TaRL Africa
Considerable progress has been made to increase the rate of educational enrollment for children living in developing countries. Between 1950 and 2010, the average years of schooling completed by adults living in developing countries more than tripled; between 2000 and 2010, secondary school enrollment in Zambia increased by 75 percent. Morocco is experiencing a similar rate of growth in enrollment, indicating that the gap in enrollment between poor and wealthy countries is dwindling.

Educational System Improvement

Globally, trillions of dollars are being dedicated to improving educational systems. Government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is higher than ever before at a rate of almost 5 percent. In emerging markets, households are spending a greater percentage of their GDP per capita on education than households in developed nations. Governments and their people are fully convinced of the promise that education holds for reshaping the future, especially in developing countries.

Education has been shown to have enormous benefits in all facets of life. For individuals, education increases lifetime earnings, reduces the chance of living in poverty and leads to better health. For communities, education can increase long-term development, lead to more rapid economic growth, cause greater social cohesion and increase social mobility.

A New Challenge

With overall enrollment numbers climbing year after year, it may seem as though a crisis in educational attainment is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, school enrollment alone does not guarantee the presence of learning. Some alarming statistics underscore upbeat reports of increases in school enrollment.

In fact, 125 million children in the world are not attaining functional levels of literacy or numeracy after four years of education. In Malawi and Zambia, only 10 percent of the students were able to read a single word by the second grade; in Pakistan, 40 percent of 3rd-grade children could not perform simple subtraction.

An analysis of the current learning crisis by The World Bank attributes this lack of learning milestones in developing communities to four key factors. The four immediate determinants are learner preparation, teacher skills and motivation, the availability of relevant inputs and school management and governance. The current state of learning outcomes is not necessarily a setback, but an inevitable hurdle in the way of unlocking the full potential of education.

Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL)

MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and Indian NGO Pratham sought to address the issue of sub-par learning outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region desperately in need of educational reform. In association with African governments, they developed the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) Africa initiative. TaRL Africa attempts to take an evidence-based, yet novel approach to structuring education for young children in order to increase in long term retention and overall learning outcomes.

When students first join the program, they take assessment tests to gauge their current level of knowledge on relevant academic concepts. The students are then placed into groups based on their needs rather than age alone and regularly evaluated throughout the year to ensure that they are reaching key milestones on an individual basis. Evaluations by J-Pal and Pratham of TaRL initiatives have shown that the cost-effective approach gives instructors the opportunity to make a greater impact on the learning outcomes of children.

Innovative and Scalable

In October 2018, J-Pal and Pratham launched a dedicated website for TaRL Africa as part of an initiative to improve the reach of their program throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and around the world. One of the key components of TaRL is its scalability. The program is built to be able to be easily replicated and adaptable for any classroom’s needs. Although the website doesn’t give you access to the entire program itself, they are hoping to introduce teachers, administrators and potential donors to the benefits of the program.

Co-Impact, a global philanthropic collaborative for systems change, was recently tasked with narrowing down a pool of over 250 education, health and economic opportunity initiatives to just five that would be awarded $80 million and technical support. On January 15, TaRL Africa became one of the five recipients of the Co-Impact grant, increasing the reach of the program to over three million students over the next five years.

Regarding the grant, the Executive director of J-PAL said “This grant represents the critical importance of using evidence from rigorous impact evaluations to drive decision making. [W]e can disrupt the status quo and transform lives.” This potential to increase educational levels is inspiring and should encourage other organizations to become a part of a quickly growing, knowledge-giving solution.

– John Chapman
Photo: Flickr

Ethiopian Airlines Promotes Women’s Empowerment in Africa

During the month of March, as the world observed Women’s History Month, advocates for women’s empowerment in Ethiopia held a celebration of their own. On March 8, Ethiopian Airlines sent an all-female flight crew from the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in observation of International Women’s Day.

This was a historical feat, as the group became the first all-female flight crew to fly from Ethiopia to the South American city. However, this event was not the first time Ethiopian Airlines made history by dispatching an all-female crew to another city.

As the premier airline of Africa, Ethiopian Airlines has the largest share of revenue in Africa’s airline industry and operates flights to 50 cities in Africa and 95 countries worldwide. The airline is also home to the continent’s largest aviation academy, which trains students from all over Africa to fulfill careers as pilots, cabin crew members, ground staff and maintenance technicians, among other positions. As of 2016, the airline’s academy enrolled 1,300 students in training and the number of enrolled students is expected to grow to 4,000 in the near future.

History in the Making

Ethiopian Airlines first made headlines in 2015 after it dispatched its first all-female flight crew from Addis Ababa to Bangkok, Thailand. Not only were the pilots and cabin crew members women, but so were the baggage handlers, ramp operators, ticket officers and air traffic controllers.

