age will help implement the idea that education is important.

These top five reasons for school dropouts in Tonga are still problems that the nation of Tonga is facing, but the Tongan government is getting help from various nongovernmental organizations in trying to keep up with the high demand for employment and educational opportunities. It is a difficult task, but with the joint effort of government and NGOs, as well as other countries, this can be achieved.

– Jocelyn Aguilar

Photo: Flickr

Effects Education Has on Society
Education affects society in many important ways. The Borgen Project is trying to improve education in improvised areas because of the many benefits that educations offers to the people in live in impoverished nations. Here is a list of the top ten effects education has on society.

The Top 10 Effects Education Has on Society

  1. Education is important in the creation of any democratic society. As Franklin D. Roosevelt says, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” People need a good education if they want a good democracy.
  2. Education is needed to make a society geopolitically stable. Without a proper educational system available to everyone, terrorists could use free education as a way to radicalize people. In other words, geopolitical stability is one of education’s most powerful effects on society.
  3. Education leads to economic prosperity in the global marketplace. One of the most important effects education has on society is giving the people who live in a society the skills they need to compete in the global marketplace, and the skills they need to produce technological goods that can be sold on the open market. Socrates best expressed this idea when he stated: “Prefer knowledge to wealth, for the one is transitory, the other perpetual.”
  4. Education gives people the knowledge they need to elect capable leaders. Plato stated, “In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill… we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.” Education helps the members of society see through the manipulations used by politicians to get votes so that the members of the society can vote for the leader who is best able to run the society.
  5. Education helps promote tolerance in a society and helps reduce common conflicts between diverse populations in an urban setting. Helen Keller said that “The highest result of education is tolerance.” Educating members of society about other people who either live in the society or its neighboring states have the power to reduce many conflicts.
  6. Education has the power to help societies, and the world in general, change for the better. According to Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Malcolm X says that: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Education is a powerful tool that can be used to make the world a better place to live in.
  7. Education is important because it helps members in a society learn from the mistakes of the past. Plato has stated that geopolitical stability cannot be created by forming a democratic government; if the government is established by force or because of overthrowing an old regime, the new government could transform from a government that encourages peace and democracy into a new government that uses force to maintain power. Having an education is important because good education allows members of a society to learn from past mistakes and prevent the same mistakes from happening in the future.
  8. Education is the first step a society needs before giving rights to women and other minority groups. Education is a powerful tool that enables women and other minority groups to gain fundamental civil rights. It is important to treat women and other minorities with respect in the classroom. Abraham Lincoln stressed the importance that education has in helping people who live in a society to more fundamental civil rights when he said, “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation is the philosophy of government in the next.”
  9. Education reduces violence and crime in societies. Teaching people to read has been shown to prevent people from engaging in crime. In fact, the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment is a charity group uses education to combat violence and crime.
  10. Education creates hope for the future. Giving people hope that they can improve their lot in life is one of the more powerful effects education has on a society. John F. Kennedy best expressed the power of a good education when he said: “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”  JFK’s words about America apply to every society on Earth.

The READ Act

The Borgen Project works to help bring the positive effects education has on society to all through the READ Act. Education is valuable, and everybody needs to ensure education is widely available. A proper educational system can ensure people in any impoverished nation have access to both upward mobility and geopolitical stability.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr

Floating Schools: Providing an Education in India to Illiterate Adults
In February 2017, Loktak Lake, otherwise known as the “lifeline of Manipur,” became the first lake in India to offer a floating school to its community. Floating schools have been employed in high flooding areas in Bangladesh for the past 15 years.

Bangladesh suffers severe flooding every year due to heavy rainfall during monsoon season causing the overflow of the three massive rivers: the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. The nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, now responsible for providing floating education to 70,000 students, was founded in 1998. In 2002, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha opened the first floating school to provide an education to children in affected areas.

Since then, more than 100 floating schools, libraries and health clinics have been set afloat in the most flood-affected countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Vietnam and Zambia. As technology advanced, so did these schools. Many are now solar powered and provide internet access to students.

Loktak Lake is the largest freshwater lake in India and home to many islands and communities. For these communities, Loktak Lake provides fish as a livelihood for rural fisherman, is a source of hydropower generation, provides irrigation for farmers’ crops and provides drinking water.


