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The Importance of Native-Language InstructionIn schools across the world, students find themselves at an inherent disadvantage because their classes are not taught in their native language. Native-language instruction is crucial to optimize a student’s success, for many reasons.

Development of a student’s first language facilitates development in a second language. In other words, it is far easier to learn a second language when students already have a strong foundation in their first language. Knowledge and skills are also completely transferable from one language to another.

Native-language instruction also benefits a student’s overall well-being. Students enjoy school and are happier and more successful when they are taught in their own language. Conversely, students who are taught in a language other than their first language are more likely to fail early grades or drop out of school completely.

Girls are more likely to go to school and stay in school when the language of instruction is their first language, and parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s schooling. On a larger scale, native-language instruction emphasizes the importance of that language and its culture, and preserves the language for future generations.

Schools are typically taught in one of the national languages of a country. For example, Burundi recently declared that English was one of its national languages, so an increasing number of schools are now taught in English. This privileges urban students over rural ones. Urban students are more likely to already speak the national language or at least to have been exposed to it. Rural students are far more isolated and often enter school knowing only the language spoken at home.

In countries with large indigenous populations and a multitude of languages, the lack of resources is a barrier to adequate native-language instruction. It costs money to employ teachers who are fluent in each of the native languages, and to provide textbooks that are in those languages and are culturally appropriate.

In Mongolia, the Kazakhs are the largest minority. Until 2005, teachers were only given textbooks written in Mongolian, even when they were teaching in Kazakh. In Botswana, schools teach exclusively in English and Setswana, the national languages and the languages of the ethnic majorities. These languages are also core subjects in the national curriculum, and thus students are required to take and pass exams in those languages. This disadvantages indigenous children who enter school with no prior knowledge of English or Setswana.

There are many programs targeted at addressing bilingual students and bridging language gaps. In the Bronx, there are schools which alternate teaching in English and Spanish every other week, meeting the needs of students who are fluent in both languages and enhancing their bilingualism.

In the U.S. alone, 175 indigenous languages are still spoken. All but 50 of these are projected to be extinct by 2024. Project SEED (Scholarships for Economic and Educational Development) and AILDI (American Indian Language Development Institute) develop curriculum in, teach and work to preserve native languages. In Cameroon, indigenous peoples have created a culturally sensitive education policy called ORA (Observe, Reflect, Act) which is tailored specifically toward young Baka children.

For curriculum to be most effective, especially for disadvantaged and marginalized students, it should be in their language, culturally sensitive and incorporate indigenous culture and traditions.

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Education in Finland: A Model For Equality
Education in Finland is prestigious and public. After 40 years of education reform to propel the economy, Finland has created some of the finest students in the world. In 2000, they led in reading, in 2003, in math and in 2006, in science. Since 2009, they consistently rank at the top for each subject in the Programme for International Student Assessment.

Not only does education in Finland produce top tier students, but the country has also created an education system that works for everyone. About 93 percent of Finns graduate from high school, 17.5 percentage points higher than the US, and 66 percent go to college, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet, Finland spends 30 percent less on education than the US.

Even with their amazing achievements in education, however, Finland has not yet found a popular following in implementing similar policies within other countries. In Finland, there is only one standardized test, unlike the U.S. and many Asian countries, where standardized tests are taken every year to measure students. Science classes are capped at 16. In the U.S., however, poorer public school systems pack many students into underfunded science classes. Teachers are also required to have master’s degrees, which are fully subsidized by the government, while the U.S. expects a bachelor’s degree without providing subsidies.

Although Finland may strive for excellence in education, they primarily value equality, a value missing in many American and Asian education systems. Whereas gifted students are separated into higher level classes in the U.S., Finland keeps all students in the same classrooms, providing extra help to those who need it. There are no private schools in Finland as all schools are 100 percent publicly funded. Each student has equal access to free school meals, health care, psychological counseling and individual student guidance, regardless of socioeconomic background.

As opposed to the U.S., where a good education generally means sending your kids to private or charter schools if you can afford it, Finland provides an equal education for everyone. Rather than creating a market for certain individuals to buy the best quality education, Finland created the base of its education system to help everyone. As opposed to Asian cultures that stress constant studying and competition between students, Finland prioritizes the students’ learning desires and fostering cooperation. There are no rankings for best schools or students.

