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Erna Solberg
Erna Solberg is a Norwegian politician who was born and raised in Bergen, Norway and has held many different positions of power during her career. Since 2004, she has been the leader of the Conservative Party of Norway (EPP, IDU) and has been Prime Minister of Norway since the General Election in 2013. Norway re-elected her as Prime Minister in September 2017 and she has leveraged her position as the leader of a wealthy and influential country to fight for female education and children’s rights in developing countries. The Prime Minister has a long track record of international educational aid especially for women and children, and these are just three examples of the important strides Ms. Solberg has taken.

Three Initiatives in the Fight for Female Education

1. Starting in 2016, the Prime Minister co-chaired the U.N. Secretary General’s Advocacy group for the Sustainable Development Goals. During her residency as co-chair, she committed herself to increasing equitable access to education for girls and children in conflict areas. In fact, in 2018, Norway promised to increase its contribution to The Global Partnership for Education (an organization that works to improve education in developing countries) to $255 million.

2. In 2015, under the direction of Ms. Solberg, Norway committed to providing at least $6 million to improve sanitation for the estimated two billion people lacking it. This commitment may seem unrelated to education but many developing nations lack adequate sanitation, which often keeps girls from attending school regularly. Cultural stereotypes and taboos around female hygiene, especially in regards to menstruation, often keep girls out of class. The $6 million Norway pledged can make a huge difference in closing the gender gap in classrooms. For example, a UNICEF study showed that girl’s attendance improved by 12 percent in Tanzania when the girls had access to clean water. Norway’s support for proper sanitation, in tandem with education, will give girls a better opportunity to obtain a quality education.

3. In 2014, Erna Solberg launched a $12.3 million initiative in Malawi to improve the access and quality of girl’s education. On a trip to Malawi in July 2014, Ms. Solberg announced the initiative and stated that it would strengthen the education system, particularly for girls, and improve aid effectiveness. With Norway’s money and cooperation, Malawi has launched a number of programs including promoting secondary school for girls, further integrating minorities and children with disabilities into the education system and providing new technologies to enhance learning. The program has been successful so far and under Ms. Solberg’s guidance, the initiative will continue until 2020.

It is clear that since her appointment as Prime Minister of Norway in 2013, Erna Solberg has focused the plentiful resources of her nation to uplift girls in the most underprivileged countries. In an op-ed she co-wrote in 2014, she said, “if you invest in a girl, she feeds herself, educates future children, lifts up her community and propels her nation forward – charting a path that offers dignity for all in the process.” The Prime Minister openly continues to hold this belief and has launched and supported many initiatives that prove it.

– Isabel Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Education in MalawiMalawi has been ranked as one of the lowest-performing nations for literacy in sub-Saharan Africa. Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world and education is proven as one of the critical pathways to improving living conditions in the country. Here are 10 facts regarding education in Malawi:

  1. Primary school in Malawi was made free in 1994. This policy boosted primary school enrollment from 1.6 million children to three million children. However, with such an influx in students, the educational quality has decreased due to weak infrastructure, poor hygiene and low teaching quality.
  2. Only 35 percent of children in Malawi complete primary school. Such a low ratio can be attributed to multiple factors.
    More than half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. Many children enroll and drop out of school frequently due to employment responsibilities at home or illnesses. Especially for many young girls, dropping out is common due to young marriage, pregnancy, and contracting HIV/AIDS.
  3. In first grade, the teacher to student ratio is 1:130. While this ratio decreases as the grade level increases, Malawi faces one of the world’s worst teacher shortages.
    This fact is mostly due to the expense associated with hiring new teachers. To be able to attract qualified teachers, rural communities must provide housing, which is a significant cost. Many of the quality issues faced in Malawian schools are due to a lack of motivation by the teachers. They face poor working conditions, weak social amenities and lack health coverage.
    The overcrowding of classrooms is found to be another catalyst of high drop-out rates in Malawian schools. With students not receiving one-on-one feedback and lacking the resources to learn, many lose hope in the educational system.
    Therefore, in order to improve the quality of education in Malawi and reduce drop-out rates, the government must focus on improving teacher salaries and improve facilities around the nation. This policy change will incentivize staying in school and providing quality curricula.
  4. Eighty-three percent of first-grade students are unable to read a single syllable, and 92 percent of these students fail to read a single word. Malawi is ranked the weakest for its performance in English reading and second weakest for mathematics against other southern African countries.
    Such statistics are the result of children being denied the chance to learn under normal conditions. With the massive influx of students in recent years, education in Malawi has incurred a national shortage of classrooms, qualified teachers and basic teaching materials such as textbooks.
  5. Besides primary schooling, the government does not fully fund any other educational levels. For instance, the government encourages communities to introduce preschools into their societies but does not support these facilities financially. Therefore, most preschools are run on a voluntary basis and remain unregistered. Forty-four percent of preschoolers face undernourishment in Malawi and the majority of teachers work for free as they lack the necessary resources to teach the young children.
    Without proper preschool opportunities, children in Malawi are missing the opportunities that create a strong foundation for their future studies. The Global Partnership for Education declares that investing resources in the youngest children is one of the most cost-effective commitments a country can make. A study in 2011 found that, by having 50 percent of the world’s children enrolled in preschool, the global benefit is greater than $33 billion.
  6. With around 4.6 million students enrolled in schools throughout Malawi, only eight percent of them complete secondary school. A major contributor to this low completion is the lack of proper transportation links to the secondary facilities.
  7. Only 14.9 percent of adult females obtain at least a secondary education, compared to 24.2 percent of males. To try and reduce the gender gap in education in Malawi, Rihanna’s organization, the Clara Lionel Foundation, partnered with Ofo to create the 1 Km Action campaign. This program will provide scholarships to help girls across Malawi attend secondary school. For the children who qualify, the campaign will provide the students with bikes to ensure they can get to school.
  8. USAID also provides support to the education sector in Malawi by collaborating with the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. The United States’ efforts focus on increasing educational opportunities for females as well as boosting the capacity and quality of education in the country. USAID provides nine programs in Malawi to improve the educational standards of the country.
  9. Donors provide 40 percent of public education expenditure. However, in recent years donors have found that much of the money is not funneled into education but is rather stolen by the government sector. This theft has suspended much funding to the country.
  10. Over the past five years, the Malawian government has committed to allocate 18 percent of the national budget toward the education sector. With this commitment, Malawi will have one of the highest education expenditures in Africa. However, when comparing the educational quality with other countries, it can be noted that Malawi does not allocate its funds efficiently.