Learn about Poverty in India


Floating islands, known as phumdis, were soil-rich fishing hot spots of the lake. However, water levels at Loktak Lake have been high for the last several years, causing the once soil-rich phumdis to begin to crumble and die. Residents of the phumdis were evacuated in attempts to preserve the natural habitat of the lake, ending the work routine of local fisherman and leaving many homeless. The community in crisis turned its focus to educating not only the youth in hopes of creating a better future for Manipur, but the homeless fisherman.

The All Loktak Lake Fisherman’s Union worked closely with the NGO People Resources Development Association to found the first floating elementary school in India that will focus on meeting the educational needs of local children and the adults rendered homeless by the evacuation of the phumdis.

The school has been inaugurated at Langolsabi Leikai of Champu Khangpok village and is currently serving 25 students with two teachers. Like with other floating schools, the People Resources Development Association hopes to see the school continue to grow, with goals of adding more classes to accommodate more students under the project “Empowering vulnerable local communities for sustainable development,” which is funded by Action Aid India.

Not only do floating schools provide year-round access to education for local students, but floating schools introduced in other high flood areas see remarkable results and growth in their local communities, such as increases in literacy rates and decreases in extreme poverty.

Furthermore, the introduction of technology is an important goal for the People Resources Development Association and the community. Locals hope the introduction of technology into the community will improve living conditions, which will increase the earning potential of the residents as a result. Access to technology will continue to inspire the next generation and provide them with useful tools and skills to help lift their community out of poverty.

Oinam Rajen Singh, a Manipur and Loktak Lake local, highlighted the need for education in his village, “As most of us are uneducated and mostly depend upon fishing as a meager source of income, we are unable to send our children to school to another place.” Singh has high hopes for the future of this floating elementary school and what it has to offer the community, “Based on [the] India government drive on free education to all, we will increase the class up to 8th standard so that opportunities are also given to the drop-out students.”

With rising sea and river levels, many communities are left without power or a means to receive an education, especially during monsoon season. These floating schools provide an opportunity and restore hope to impoverished communities.

– Kelilani Johnson

Photo: Flickr

Gender-Based ViolenceAn estimated 246 million children every year are victims of violence in a school setting. School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) includes bullying, corporal punishment, verbal or sexual harassment, unwanted touching and assault. SRGBV is a human rights issue that harms students’ ability to learn and their mental wellbeing. Girls are especially vulnerable, due to pervasive cultural beliefs and unfair power structures. According to a U.N. survey, one out of four girls never feel comfortable using school bathrooms.

One fourth of girls’ educational programs work to combat SRGBV. Just five years ago, gender-based violence was not considered to be part of the work of the education sector. This rapid rise to popularity was spearheaded by the Global Working Group to End SRGBV, a partnership between 35 organizations aiming to research and find solutions for gender-based violence in schools. A diverse range of organizations are involved in this partnership, including governments, development organizations, civil society activists and research institutions. The advocacy from these organizations has lead to the inclusion of SRGBV into the Sustainable Development Goals and the Incheon Declaration, endorsed at the World Education Forum.

To mitigate gender-based violence, the Global Working Group recommends implementing policy to discourage violence, teaching curriculums in nonviolence and gender equality, involving youth in creating solutions and increasing access to resources. UNESCO, a member of the Global Working Group, additionally highlights the importance of creating supportive school environments, creating partnerships with key stakeholders and collecting data on the effectiveness of interventions.

UNESCO recommends that SRGBV policies aim to prevent violence, promote accountability and provide support to mitigate its consequences. An effective response to SRGBV needs to include support for the victim and a protocol for reporting incidents and informing authorities.

Education has the power to target the root cause of violence by impacting the social and emotional development of children in ways that discourage violence. A supportive, safe school environment with a culture that condemns SRGBV is another recommended prevention method.

In order to create sustainable change, a strategic partnership between all stakeholders, including government sectors, teachers’ unions, communities, families and youth, is needed. Conducting research on SRGBV programs will yield crucial information to allow effective methods to spread and ineffective ones to be modified.