Furthermore, in 2017, the airline dispatched another all-female flight crew in a flight from Addis Ababa to Lagos, Nigeria, the first flight of its kind in Africa. President and CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Tewolde GebreMariam stated that the historical flights made to different cities are part of its efforts to promote women’s empowerment in Africa and that the historic flight on International Women’s Day reflects the airline’s values to mainstream gender into its business.

Educational Challenges for Women in Ethiopia

Due to cultural traditions in Ethiopia, women are not encouraged as much as men to pursue a secondary education of their choice and many have struggled to pursue professional careers. UNESCO reported that as of 2009, only 30 percent of Ethiopian women were enrolled in a secondary education program, compared to 39 percent of Ethiopian men. Furthermore, the literacy rate among Ethiopian adults was only 18 percent for women, compared to 42 percent for men.

A Time for Change in the Aviation Industry

This gesture by GebreMariam to promote women’s empowerment in Africa comes at a significant time, while the number of males to females in the aviation industry is still largely disproportionate. According to the Royal Aeronautical Society, “only 3 percent, or 4,000, of the world’s 130,000 pilots are women, and only 450 are captains.” GebreMariam is hoping to change this statistic by inspiring young girls in school to be optimistic about their futures with the opportunity to pursue a career in the aviation industry.

Besides establishing a platform to promote women’s empowerment in Africa, the historical flights are also helping bring attention to Africa’s aviation industry. GebreMariam stated that airlines in Africa only receive about a 20 percent share of the global airline market. He hopes that more efforts made to promote Africa’s airlines in distinct ways will help educate youth throughout Africa and, over time, create a greater market share for Africa in the airline industry.

– Lois Charm

Photo: Flickr


The causes of poverty in Africa cannot be narrowed down to one single source. As a developing country, Africa has a lengthy history of external, internal and man-made forces at work to bring about the circumstances this continent suffers from today.

In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 220 million people, half the population, live in poverty. Worsened by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, cultural conflict and ethnic cleansing, Africa faces many challenges that directly correlate with its impoverished status.

Poor Governance

Poor governance, one of the major causes of poverty in Africa, involves various malpractices by the state and its workers. This malpractice has led many African leaders to push away the needs of the people. Having created the “personal rule paradigm,” where they treat their offices as a form of property and personal gain, these leaders openly appoint underqualified personnel in key positions at state-owned institutions and government departments. This type of governance affects the poorest people and leaves them vulnerable, as they are denied basic necessities such as healthcare, food and shelter.


Corruption has been and still is a major issue in the development of and fight against poverty in Africa, specifically sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). SSA is considered to be among the most corrupt places in the world. According to a survey conducted by World Anti-Corruption, corruption in Africa is “due to the fact that many people in Africa believe that family relations are more important than country identity. Therefore, those in power use bias and bribery for the gain of their relatives at the expense of their country.”

Corruption costs SSA roughly $150 billion a year in lost revenue. While some countries in Africa, such as Ghana, Tanzania and Rwanda, have made some progress in the fight against corruption, there are still many lagging very far behind. A lack of effort to solve this issue only worsens the causes of poverty in Africa today.

Poor Education

Lack of education is also a serious issue that contributes to the causes of poverty in Africa. This absence is especially felt in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rates of educational exclusion. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about six and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14. Almost 60 percent of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school.

Education for girls has become a major focus of support groups like UNICEF, UNESCO and the UIS. With poor access to school, lack of sanitary facilities and social norms like female genital mutilation and child marriage, the right to women’s education is even less of a priority in impoverished communities.

However, education, especially girls’ education, has been proven to be one of the most cost-effective strategies for promoting economic growth. According to UNICEF, “studies have shown that educated mothers tend to have healthier, better-nourished babies and that their own children are more likely to attend school; thus helping break the vicious cycle of poverty.”


Poor healthcare is a major cause of poverty in Africa because the poor cannot afford to purchase what is needed for good health, including sufficient quantities of quality food and healthcare itself. With a lack of education on preventing infectious diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS, as well as the costs of consultations, tests and medicine, people living in poverty are at a severe disadvantage that only perpetuates the poverty cycle.

With a strong fight against many forces still ahead of this nation, Africa must weed out the corruption and poor government, and promote strong education and efficient healthcare for all, in order to take a big leap forward in its development as a continent.

– Kailey Brennan

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Education in Africa
Between 1999 and 2012, the world saw a decrease in out-of-school adolescents in every region except for sub-Saharan Africa. Although aspects of education in Africa have improved, including more children being knowledgeable about HIV and AIDS, many obstacles remain. Below are ten facts about education in Africa to illustrate the ongoing struggle.


