In Tanzania, a sub-Saharan African country known for its national parks, diverse game and scenic wilderness, approximately two million young people were illiterate in 2011. Girls’ education in Tanzania, in particular, is an issue, as both adolescent and adult women demonstrate lower literacy rates than their male counterparts.

In 2012, literacy among women aged 15 to 24 was just 72.8 percent, while literacy among men in the same age group sat at 76.5 percent. The disparity becomes statistically significant among adults is even wider among adults: 75.5 percent of men and only 60.8 percent of women are literate.

In the country’s poorest areas, it is especially difficult for women to support themselves and their families, let alone further their education. In the northwest Tanzanian village of Kitenga, for instance, there is no running water or electricity, disease rates are high and scarce access to education, all of which are obstacles for girls who want to learn.

Enter the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa (IHSA), an organization committed to improving girls’ education in Tanzania. After partnering with the Girls’ Education Collaborative (GEC), which offers financial and logistical support, they launched the Kitenga Village Project. This project aims to raise the community from poverty by establishing basic resources, and, in January, it achieved its central objective when it opened the Kitenga School for Girls to educate girls in the community.

The school opened not only to encourage literacy but also to combat female genital mutilation and early marriage, both problems more likely to be faced by adolescent Tanzanian women without an education.

Currently, enrollment at the school stands at 59 girls from a variety of backgrounds. Having won the full support of the government, the GEC and the IHSA intend to accommodate a larger student body in the future. Plans for expansion include a library and housing for 1,500 boarding students.

The Kitenga School for Girls’ central vision is to provide girls from destitute families with an exceptional range of knowledge and skills. Students will have access to career and leadership coaching, health studies and life skills training, as well as a safe and secure environment.

Though women in poverty continue to face gendered hardships, access to schools creates greater opportunities. With the innovative efforts of organizations like the GEC and the IHSA, girls’ education in Tanzania is likely to continue growing.

Madeline Forwerck

Photo: Flickr

For centuries libraries have functioned as centers of knowledge and learning. Today, with information and communication technology (ICT) developments and ever-growing Internet access, people are turning to e-libraries as the next literacy-promotion frontier.

In partnership, Vodacom, Huawei Technologies, the Department of Basic Education and the Nelson Mandela Foundation have created an e-libraries program that will span 61 Vodacom ICT resource centers across South Africa.

This program will provide 400 tablets, courtesy of Huawei Technologies, loaded with content spanning a variety of subjects, including business and entrepreneurship, African literature and history, in addition to fictional e-books. The vast array of reading material will be available in all 11 official languages of South Africa, ensuring unbiased access.

Each resource center will be equipped with at least six tablets preloaded with e-book content that are also Web-accessible, enabling users to download materials from the Internet. Vodacom promises to supply Wi-Fi to students and members of the communities serviced by the e-library tablets.

The e-libraries initiative offers an efficient means of keeping learning materials up-to-date, as Vodacom’s Mthobeli Thengimfene explained: “We are able to continuously update the content remotely without having to go to the centers and people will be able to download the books they are interested in.”

Although South Africa ranks higher than Sub-Saharan countries for simple literacy, some 5 million South African adults’ education does not even extend to completion of the seventh grade.

In order to ensure that South Africa’s population achieves true literacy, including the ability to comprehend the meaning of written material, supplemental instruction and resources become important factors. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of these resources.

“Access to reading material is a major challenge in South Africa,” said Vodacom Group CEO, Shameel Joosub. A large number of the country’s students are unable to utilize traditional library resources or reading material, Joosub went on to explain.

However, many South Africans have access to smartphones and the savvy to engage with ICT devices. The e-library program seeks to build on this affinity to engage more people in literacy programs.

“We want to encourage learning. It’s not only about the books but it is also about forming reading clubs around each of the centers,” Thengimfene said.

The e-libraries initiative is just a small part of Vodacom’s Mobile Education Program, a seven-aspect plan that focuses on teacher-development. However, the solid partnership behind the e-libraries initiative gives it an extra edge. It is clear that all the organizations are passionate about literacy and the new equity they hope it will promote.

“Between 2015 and 2030 we do not only speak about quality education,” said Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, “but about quality education that is a human right and that is a public good and a public interest.”

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: IT News Africa, IT Web Africa
Photo: E-book Creators


New data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics states that global literacy rates for youths and adults have been on the rise. Sixty percent of all countries that provided data in 2012 reported overall literacy rates of 95% or higher.