Among other factors, Finland also selectively chooses its teachers; there is a 7 percent acceptance rate in Helsinki, which encourages constant retraining for teachers, creates broad curriculum guidelines and focuses more on quality time in the classroom. Education in Finland is clearly more relaxed and equitable, yet they still consistently boast the best scores. Although expensive private schools and exhaustive studying may produce similar results, they are not the most efficient strategies to a both equitable and robust education system.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

Outdoor_Classroom
For villagers in Eastern Nepal, the indigenous knowledge they have acquired through generations of living and farming locally can be a new source of livelihood, via participation in the ‘Vertical University‘ initiative.

The project involves a series of interconnected villages whose microclimates provide a trail for learning about ecosystems and biodiversity. This program also employs villagers as teachers in these outdoor classrooms. The innovative effort comes at a dire time for socioeconomic progress in Nepal, with the 2015 earthquake pushing more than 1 million Nepalese below the poverty line.

The Vertical University trail, which stretches across Eastern Nepal, encompasses the living grounds of 150,000 individuals and 107 different habitat types. Visitors travel from one outdoor learning space to the next, absorbing locals’ knowledge of native species and diverse habitats as they go.

The founder of the Vertical University is an organization called KTK-BELT. This group engages important local actors, like farmers and teachers, in “community-based biodiversity conservation.” The Vertical University initiative represents conservation in action, resulting in a 100-acre land trust and critical tools for preventing deforestation.

For Nepalese community members, the project represents more than an opportunity for environmental conservation. This project has been instrumental in providing locals with economic and educational opportunities.

The outdoor classrooms are free and open to visitors at all times, as the local Nepalese have mapped and tagged the indigenous knowledge they can offer. For Nepalese youth, the opportunity to be involved in the process can mean acquiring valuable educational skills or receiving a stipend to pursue further education.

Young girls in particular benefit from programs like this because they face deeply entrenched gender stereotypes regarding education. Most girls find themselves restricted to domestic tasks. However, the Vertical University teaches them to catalog species for the trail, as well as survey local farmers and communities.

Not only do girls lack in schooling, but there’s also a dire overall need for education funding in Nepal. The country’s educational system is quite young relative to global advancement in education.

Additionally, schools in rural areas lack in productivity, effective learning and testing. The lack of quality education offered in rural schools is also a widespread problem for public schools as a whole. Females, Dalits, Muslims and other minority groups suffer in particular. However, outdoor classrooms offer a viable solution.

Adult community members in the Vertical University villages receive the additional economic opportunities borne from protecting the environment. Creating the trails led to the discovery of a variety of natural products, such as essential oils and soapnuts. The locals can then sustainably produce and sell those products. They also learn a variety of education skills, which can compensate for the low rates of higher education in Nepal.

The many facets of the project translate into various opportunities for the Nepalese living within the Vertical University belt. Education funding and employment as mappers of indigenous knowledge are just the beginning. People have repurposed barren land for permaculture and highlighted the danger of poaching. They have also mapped and labeled 6,600 plants in areas frequently devoid of Internet access.

Co-founders Rajeev Goval and Priyanka Bita created the project through a Kickstarter campaign. The power of crowdfunding has enabled the education and livelihoods of countless villagers within the region. This is especially important for Nepal, as it is still reeling from the 2015 earthquake.

In creating outdoor classrooms and employing local farmers to map and catalog their indigenous knowledge, the KTK-BELT Vertical University represents a conservation approach with both involves the community and fights global poverty. Its ability to provide education funding in Nepal, a country where that funding can change the lives of girls and disadvantaged youth, creates widespread change.

Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: U.N. Multimedia

Vocational_education
Vocational education is defined as a procedural process of instruction that prepares the students for skilled work. The skills taught range from various aspects of industrial work to skilled craftsmanship to handicrafts, among other things.

Vocational education has become quite popular in the developing countries because of its affordability and expedited completion. This approach also focuses on teaching workplace skills, so the education provided therefore gives a more immediate monetary return. The financial incentive is furthered by the fact that vocational education is usually of a shorter duration than formal education.

The market for skilled labor is made lucrative by offshore manufacturing industries in developing countries. The market for handicraft products from Asian and Latin American countries is also becoming popular in the West, opening up job avenues for skilled artisans.

