The Fight Against Learning PovertyLearning poverty is defined as not being able to read or understand a simple text by the age of 10. It is common in developing countries. As of 2017, 262 million children from ages six to 17 were not in school. More than 50 percent of children are not meeting the minimum standards in reading and math. In addition, their teachers and the teaching quality have not improved over time. Especially elementary school teachers, who are arguably the most important. As a result of this plateau, around 750 million adults were illiterate as of 2016. The vast majority of them are women. The largest populations of illiterate people are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Many schools in developing countries cannot provide efficient learning environments because they do not have access to computers, electricity, drinking water or basic facilities and infrastructure.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 4

The United Nations created Sustainable Development Goal 4 to fully address the issue and solve the problem of learning poverty around the world. It consists of five pillars.

  1. Make sure students are prepared and motivated to learn: The first pillar focuses on motivating students to learn when they attend school. The parts that contribute to making this successful are Early Childhood Education (ECE), nutrition and stimulation. There has been much evidence to show that intervening during a child’s earliest years is the best time to build a strong foundation for the future, especially for children who are less fortunate than their peers.
  2. Effective teachers at every level: The second pillar focuses on increasing the number of quality teachers available. Incentives must be made more to entice more people to the field of teaching. Thus, improving its compensation policies and making it easier to transfer into will help with this issue. Selecting and hiring based on talent, effort and achievements will ensure that these are high-quality teachers. Once in a teaching position, teachers should continue to improve. Additionally, teachers should be educated on how to use tech resources.
  3. Equipped classrooms: The third pillar emphasizes on providing classrooms with a simple but efficient curriculum. This includes increasing access to books and technology and coaching. In addition, teachers are urged to “teach to the right level.” This means they should start with a one-size-fits-all approach and adapt to students’ needs as necessary. It enables children of all different learning levels and styles to learn at the same time. Teachers should also provide feedback to the students so they can further improve their personal education.
  4. Safe and inclusive: The fourth pillar focuses on maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all students. Many countries are falling into crises, violence and fragility. Schools do not need to be added to the list of places where a child does not feel safe. An unsafe environment makes a child want to stay home. When they do attend, they are more unwilling to learn. Also, unsafe environments from violence or discrimination do not foster learning. As for inclusivity, teachers and staff should not stereotype a student based on their gender, race or disability. Schools must be inclusive to those who have trouble keeping up with their peers.
  5. Well-managed education systems: The fifth pillar is focused on good management in education systems. Principals should show how to further their careers and how to become better leaders for their schools. Moreover, there should be clear authority and accountability in schools.

The World Bank’s Literacy Policy

The World Bank has introduced a Literary Policy package outlining interventions to boost literacy. So far, a few countries have already started following it, including Egypt and Brazil. Egypt has begun the Egypt Education Reform Project. The project focuses on four core values:

  1. Expanding access to quality kindergarten
  2. Improving education delivery through digital learning content
  3. Developing educational professionals
  4. Developing computer-based assessment systems

There are many expectations for this program in the future. For example, the project predicts that it will be able to serve around 500,000 more kindergarten students including those from poorer districts. There will be a 50 percent improvement in early education. Additionally, there will be two million new quality teachers and two million students in secondary school.

Furthermore, the past 10 years have been good for Brazil as a result of its increased efforts in elementary school education. Their rate of learning poverty has been rapidly declining but is currently at 48 percent. Consequently, Brazil plans to increase quality and labor productivity. This necessitates increasing its quality of education. As a result, they are working on improving early education, teacher training and providing more financing.

Overcoming learning poverty is an essential step in the Sustainable Development Goals. It will not only improve the lives of the children learning but it will also decrease poverty rates and increase economic development. Hopefully, programs like the World Bank’s Literacy Policy and SDG 4 will motivate more countries to make education a priority.

Nyssa Jordan

Photo: Flickr

Education in Morocco
Education in Morocco has staggered slowly towards greater improvements in their learning infrastructure as illiteracy rates remain high. According to a 2015 statement by the National Agency for the Fight Against Illiteracy (ANLCA), approximately 10 million men and women are still illiterate.

