Education in Palau

Recently, the northern Pacific island nation of Palau hosted its 25th Education Convention from July 23 to July 25, with approximately 530 public and private school teachers attending. The convention follows years of progress in improving education in Palau by increasing enrollment rates, creating primary school retention programs and prolonging the average school life for both boys and girls. All these factors allow Palau to further develop its education system.

Education in Palau and Gender

Surprisingly, girls and young women in Palau have at times had higher enrollment rates than boys and men, according to a 2008 analysis by UNICEF. The Ministry of Education of Palau even stated, “…gender disparity is not an issue in Palau. If there are any cases of gender disparity, they would involve males rather than females.”

The numbers are telling. According to the Ministry in 2005, the adjusted ratio of women to men with post-secondary education was 1.11, and the ratio of girls to boys in secondary school and primary school was 1.23 and 0.92, respectively. Furthermore, according to Palau Census Data as cited in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) status report, a larger proportion of Palau women have reached higher education than men for a college degree since 2000, an associate degree since 2005 and a bachelor degree since 1990.

Only 1.5 percent of women 25 years old and over have no education background compared to 2 percent for men in the same age group. In the same category, 81.5 percent of women have one to four years of college education, while the number only stands at 75 percent for men.

Palau has outperformed some Pacific island countries in such efforts. The Global Partnership for Education states that in Papua New Guinea, for example, the 2016 primary completion rate for boys and girls was 84.7 and 73.5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, Palau’s 2014 primary completion rate for boys and girls was 96.947 and 94.69 percent, respectively. Although the Pacific Education for All effort lists various concerns of gender equity, low enrollment rates and high dropout rates for many Pacific island countries, many of these metrics do not apply to Palau.

Other Improvements Still Needed

While efforts to offer better girls’ education in Palau have been successful, other metrics for assessing the education system in Palau show that there is still room for improvement: The CIA World Factbook states that the school life expectancy for women in primary to tertiary education is 18 years compared to 16 for men. Further, the male literacy rate is 96.8 percent compared while the female literacy rate is 86 percent.

Other areas of the education system require further attention. Improving the quality of instruction is one of Palau’s top priorities, as the U.S. National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Excellence reported in 2016 that instructors scored “relatively low” on reading, writing and math skills in an assessment test. The accompanying survey found that the teachers scored particularly low on data analysis and probability; the report additionally found that teachers who scored higher had higher levels of education, taught upper-level schoolchildren and had higher reported proficiency in English.

Other indicators show weaknesses in the education system. In 2016, the student to teacher ratio in primary and secondary schools was 12:1, suggesting the possibility of overworked teachers who may not be able to give personalized attention. In primary schools in 2018, the CBE -– Life Sciences Education found that only 40 percent of teachers possessed a high school diploma. According to UNICEF, in 2015, 29 percent possessed an Associate of Arts or Science degree, and only 9 percent possessed a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Sciences. Past just the teachers, many schools do not even have adequate funding for school supplies and many buildings are in desperate need of renovations.

Tertiary education opportunities are also limited, given the small nature of Palau’s education system. With only one public high school in the country, many students attend private schools. Should students choose to attend college, the country only has one––Palau Community College (PCC). Though scholarships to attend the University of California San Diego are available, little data on tertiary education in Palau indicates few opportunities for students to expand on their education following high school.

Given that Palau has a matrilineal society and aforementioned indicators demonstrate successes in improving girls’ education in Palau and the country’s high regard for education, the main challenge is not to achieve gender parity in education but to generally boost the quality of education.

To address these concerns, the Ministry of Education has made calls for Palau schools to begin formal accreditation processes to bring more international attention to the country. Accompanying this have been efforts to implement teacher certification procedures. Studies have found varying results in English language teaching proficiency that underscore a greater need to establish training requirements for teachers and offering more opportunities for students to engage in a variety of fields, including STEM collaborations with PCC. To achieve this, the Palau government passed legislation requiring that teachers participate in a teacher preparation program at PCC.

Shaping the Landscape

International movements, organizations and regional efforts, alongside national educational improvement programs, have all helped Palau maintain high enrollment rates for girls and women and generally improve the education system. Palau’s educational achievements come almost two decades after the 2000 World Education Forum sparked Educational for All, an international movement calling for nations across the world to identify and achieve six educational goals.