Top 10 Education in Africa Facts


  1. Africa has the highest rates of educational exclusion in the world. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and one-third between the ages of 12 and 14 are out of school.
  2. Almost 60% of children in sub-Saharan Africa between the ages of 15 and 17 are not in school.
  3. Girls are much more likely to stay out of school than boys. Nine million girls between the ages of about 6 and 11 in Africa will never go to school at all, compared to six million boys.
  4. A UNESCO study in 2012 showed that the number of primary-aged children not attending school in Africa accounted for more than half of the global total.
  5. Mom-connect, an SMS texting program based in South Africa, provides educational information regarding health care and health insurance coverage. The platform connects female health workers with other women who may have health questions or concerns about their families. Apps such as this one provide knowledge where gaps exist in the educational system.
  6. In sub-Saharan Africa, only about one-quarter of pre-primary teachers are trained. Upper secondary school teachers have a slightly better ratio: about 50% have training.
  7. UNICEF partnered with the LEGO Foundation to establish an online training platform that reached 150,000 teachers in South Africa in 2016 alone.
  8. The rate of gross enrollment in tertiary education in sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest in the world, sitting at only eight percent as of 2014. This is far lower than the gross enrollment of the second-lowest country, Southern Asia, which is at 23%, where the global average is 34%.
  9. Sub-Saharan Africa opposes Eastern Europe and Central Asia when it comes to gender disparity in education among urban areas. The latter tend to see a higher level of both educational attainment and literacy among females, while sub-Saharan Africa sees the opposite. In a study by UNESCO, men in Ghana had over two more years of education than women.
  10. If every girl in sub-Saharan Africa completed even just primary education, the maternal mortality rate would likely decrease by 70%.

These facts about education in Africa are only the beginning of the information available. Studies have shown that school enrollment rates in 11 African countries between 1999 and 2012 increased by at least 20%. However, issues continue to remain that result in children dropping out of school. Quality and accessibility of education in Africa must be resolved before the situation can improve. UNESCO warns that “without urgent action, the situation will likely get worse as the region faces a rising demand for education due to a still-growing school-age population.”

Katherine Gallagher

Photo: Flickr

Africa_Digital_Education World Economic Forum

Digital education is a hot button topic in the United States, and last week, an international panel convened in Kigali, Rwanda, to discuss the efficacy of digitalizing African education systems. Held at the World Economic Forum on Africa, the friendly debate included education and governmental officials and digital education technology experts from around the world. Together, the panel discussed the two great hardships of African education—access to education and quality of education—in the context of a digital education revolution.

When some imagine the future of digital education, they see holograms and tablets, but the Digital Education panel put that idea to rest. “An educational overhaul isn’t feasible or realistic,” said Rapeland Rabana, founder of Rekindle Learning. “[We need to] look where we can build on what we already have,” she added.

In this way, struggling African governments will not be overwhelmed by new technological demands. Besides, according to TIME Magazine, only around 20 percent of Africans have access to the internet, and 40 percent don’t even have access to regular electricity. The argument can be seen that a hologram-touting educational reform system would do little in this environment.

One of the most important ideas discussed by the panel was that of privatized messaging platforms, like Messenger, WhatsApp or WeChat, as the digital basis for educational apps. Although attempting to privatize education could pose challenges of its own, Minister of Youth Jean Philbert Nsengimana pointed out that most African governments could not complete an educational transformation on their own. Instead, he said, “[We should] move away from the either-or debate and look at how the system can work together.”

Globally 57 million school-age children, many of whom are young girls, do not have the opportunity to attend school. Although the panel’s focus was digital education in Africa, the members did not forget that education is an issue outside of the continent.

Nsengimana brought this up and made it clear that he sees digital education as a means of inclusion for these educationless students, especially the young girls. Despite the logistical difficulties and the long implementation project, the Digital Education Panel at the World Economic Forum on Africa came to an encouragingly simple conclusion: by using the technologies that are already in place and focusing on accessibility in addition to advanced development, digital education tools will without a doubt be the future of education in Africa.

Sage Smiley

Photo: Flickr


Though millions of African children still attend school in run-down, shack-like buildings, rising income across the continent of Africa has created a new consumer class— one that is willing to pay for a better education.

Sub-Saharan African countries consistently rank among the lowest in the world for the overall quality of their education system, according to the World Economic Forum. Though increasing numbers of children are attending school, the lackluster curriculums leave many prepared for little more than manual labor.

But as incomes rise, more and more African families are willing to pay, sometimes thousands of dollars, for their children to receive a high quality education at a private school.