Mounia Benchekroun, a Moroccan consultant in social and educational development stated in The Arab Weekly, “The figure of 10 million illiterate in Morocco should raise a national awareness that would require a much stronger national political engagement in order to fight this scourge.”

Morocco’s High Commissioner for Planning Ahmed Lahlimi also shared his analysis of illiteracy rates in 2014. Lahlimi stated it was more common for adults over 50-years-old to be illiterate, which is approximately 61.1%. In contrast, only 3.7% of children under 15-years-old face illiteracy. There is an evident gender gap as approximately 41.9% of women are illiterate compared to 22.1% of men.

Although the National Education and Training Charter (CNEF) lagged behind in its goal to reduce illiteracy to less than 20% by 2010 with complete eradication by 2015, this issue of high illiteracy rates is accompanied by good news. Literacy rates have made strides throughout the years for education in Morocco, increasing with the implementation of literacy programs by NGOs and with a new 2024 goal to eradicate illiteracy.

Lahlimi states that rates have dropped to 32% compared to 42% of the population 10 years prior. Moreover, Morocco has earned the Confucius Literacy Prize honorable mention for its improvements in literacy rates between 2004 and 2012. A continued emphasis on improving literacy rates for education in Morocco is significant in creating equality and advancing the health and development of the country as a whole.

The Global Education Monitoring Report states that educated mothers are less likely to die in childbirth by two-thirds and that child mortality would be reduced by a sixth. Literacy plays an important role in mortality rates through the ability to read. Literacy provides information to make well-informed decisions, such as utilizing a nurse at birth or understanding nutrition. In addition, according to Alfalit International, research has shown that illiteracy can limit an individual’s ability to understand and process information necessary to take care of oneself.

With the importance of literacy among Moroccan men and women, ANLCA calls on national and international powers “for a new impetus to-wards a literate Morocco.” New improvements for education in Morocco will come in addition to an eradication of illiteracy by 2024.

Priscilla Son

Photo: Flickr

Historically, Brazil’s educational system has been lacking. Primary education was mandatory but extremely ineffective. Even tertiary education was offered with insufficient supplies and buildings. While Brazil is still behind many nations in its scope of educational initiatives, progress has been made especially in regards to Brazil’s primary education.

UNESCO’s 2015 data reports that among 15-24 year olds, 99% of females and 98% of males are literate, as compared to only 82% in 1980. The general population’s literacy rates are also improving as 72% of the total population aged 65 and older are literate whereas only 42% were literate in 1980.

Education in Brazil is compulsory between the ages of 4-14 with attendance and completion rates improving. Primary school completion is well over 100 percent – a number possible because of the inclusion of older students returning to school or the students who may have repeated a grade – which exceeds most developed countries.

This shows improvement because people who were previously uneducated are now going to school. However, it also shows that there has been a serious educational gap for Brazil to overcome. Smaller classrooms are also the average as the teacher/student ratio is currently around 20:1.

While those numbers are amazing, much work can still be done. When comparing Brazil’s literacy and math skills to other countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “ranked Brazil 53rd out of 65 countries, behind nations such as Bulgaria, Mexico, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, and Romania” (HuffingtonPost).

One of their higher education institutions, the University of Sao Paulo, also falls far behind being ranked on a global university scale at 178 out of 200 institutions. This could pose a future problem for Brazil as their economy is becoming more vibrant; they will not have adequate educated workers coming through their educational system.

Another problem that can skew the astounding numbers presented is the disparity between those students in wealthier parts of the country and those students living in extreme poverty. The educational system is not maintained by the nation as a whole; each individual municipality is responsible for the maintenance of their schools. Much like what is seen in the United State’s educational districts, the schools maintained in wealthier municipalities are given more money while the poorer ones lack the same resources.

Children in poorer parts of the country are also subject to absenteeism due to malnutrition, child labor and high examination failure. So although education is free and compulsory, many children are still falling through the cracks especially those in poverty.