With the 2006-2016 Ministry of Education’s 10-year plan to improve the quality of instruction, children have access to education from first grade until the end of high school, with compulsory primary and secondary education. The nation’s Early Childhood Comprehensive System and Head Start program––modeled similarly to American programs––provide support for families, medical services and works with Human Services and the Department of Health to help primary care providers, teachers, caregivers and families holistically care for 400 children and their development.

The ever-increasing access women have to financial stability and a wider variety of careers and roles in society throughout the past few decades have not been linked directly to women surpassing men in educational performance and attainment, according to the U.N. The 2005 census shows that women have a higher life expectancy than men, and though women are still less likely to be employed than men are, women’s median income is greater ($9,740) than that of men ($8,417). Women have “dominated” the judiciary in Palau and roles in public boards, but have yet to achieve equity in politics at the national level.

With the 25th convention coming up, the opportunities are endless for how Palau can build off its successes in creating more educational opportunities for both genders, particularly girls, by improving the overall quality of education and allowing for that education to carry over into careers and contributions to Palau society.

Jeongyoon Han
Photo: Flickr

Robotics and Programming EducationTyrone van Balla, a young South African entrepreneur, has designed a course for robotics and programming education in order to teach African children more about electronics and technology. His company, RD9 Solutions, provides accessible and affordable EdTech, or educational technology, with their innovative robots. Van Balla, originally from Cape Town, South Africa, grew up with access to a computer and now realizes how important it is for today’s children to be exposed to technology in order to be successful. As the global economy becomes more dependent on tech-savvy employees, it is imperative that Africa’s youth have the opportunity to learn these skills. That is exactly what van Balla and partner Ridhaa Benefeld plan to provide through various technologies at RD9 Solutions.

Access to technology and STEM education in many African countries is limited. In fact, UNESCO reported that only 22 percent of schools in sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity, let alone any further technology. This is exactly the issue which van Balla and Benefeld plan to address through their company. Additionally, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 aims to provide full access to education, training, skills and technology for Africa’s youth, which accounts for 19 percent of the global population aged 15-24 years, by 2063. The sheer quantity of young, working-age people in Africa has the potential to yield great economic benefit for the continent. With both the government and companies like RD9 Solutions working towards a common goal, there is the possibility for huge changes in the education sector in Africa.

With the help of MiiA, the robot that the two entrepreneurs created, students can be taught robotics and programming education for other technologies. Programming is one of the most valuable modern skills and MiiA the robot helps these children quickly learn how to be efficient programmers. Students are able to program MiiA robots to do simple actions like drive, dance and play ping-pong or soccer. Once the children learn more about programming, the possibilities with MiiA are limitless, as it can be programmed to do just about anything. A robot like MiiA is so useful in Africa because it operates as a self-teaching tool, so there does not necessarily need to be someone present that knows how to program. This allows children in all parts of the continent to become self-taught programmers.

In the next five years, van Balla envisions the robots being available all throughout Africa. He also plans on this technology having a lasting impact on African youth. With a growing job skills gap, it is necessary that the education systems in African countries capitalize on this opportunity for their young people. In fact, STEM jobs alone have grown over 17 percent in the past few years creating an immediate need for more skilled workers. MiiA robots will allow students to be exposed to educational technology at an early age and develop those skills throughout their time in school. Once they enter the workforce, their programming skills will be extremely valuable to potential employers.

– Jessica Haidet
Photo: Flickr

From June 24 through July 5 2019, Vodacom initiated its Code Like a Girl program in South Africa. In South Africa 70 girls were provided with the opportunity to take classes in engineering, math and coding. While one purpose of the communications company’s program was to narrow the gender gap, it means more for the country as a whole; it means the chance for sustainable jobs and prepares South Africa for the industrial revolution affecting all developing countries.

Early Stages of Code Like a Girl

Vodacom is a company based mainly in South Africa and nearby countries that is focused on mobile communications. It manages phones and data much like other companies, such as Verizon and Sprint, but on a more local scale. Even back in 2018, the company made plans to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects to girls in different provinces and hopefully spark an interest in these courses.

The inspiration for this plan derived from a lack of female participation in STEM courses because only 35 percent of girls pursued any kind of career in these fields. Women are also underrepresented in STEM careers, as most of them are male-dominated.