The vast potential of vocational, skill-based training has become an exceedingly prevalent tool in the rehabilitation of refugees as well. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has initiated many programs for vocational education in conflict areas, such as Palestine, Yemen and Myanmar, as well as in countries hosting large numbers of refugee populations.

As in many other aspects of life, vocational education is also plagued with gender inequality. A multitude of UNHCR vocational programs are aimed at women to teach them marketable, employable skills to ensure their self-reliance. However, these goals are hindered by the social stigma surrounding female education and employment.

In many regions, the widely accepted notion is that vocational education equates to hard, manual labor, and should therefore be reserved for men. In an analysis of Yemeni vocational education, early marriage was identified as one of the main reasons for the low enrollment rate for women. Another common denominator is the traditional attitude that men are supposed to be the “breadwinners” of the household, which leads to the exclusion of women from any job training. Moreover, the training curricula for certain fields exclude women in their specificity as well.

The issues plaguing vocational education are in many ways similar to those facing female education in general. However, the former has a direct immediate financial motivation for women that is potentially more prone to be heeded by society. In an attempt to use this to the advantage of women, the World Bank is focusing on decentralizing training centers. By establishing smaller, more community-focused education centers, the needs of the labor market in the particular region can be better realized, which in turn supplies a higher likelihood of employment and income for the women.

The incentive for increased household income also needs to be supplemented with pacifying the stigma against female employment. The UNHCR has initiated programs in India specifically aimed at women that combine computer and language training with more socially acceptable trades for women, such as handicrafts. The program also focuses on setting up home production centers for the women so that they may work there as opposed to traditional workplaces. These attempts have the objective of empowering women while accommodating social norms as well.

The problems that women face in acquiring a vocational education stem from traditions of a male-dominated society. The objective of female empowerment continues to be compromised by gender inequality. With the current economic state of the world coupled with the refugee crisis in many developing nations, the gender gap for technical training and employment for women needs to be bridged now more than ever.

Atifah Safi

Sources: ILO, UNHCR, IADB, World Bank
Photo: The Conversation

Mobile_Schools
Although Kenya’s education system has improved over the past decade, many students are still left behind. One million Kenyan children are currently out of school, and while that number has steadily decreased in recent years, it still places Kenya at ninth in the world for out of school children. Even if a child does complete primary school, the quality of education is often insufficient for retaining necessary skills, a glaring flaw best illustrated with the statistics surrounding illiteracy in Kenya. Among men ages 15 to 29 who have completed six years of primary school, 6 percent are illiterate and another 26 percent are only semi-literate. For women of the same age group with the same level of education, the problem is even worse: 9 percent are illiterate, and 30 percent are semi-literate.

Marginalized children, particularly poor girls from rural areas, have still not benefited from improvements in Kenya’s school system. For example, almost all children from wealthy families in the capital, Nairobi, attend school, but in the North East region, only 55 percent of poor girls and 43 percent of poor boys attend school. This is partly due to the fact that the indirect cost of secondary education typically exceeds the monthly income of many families in rural areas.

Adeso, a Nairobi based development charity, is currently working to bring education to those who may have never had the chance to set foot in a classroom. The organization focuses on the idea that in order to improve quality of life across Africa, development must come primarily from within Africa. Adeso works on development in four main areas. They aim to educate young people and equip them with necessary life skills, provide humanitarian aid where people lack food security, water, and sanitation, strengthen local economies, and influence local and international government policies.

Adeso runs a mobile school program in rural areas of Kenya that brings learning to nomadic students, usually girls, whose families have to relocate frequently in order to survive. They plan the school calendar around the weather patterns. Most formal learning is scheduled for rainy seasons when children do not have to balance labor demands and are more likely to stay in one place. The schools will travel with students as far as possible to allow them to continue their education.

The mobile school program was launched in February 2014, but funds are expected to run out by 2016. Adeso hopes to continue the program, but faces many obstacles, from political insecurity, to poor infrastructure, to a pervasive belief in many areas that girls should not be educated. Adeso is still working towards securing more funding in order to extend the program. However, should the mobile schools close, the organization hopes that students have benefited from further education and can pass on what they have learned to their communities.

Jane Harkness

Sources: Adeso 1, Adeso 2, Adeso 3, Huffington Post, UNESCO
Photo: Miss Tourism Kenya