The UN has addressed this very issue as countries are progressing towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #2, Achieve Universal Primary Education.

In a UN article, a press report by Mr. Lake says, “In setting broad global goals the MDGs inadvertently encouraged nations to measure progress through national averages. In the rush to make that progress, many focused on the easiest-to reach children and communities, not those in greatest need. In doing so, national progress may actually have been slowed.”

This appears to be the case in Brazil. Many children are in school and the benefits are being seen through national literacy rates. But many children are still left behind and not in school like they ought to be.

Hopefully, the media attention surrounding Brazil’s sporting events over the next few years will help draw out this disparity and some permanent changes can be made for those children still not receiving an adequate education. Even with so much still to do though, the quality of education in Brazil is improving.

Megan Ivy

Sources: Brazil, Huffington Post, The Global Economy, UN 1, UN 2, UNESCO
Photo: The Rio Times

Pakistan has seen its fair share of violence that has torn the country apart. Part of this was a disruption in the education of the youth. Pakistan currently spends seven times more on military spending than on primary school education. The results of this is shown in the numbers of children in school and the literacy rates—63 percent of school-age children in class and 49.5 million adults can’t read. And within these numbers, 4.5 million girls don’t attend school and two-thirds of adult women are illiterate. Since 1999 Pakistan has made rather small progress. Recently, however, Pakistan has made a commitment to improve education.

That is why the statement of Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, addressing education issues at the Oslo Education Summit is so important. Sharif stated that that his government will focus on improving the quality of education for both boys and girls as well as increasing the opportunities for young girls to attend school.

Recently, Pakistan’s poverty rates have begun to slip again. This is due to the large increase in population and the low productivity of the population due to a lack of education. Another factor is the inequality of education and literacy rates between men and women. About 70 percent of men are literate, compared to the 40 percent of women.

By increasing education opportunities for the youth, especially female children, Pakistan can begin to turn around the poverty rates. They will create a more informed population that begins to transform the economy and raise Pakistan’s poverty rates.

Sharif believes that by investing in education, Pakistan can begin to improve the living conditions for its people. During the Oslo Conference he stated, “education of youth is the only way forward for socio-economic progress of our future generations and that eradicating illiteracy is essential for promotion of peace, tolerance, and harmony in any society.”

Katherine Hewitt

Sources: CNN, Poverties, Samaa
Photo: Pakistani Youth

In Armenia, schools are essential for cultural survival and are highly valued with 1,600 years of literary history. The government spends about 3 percent of its annual GDP on education and has passed new laws to help increase educational standards. Armenia has found some success improving education standards and is continuing to find solutions to other educational issues.

Here are five facts you may not know about education in Armenia:

  1. 77 percent of teachers in primary schools are professionally trained. The government is attempting to increase the number of experienced school teachers by raising their monthly wages, which are below the national average. In 2005, their wages went up 65 percent, but many teachers today are still offering private tutoring in order to supplement their teaching income.
  2. Armenia ranks 59th in the world in primary school enrollment. Part of the problem with enrollment for education in Armenia is the fact that there are 18,000 children who are not enrolled in primary school. Most of the un-enrolled children are boys and they end up working to help their families, sometimes earning more than Armenian teachers.
  3. Dropout rates in Armenia are rising by 250 percent per year. Armenia’s dropout rates are low compared to neighboring countries, but the fast rise is alarming. However, the government is committed to improving education by ensuring access to a quality education for all Armenians regardless of gender, race, ethnicity and income level.
  4. 47 percent of Armenians have access to the internet, compared to only 6.4 percent in 2009. The country now ranks 61st in the world for internet access, which is crucial to the continued growth of education in Armenia.
  5. Disabled school children have limited access to education: There are about 8,500 disabled children in Armenia, and only a few of them are able to attend school. UNICEF has helped increase educational programs for children with special needs by enrolling 250 students in 18 inclusive kindergartens and 257 in 14 inclusive schools.