Raising Voices, another member of the Global Working Group, recognizes the importance of collecting concrete data to evaluate programs. The nonprofit focuses on decreasing the incidents of violence against women and children in Uganda by challenging traditional power structures. To measure the performance of their work, Raising Voices uses an activity report form to monitor the quality of activities and an outcome tracking form to track changes in social norms in the community. The forms utilize a ranking system to reveal the participant’s strength of agreement, with statements presented in order to quantify the data.

The efforts of the Global Working Group thus far provide a promising avenue for increasing access to education, by eliminating gender-based violence in schools.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr

Free High School in GhanaIn February 2017, the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, stated that the government will begin to fund the cost of public Senior High Schools (SHS) for everyone who qualifies beginning in September. According to The Herald, President Akufo-Addo stated, “By free SHS, we mean that, in addition to tuition which is already free, there will be no admission fees, no library fees, no science centre fees, no computer laboratory fees, no examination fees, no utility fees; there will be free textbooks, free boarding and free meals and day students will get a meal at school for free.”

President Akufo-Addo has followed through on this promise. The equivalent of over $90 million has been set aside by the government with the goal of aiding 424,092 students for the 2017-2018 school year. While the program for free high school in Ghana is for incoming freshman only, it is already a great improvement, as in 2014, only 37 percent of students were enrolled in secondary education.

President Akufo-Addo has been quoted recognizing the importance of education both in general and in terms of developing countries. VOA News reports Akufo-Addo saying that the, “economy for over a century has been depending largely on the production and export of raw materials. This cannot and will not create prosperity for the masses of Ghanaians.”

Though there have been concerns expressed about if free SHS is a sustainable program, if the system will be overburdened or if it will harm the private schooling sector, the worries are thus far unfounded. The beneficiaries of this maiden program will be under the policies of the program until their third year, which gives time for the policies to be further developed and corrected.

The private schooling sector was not affected when free primary school was initiated over a decade ago. In fact, they remain among top performing schools in the nation. Therefore, the same result is more than likely to be expected with the beginning of free high school in Ghana.

As for if the school system will be overburdened with congestion of students and a subsequent drop in the quality of education, the prime minister of education is not concerned. VOA News quotes Minister Matthew Opoku Prempeh claiming, “the government based its calculations on data from headmasters and on the total number of students who passed the entrance exam…We should be able to place everybody.”

With a new and still improving focus on education, the future of Ghana from both an economic standpoint and a more holistic level has room for growth more than ever before.

Gabriella Paez

Photo: Flickr

Open Air School in PakistanIn Pakistan, about 58 percent of the population is illiterate and 11-12 million children are working instead of attending school. But thankfully, a firefighter in Islamabad is working to help change these major societal problems in Pakistan.

For the past 30 years, Mohammed Ayub, affectionately known as “Master Ayub,” has held classes in a park near Pakistan’s parliament to educate poor children who cannot afford an education.

At this “open air” school in Pakistan, the children are taught a 1st to 10th grade curriculum, and are even taught how to speak English.

Ayub felt compelled to start teaching poor children after he moved from the agricultural town of Mandi Bahauddin, to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. In the city of Islamabad he saw small children in the streets doing various types of work such as cleaning cars, selling trinkets or begging.

One day after work, he approached one of these working children and told him that he would give him an education completely for free. The child accepted his preposition, and as word spread of his open air school in Pakistan, many more children began to enroll. Now, as soon as his work finishes at 3 pm, he goes to the park to teach about 200 students with the help of former students and friends.

Ayub himself pays for all of the students’ books, pencils and food.

Ayub believes education is extremely important for poor children because these citizens are especially vulnerable to developing into criminals and terrorists. In an interview with VPRO Metropolis, Ayub said “poor people; they need help. They start thinking negatively. They become thieves or plot bombings. That’s why I want to help them, so that they have an aim in life. They are our future teachers and doctors.”

His students are very ambitious and dream of becoming doctors and scientists. Before exams, they all gather in the park at night to study; when it gets chilly, they bundle up and study harder.

Ayub’s former students have gone on to attend university and secure well-paying jobs, and in the future, Ayub dreams of building a school for his students, especially because he hopes to incorporate computers in his teaching. In an interview with Al Jazeera he says that he wants to leave a facility behind after his death “where these children continue to get the light of education.”

Anna Gargiulo

Photo: Flickr