According to Reuters, the private education sector in Africa has advanced at breakneck speeds over the last two decades, with some investors more than tripling their initial investments. Private schools can range in cost anywhere from $2,000 to $16,000 annually, says Reuters.

A report by South Africa’s Centre for Development and Enterprise released last month found that over the last 15 years, private or independent school attendance in South Africa has doubled. Though the price tag is high, the dramatic increase shows a demand for better education in Africa.

The booming private sector has drawn the attention of foreign investors from around the globe, including Britain-based Pearson and Dubai-based Gems Education. With so many of the schools already in place and pulling in large profits, Gems Education said they plan to open additional low-cost schools in an interview with The Guardian.

Private schools help meet the educational demands when the governments of impoverished regions cannot afford the investment. Though the overall school attendance in Sub-Saharan Africa is among the lowest in the world, in the last two decades, even the most impoverished regions have seen school attendance nearly triple, according to The World Bank’s “world development indicators.”

However, the boom isn’t restricted to the education sector. As more and more young Africans are receiving higher education, the demand for better paying jobs is on the rise and the growing availability of skilled laborers leaves the door open for investors interested in expanding into new regions. For example, Facebook recently announced it will be opening an office in South Africa this year. In this way, the education boom is sparking an economic boom in Africa.

Gina Lehner

Sources: Reuters, The Guardian, The World Bank
Photo: The Guardian

Along Africa’s west coast is a strip of land called Togo. From 1991 to 2007, Togo experienced a socio-political crisis due to the education system’s lack of progress. The situation became increasingly violent when its veteran leader Gnassingbe Eyadema died in 2005 after 38 years in power. Since then, Togo has been seeking financial help to develop better public services, primarily the education system.

In order to improve Togo’s education, the country has set a list of primary objectives. These include, recruiting and training teachers, improving classrooms and other education facilities, providing free books and abolishing all fees for preschool and primary school. According to Education in Crisis, the number of students taking part in education has increased by 40,000 during the last decade.

Schools are state-owned, and are either Christian or Islamic. Schools take six years to complete. While the number of students has increased, about 10 percent of children are not enrolled in schools.

Secondary schools take an additional six years to complete. There are very few facilities, and most of them are near the Capital City of Lomé. The curriculum used in these schools are closely linked to what France uses.

UNICEF helped Togo a lot with an action plan on how to help the education system regain its strength. In 2007, thanks to UNICEF, 67 schools received  2,000 table-benches and 380 sets of tables and chairs for the classrooms. Also in that same year, 10,400 students from 40 different schools were given new school books.

Objectives moving forward for Togo are to maintain focus on education and make sure that the children have equal and easy access to free education. Also, Togo and UNICEF want to raise the rate of schooling from 75.7 percent to 90 percent by 2015 to meet the Millennium Development Goals of Education.

 Brooke Smith

Sources: Classbase, Education in Crisis BBC, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. When you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” goes one African saying. Indeed, women are a rare sight in African schools, but they shouldn’t be: 90% of what a woman earns, she will reinvest in her community.

But while 60% of the education population should be women, it is a goal that is missed. Getting girls into these schools is difficult for a couple reasons. The first part of the problem is a shaky economy. The second is that the African continent has only recently been taking the needs of girls seriously.

Social customs illustrate how men are considered more valuable all across the continent. Women are expected to feed men first and give them the best food, and women are also expected to work menial jobs.

A glimpse into the life of girls in school can also demonstrate why women think hesitate to send their daughters to school. Girls who are barely teenagers often voice their fears of being sexually abused when they use the latrine. At a primary school in Enjolo Village, a “cleansing” initiation involves the teacher having sex with young girls. The man could be in his 40s and 50s while the girl could be as young as 10.

The practice caused an influx of young pregnancies and also spread AIDS at an alarming rate. A group of mothers were able to halt the tradition in Enjolo and now girls drink a glass of herbs but elsewhere, the sexual cleansing continues.

While it is not as horrifying as a sexual cleansing tradition, there is another problem that symbolizes the battle women wage in schools. In many areas of the continent, schools are not equipped with latrines or other sanitation that only girls need. They lack the basic facilities that would allow the girls to not miss days of school.

With all the problems barring girls from school, research suggests that the old African saying is true when it insists that it is worthwhile to be educating women.

Educating girls reduces the chances of teenage pregnancy, making them more likely to wait to get married. Education increases earning potential by astronomic figures and by extension improves the economy of the community. Areas with high percentages of educated women are consistently ranked as less dangerous.

There are health benefits as well. Educated women are three times less likely to contract HIV, and they are better informed about nutritional and sanitation habits to keep children healthy.

—Andrew Rywak

Sources: USAID Blog, New York Times USAID Blog 2, CNN
Photo: Flickr