In 2014, the World Bank announced that they will provide $30 million for the Education Improvement Project in Armenia. Reforms taking place include implementing new educational standards and a new national curriculum and extending the educational system to include grade 12; these steps are vital to building a successful and competitive educational system in Armenia. The project will also help 12,000 children living in poverty in rural areas and boost development for electronic content.

Donald Gering

Sources: Internet World Stats, Social Progress Imperative, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank
Photo: Open Source Foundation

The government of Georgia has partnered with USAID to improve primary education. The program focuses on training teachers, assessing students and utilizing new technology in the classroom. In countries like Georgia, education is expected to sustain and advance development. Children are more likely to go on to higher education when they attend primary school.

According to USAID, the Georgia Primary Education Project, or G-PriEd, “has been implementing ambitious reforms to transform its education system from a teacher-centered model to a student-centered one that enables Georgian children to develop their full potential.”

The project also tracks student progress via standardized testing to ensure students are making considerable gains.

“Years of crisis and civil war caused the impoverishment of a large section of the Georgian population,” according to the World Bank. Yet poverty levels have been declining in the past few years due to Georgia’s economic growth. G-PriEd will take the country a step further in fostering the economic development currently underway.

The project was first implemented in October of 2011 and will continue until 2016. The program’s potency rests in its ability to positively push primary school children toward higher education. Additionally, this initiative successfully encourages parents to be more involved in their child’s education. Setting the foundation for valuing education at a young age ensures the population will continue to place importance on education in later years as well. More educated children in Georgia will greatly contribute to the country’s future economic development and will help sustain the great gains already made.

“Twelve percent of people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in poor countries had basic reading skills,” according to the U.N. For this reason, education has been a great focus in the push to end world poverty. The U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals make education the second priority among the eight goals. The $8.7 million G-PriEd project is one of many currently making a difference by improving the lives of those living in poverty.

– Kimberly Quitzon

Sources: Worldbank, USAID, UN
Photo: Flickr

Education is one of the key weapons to combatting poverty around the 
world. Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come up with unique programs and solutions to allow greater access to education in developing countries.

1. Barefoot College was founded in 1972 in India and works to build skills in rural villages. The founders of Barefoot College wanted to apply traditional knowledge to modern day problems by teaching locals specialized skills. They believe that literacy is learned in school, but education is gained from “family, culture, environment and personal experiences, and both are important for individual growth.” Their entire campus is powered by solar energy, teaching the local community about sustainable energy. Barefoot College teaches the local community about modern technologies and women’s empowerment, to help them grow as human beings.

2. Room to Read was founded in 2002 to increase literacy and gender equality in Africa and Asia. This organization aims to improve the habit of reading among elementary school children and increase the number of girls who stay in school beyond elementary school. It has become one of the most well known international education programs, with 50 chapters in 16 countries. The organization relies on a model that creates programs to support girls financially and mentally, building new schools and libraries, and providing books. Since 2002, Room to Read has encouraged around 7.8 million children to read more.

3. Tostan was founded in 1991 and is dedicated to community development education and ending female genital cutting. Located in 8 African countries, this organization combines education and development goals in a “three year nonformal education program.” Instead of conforming to a standardized model of development, local communities can create own programs that suit their own needs. A facilitator is appointed to live and work with each rural community for three years, teaching them human rights concepts, health habits, reading and mathematics, project management and income generation ideas. Out of the democratically elected 17 members Community Management Committee, who carry out development projects, women must hold 9 of the positions. This ensures that the women in their community have their voices and problems heard. Since 1991, over 200,000 individuals have directly participated in Tostan.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: International Relations Online, Tostan
Photo: Tostan

Nearly a quarter of American children are living in poverty, says the National Center for Children in Poverty, totaling about 14 million. This is 2.5 million greater than in 2000, with the number of children living in poverty increasing 21% between 2000 and 2008.

Thus, 14 million children are at an academic disadvantage from day one: they are on the losing side of an education achievement gap compared to children of more well-off parents.

Recent research reported in the New York Times suggests that “brain development is buoyed by continuous interaction with parents and caregivers from birth, and that even before age 2, the children of the wealthy know more words than do those of the poor.”