Still, there is a great need for a solution in this regard. The report also said that “An estimated 250 million children around the world cannot read, write, or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills. Many of these children are in developing countries without regular access to quality schools or teachers.”

These statistics ultimately became a project for a nonprofit called XPrize. XPrize runs competitions that aim to produce technology to benefit humankind. An ongoing competition that began in 2014 requires that teams develop an open source software that enables children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

XPrize launched a 6-month registration period and all teams have 18 months to develop their own solution. Currently, there are 198 registered teams. The top five finalists with the best results will receive one million dollars. The ultimate grand prizewinner will receive 10 million dollars as the top performing team solution.

Click here for more information on how to get involved and remain updated on the progress of the competition.

XPrize believes that children are a solution to global poverty, and that many of the world’s greatest minds are untapped due to a lack of basic education. “By enabling a child to learn how to learn, that child has opportunity–to live a healthy and productive life, to provide for their family and their community, as well as to contribute toward a peaceful, prosperous and abundant world.”

For the competition’s promotional video, several children  were asked what their ultimate life goals were. So many of those goals have seemed unrealistic due to their location and state of living. However, with support from XPrize, those dreams can become a reality.

Anna Brailow

Sources: Xprize 1, Xprize 2, Tech Crunch, UIS, YouTube
Photo: CNN

How Poverty Affects Children’s Language Skills-TBP

Decades worth of research has shown that children from low-income families are at a higher risk of entering school with poor language skills compared to more privileged students. On average, they score two years behind on standardized language development tests.

New research has shown that this achievement gap could begin at as early as 18 months, and by the age of two, children from low-income families show a six-month gap in language proficiency. By the age of three, the difference in vocabulary can be so large that children would have to attend additional schooling to catch up. Furthermore, poor children have more difficulty understanding abstract language and possess lower reading and writing skills, which increases the odds that the child will drop out of school in the future. They often struggle with phonological awareness skills: the ability to consciously manipulate a language’s sound system.

There are many factors that contribute to this trend. Birth to the age of three is a critical period for language development, as the brain is rapidly growing and developing. Parents who are less educated may not know the importance of consistently using language with their baby, which can cause a delay in early language skills. Parental engagement from birth can help bridge this gap, regardless of income level.

Parents who are struggling financially may not have the time or resources to devote to reading to their children. This affects a child’s emerging literacy skills. Building a foundation for strong literacy skills must begin early, and the process of acquiring these skills begins at birth, so it is imperative that parents make an active effort to read to their children.

The vast difference in vocabulary between children of different income levels relates to their exposure to varied vocabulary at home. In the span of one year, children from poor families are exposed to 250,000 utterances at home, while children from wealthy families hear four million. Discussion in low-income households is often focused on daily living concerns, such as what to eat, what to do and other practical topics. Therefore, children may be unprepared for a different type of discussion in a school setting.

There are various strategies that educators and parents can use to close the achievement gap. Early education and intervention are extremely important. High-quality preschool programs produce the best results, particularly when children begin such programs during infancy. Equally important is educating and empowering families. Teaching parents the importance of reading to children, talking with their children as much as possible and building vocabulary by giving words meaningful context can lead to positive outcomes. Working with multiple generations of the family is the best way to promote literacy and language skills at home.

Language connects us all; therefore, it is necessary to foster children’s communications skills from a very young age. With the appropriate combination of early intervention and parental engagement, it is entirely possible for children from low-income families to overcome the language achievement gap.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Global Post, Stanford News
Photo: Flickr


Imagine for a moment life without Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Great Gatsby, or Shakespeare—no books at all. Imagine not even being able to read.

This is a reality for thousands of people. In Ghana, reading is still considered a luxury. This has to change, according to Mrs. Matilda Amissah Arthur, wife of Ghana’s Vice-President. Amissah-Arthur called for more political will to tackle the issue, saying that books are the cheapest and best carriers of knowledge in the country.

Over 700 million people around the world are illiterate, but there are a number of global projects underway to fight illiteracy by providing books to those in need.

The International Book Project (IBP) is one of these organizations. The IBP states that its mission is to “build global partnerships that foster cultural understanding and bring people together for common goals” through sustainable programs.

The IPB connects with partners on the ground, whether they be whole communities or specific schools, and distributes books in varying sizes of deliveries. Recently, they have sent shipments to Palestine, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua and India, to name a few.

Access to books is no longer limited to physical copies. With the ever-growing use of smartphones in the developing world, digital access to books is becoming another avenue to spread knowledge and fight illiteracy.