Experts believe that education is the driving force to alleviating poverty in Malawi and that it can help the country move toward development. With greater government involvement and international organizations supporting the nation, education in Malawi has the potential to improve in coming years.

Tess Hinteregger

Photo: Flickr

initiative in malawi
A new three year program titled “Improving Access and Quality of Education for Girls” was launched in Dedza, Malawi, on July 2 by leaders from Norway and various U.N. agencies. The new initiative in Malawi is being funded by Norway at a cost of 7.2 billion Norwegian Krone (NK) with the explicit goals of addressing a host of key threats to girls’ education in Malawi. The initiative is being supported by UNICEF, WFP and UNFPA, and will be implemented in certain schools in the Dedza, Salima and Mangochi districts.

Malawi has consistently struggled with educating their children, especially with very young girls. According to the Government of Malawi, only 27 percent of girls complete primary education, and only half of Malawian girls aged 15-24 are literate. In comparison, Malawian perform better in most subjects, especially math and reading, and are more likely to pursue post-primary education. In lower primary school grades the gender ratio is 1:1, but this starts to skew towards boys at a very early age, sometimes as early as stage 4. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, partly because of girls dropping out, often times before they gain basic literacy skills, and partly because they repeat certain years more often than boys do.

The program is designed to include several areas of joint focus. These areas include, but are not limited to: in-school feeding, improving quality of education, encouraging older girls who have dropped out to re-enroll, reducing gender based violence, creating safe spaces for girls in the classroom and the provision of health services at the school.

UNICEF Representative Mahimbo Mdoe said “…without delivering education, especially for girls, we’ll end up returning to communities, generation after generation, to help the children of the children we failed to help in the first place. We’ll also perpetuate cycles of inequality within society. There is no better time to invest in education than now.” Fortunately, UNICEF and the WFP have been able to enact their goals and help slow this cycle of poverty.

Despite all of the frightening statistics, WFP Representative Coco Ushiyama noted that there is hope for Malawian girls: “Girls in WFP-supported schools in Malawi have 10 percent lower dropout rates than the national average. Also, the graduation rate of girls from primary to secondary school is 7 percent higher in WFP-supported schools compared to non-supported schools.” With any luck this new investment from Norway will continue this upward trend and give even more Malawian girls the education they need.

— Andre Gobbo

Sources: WFP, Afriem, Nyasa Times
Photo: Camfed

education in malawi
This week marks Malawi’s 50-year anniversary of independence from Britain. While this is quite a milestone, the country is still in desperate need of improvements, including education.

Malawi is considered to be one of the least developed countries in the world. Up to 40 percent of the country’s budget is funded by donors and outside sources. The United Kingdom is their main sponsor, funding programs for social development, health, education and agriculture.

According to UNICEF, 61 percent of Malawi’s population lives below the poverty line of less than $1.25 per day. Malawi has fallen behind its neighboring countries, as many of them have moved from the low-income bracket to middle-income.

However, Malawi has seen some improvements over the past few years. In 2008, Malawi had the second-fastest growing economy in the world. In 2009, the economy recorded a 9 percent annual growth. Despite these few victories, the country as a whole is still declining.

The largest barrier for Malawi in continuing its growth and  development is the country’s lack of education.   Only in recent years has education become a focus for the government. During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, 24 percent of Malawi’s budget was allocated specifically for education. Within this percentage, over half of it was set aside for progress in primary education.

A lack of resources, however, makes it difficult for the money to go toward a good use. Schools are lacking in qualified teachers, and classrooms are filling up with 100 students at a time. Education standards are impossible to keep high when there are no sufficient resources.

Increasing education in Malawi will be a huge step toward improving the country’s development. Having an education can increase a person’s income significantly, thus allowing families to help bring themselves out of poverty.

Additionally, education can change major life outcomes, especially for women. UNESCO reports that if all women in sub-Saharan Africa completed primary education, the maternal mortality rate could drop by up to 70 percent. Education also encourages women to wait until a later age to be married, which increases their potential for success.

Malawi would benefit immensely from increasing its education system. It is the key to reducing poverty and spurring developmental growth for the country. Without education, Malawi will be at the same state when the country celebrates its 100-year anniversary of independence.

– Hannah Cleveland

Sources: The Guardian, Al Jazeera
Photo: GOAL Malawi Education