While there are several wide-reaching programs in place – subsidies for child-care, targeted education programs for toddlers – advocates for the poor argue that closing this gap begins in the home.

According to the McCormick Foundation, more than half of all children under 2 are cared for at home by a parent or relative on a daily basis. Thus, there has been a nationwide push to target in-home language acquisition and vocabulary expansion.

Several organizations employ a home visitation technique, with development experts training parents on how to stimulate conversation with their infants and toddlers. “We don’t want parents talking at babies,” Claire Lerner of the nonprofit development group Zero to Three said. “We want parents talking with babies.”

Linguistic development is just one of four aspects of critical early childhood development, says the World Bank, the others being physical, cognitive and socioemotional development.

While poverty places children at a developmental disadvantage, failing to enhance a child’s education and growth in the early years tightens the grip of poverty and perpetuates a cycle of impoverished existence.

To make tracking early childhood and linguistic development more accessible, philanthropists and researchers have developed LENA – the Language Environment Analysis System.

LENA is a small audio recorder that conveniently attaches to children’s clothing or slips in a small vest pocket.

The recorders “distinguish between words overheard from television or other electronics and live human conversations,” reports the New York Times. The audio recording is then analyzed by computer software and progress methodically tracked.

The LENA Research Foundation boasts the success of the “world’s first automatic language collection and analysis tool” and believes LENA can help both experts and parents improve language acquisition and development.

LENA provides an unprecedented level of dynamic analysis that more accurately accounts for the complications involved in closing the education gap.
“…It’s like fine, vocabulary is good,” said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley to the New York Times. “But there is a deeper commitment to literacy and conversation around the dinner table and talking to kids about ideas and political controversies that is the more colorful fabric of literacy and conversation.”

LENA can help determine the effectiveness of home visits and audio recording in the short run in improving parent-infant communication.

In the long run, researchers will be looking for advancements in “future academic performance,” reports the New York Times. “Children who receive assistance in their early years achieve more success at school,” says child rights group UNICEF. “As adults they have higher employment and earnings, better health and lower levels of welfare dependence and crime rates than those who don’t have these early opportunities.”

Thus, LENA and early childhood education is not only an investment in children, but in our global health and economy.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: New York Times, NCCPThe World Bank, UNICEF

Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX,) Mexico’s state-owned oil company, has announced a record $28 billion of investment for the 2014 fiscal year. It is expected that the vast majority of money invested (approximately 85%) will go towards production and exploration for new oil fields.

The $28 billion figure is 10% higher than last year’s level of investment, which amounted to $25.3 billion, of which $19.3 million went to production and exploration of crude oil and gas fields. Despite this increase over last year’s investment level, PEMEX CEO Emilio Lozoya Austin claimed that in order to develop the country’s resources to their maximum potential, a further $32 billion would need to be invested.

In late 2013, Mexico’s legislature passed a bill permitting foreign companies to invest in PEMEX, a groundbreaking move that was not previously allowed since the company’s nationalization in 1938. This permission comes amidst flagging levels of oil production and Mexico hopes the move will boost its productive capacity.

While levels of PEMEX investment have increased steadily from 2008 onward, levels of oil production fell from 2.79 barrels per day to 2.54 million barrels a day in 2012, and levels of gas production fell from 7,030 cubic feet per day to 6,900 cubic feet per day over the same time period.

In 2008, PEMEX reported a production of 43.5 billion barrels per year, while in 2013 it reported 44.4 billion barrels per year. This slight increase can be attributed to the discovery of six new oil fields that added about 180,000 barrels per day at the end of 2013.

PEMEX is responsible for funding approximately one-third of Mexico’s national budget, with much of the revenue going towards social programs that improve education and infrastructure throughout the country.

Additionally, PEMEX hopes to increase exploration of deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico and improve its technological innovation in shale extraction through its newly minted partnership with the Russian oil giant Lukoil earlier this year.

– Jeff Meyer

Photo: Huffington Post
International Business Times, El Economista, Oil Price