A study conducted by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, found that 62% of those surveyed have begun reading more, now that they can access reading material on their mobile phones. One in three individuals surveyed said their children were reading more on their smartphones, and 90% said they planned to read more in the next year.

The study also found that “people read more when they read on mobile devices, that they enjoy reading more, and that people commonly read books and stories to children from mobile devices.” The study shows that mobile technology is a promising, if not slightly untapped, road to reading and can help improve knowledge and literacy.

Why, then, read on a mobile phone instead of an actual book? It is much cheaper. In Zimbabwe, a bestseller in paperback costs $12, while reading a book on a mobile phone costs only between 5 and 6 cents.

Library For All is an example of how digital libraries are being used to spread books throughout the developing world. Founded in order to address the lack of books in classrooms, this online library follows the same principles as other digital book providers: a mobile platform is cheaper than physically delivering books. Moreover, the organization uses a specific low-bandwidth network that is tailored to benefit the developing world.

Coupled with the growth of mobile technology, reading on mobile phones and access to digital libraries in the developing world proves to be a powerful emerging partnership. If mobile libraries like Library For All can partner with mobile technologies, and mobile devices continue to become available to the developing world, every person on earth might have access to books.

– Greg Baker

Sources: Ghana Web, The Guardian, International Book Project, Library for All
Photo: CNBC

With the sustainable development goals working toward ending world poverty by 2030, the most important aspect of sustainability is literacy. Educating women and children who are otherwise denied the opportunity to read and write will improve heath, decrease poverty and build economies in developing nations.

Although programs focus to educate children, it is vital for adults to become literate in order for the SDG to succeed. More than half of the adults in Ethiopa, Haiti, Niger and 11 other countries are illiterate. “Literacy can help societies heal, advance political processes and contribute to the common good,” says U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The U.N. has understood the importance literacy has on sustainable development by implementing International Literacy Day. “UNESCO’s policy today is to support the promotion of literacy and literate environments as an integral part of lifelong learning and to keep literacy high on national and international agenda,” according to UNESCO. On Sept. 8, the U.N. will bring awareness to why literacy is so important to ending global poverty. This year the theme will be Literacy for All, which will focus on literacy as a human right.

USAID also recognizes literacy as a driving force in the goal to end world poverty. Rwanda has been one of the many countries USAID has assisted in improving education for women and children. They have held competitions to inspire children in literacy and have provided teachers with materials and proper training.

Both USAID and the U.N. have awarded countries to help better improve literacy as a whole. “For decades, USAID has been a global leader in improving reading for developing countries,” says USAID. Their work in Rwanda has increased the access in education and improved the attendance of children in primary school.

Every year UNESCO awards $20,000 to programs aiming to improve literacy in rural areas. The five awards are presented on International Literacy Day and are funded by Korea and China. Funding schools in developing countries will help lift people out of poverty quickly and sustainably. It is important to maintain a focus on literacy in order to achieve the sustainable development goals.

– Kimberly Quitzon

Sources: UNESCO, United Nations USAID
Photo: Rosenblum TV

Botswana Education
Botswana’s government is making education one of its top priorities, hoping to increase educational opportunities for generations to come. The Ministry of Botswana Education has been doing a commendable job since the independence of the country. The Ministry of Botswana Education is responsible for the overall growth in the number of students of all stages in Botswana.

Students begin primary school at age six and are allowed to continue secondary school until completion at age 17. Education in Botswana is free for students for the first 10 years, which is after the completion of middle school.

The Ministry hopes to see Botswana thrive in educational opportunities and become an advanced, innovative African country in the near future. The educational system in Botswana is guided by four main principles: democracy, development, self-reliance and unity.

In January 2014, The Ministry of Education and the World Bank Group hosted a workshop for Botswanan policy makers that focused on economic growth and utilizing competitive skills. Education is one of the six key points in the Vision 2016 and National Development Plan10, established to support Botswana’s economic growth and diversification. The public investment in education is high, reaching more than 9 percent of the country’s GDP.

Nearly 86 percent of the children in Botswana attend primary school, but that rate drops to just 35 percent of children who attend secondary school. As the children reach adolescent age and early adulthood, many take over family farming duties or in-house chores and duties, such as caring for sick or elderly members or children.

Botswana hopes to see education usher in a new age for the country, an age that promises security and a productive, prosperous, innovative society.

– Alaina Grote

Sources: Maps of the World,  World Bank,  UNICEF,  BBC

Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

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

Goal 2: To achieve universal primary education

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

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

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

Goal 4: To increase global adult literacy by 50 percent

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Kristen Bezner

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