Steven Barnwell, an executive manager for Vodacom, commented that while this career gap is beginning to close globally, “in many countries, including South Africa, the gap is widening in STEM careers.” Girls in South Africa with the backing of Vodacom’s coding program might be encouraged to pursue these daunting careers, now equipped with the know-how to prosper.

Initiating the Initiative

Phoenix, a township in South Africa, documented the course of the Code Like a Girl initiative in its local news. Managing executive Chris Lazarus detailed the process and how the girls chosen benefitted.

Firstly, 70 girls in the province of KwaZulu Natal, ages 14 through 18, had been selected to learn code. They were also advised to study communications as well as science and technology subjects. Participating in both STEM subjects and Vodacom’s initiative would foster problem solving and creative thinking.

Throughout the one-week course, the girls in South Africa learned the language of the computer and how to operate programs for developers such as GitHub and JavaScript. Finally, at the end of the week, each girl presented a website she developed by herself.

Lazarus proposed that providing coding skills allows girls to thrive in the transition to a technologically developed nation, saying “we aim to have young girls excel in the fourth industrial revolution. Through our project, we want a future free of the gender inequality, more so when it comes to jobs of the future.”

Looking at the Other Benefits

Currently, South Africa boasts one of the highest information, communications and technology (ICT) markets in Africa. ICT products and service cultivates in the markets. IT jobs, therefore, are currently sought after as the economy begins to focus on its thriving industry. Girls in South Africa pursuing coding now have the opportunity to jump into the influx of jobs, securing a sustaining and well-paying future.

While the economy prospers, 30.4 million citizens still remain in poverty. Nearly half of South Africa’s black females live below the poverty threshold, and many schools remain under-resourced. However, with Code Like a Girl spreading across provinces, girls living in poverty are presented with a unique opportunity and education when the program reaches their school. A gap then not only lessens between gender, but economic class as well.

South Africa is also on the brink of a digital revolution. Communities still remain in the process of transitioning to cellphones and schools are adopting technology in their classrooms, requiring both teachers and students to adapt. Girls inspired by Vodacom’s program may find themselves with an edge, already accustomed to the confusing languages of technology while the rest of society is still getting used to it.

Matimba Mbungela, Vodacom’s Chief Officer of Human Resources, commented to ITWeb Africa in regards to the students’ situation, saying, “it [is] necessary for us as the country’s leading digital telco to take it upon ourselves and launch this initiative to prepare young females, so they can adapt skills of the future and contribute in taking our economy forward.”

Inspired by ‘Code Like a Girl,’ girls in South Africa will find a unique position in society amidst the ever-changing world of technology.

– Daniel Bertetti
Photo: Flickr

Role of STEM in Developing CountriesScience, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are important for building and maintaining the development of any successful country. From the medical scientists, who develop treatments for diseases, to the civil engineers, who design and build a nation’s infrastructure, every aspect of human life is based on the discoveries and developments of scientists and engineers. The importance of STEM today should not be underestimated as its role is becoming increasingly significant in the future. The technology produced today is altering people’s lives at a rate faster than ever before. Consequently, it is vital for countries seeking to reduce their poverty levels to adopt new scientific research and technology. In doing so, these countries can improve their economy, health care system and infrastructure. As this impacts all aspects of society, the role of STEM in developing countries is of significant importance.

STEM and Economic Progress

STEM education fosters a skill set that stresses critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. This type of skill set encourages innovation among those who possess it. Similarly, a country’s economic development and stability are dependent on its ability to invent and develop new products. Technological innovation in the modern age is only obtainable through the expertise of specialists with knowledge of recent STEM research. Therefore, the role of STEM in developing countries is important because a country’s economy is completely dependent on new developments from technology and science.

Overall, the economic performance of metropolises with higher STEM-oriented economies is superior to those with lower STEM-oriented economies. Within these metropolises, there is lower unemployment, higher incomes, higher patents per worker (a sign of innovation), and higher imports and exports of gross domestic products. According to many experts, this holds true at a national level as well. The world’s most successful countries tend to efficiently utilize the most recent scientific developments and technologies.

In recent years, there is a major increase in the number of science and engineering degrees earned in India. India now has the largest number of STEM graduates in the world, putting the country on the right track for economic development. This has led to widespread innovation in India and a consistent increase in its gross domestic product. The role of STEM in developing countries can thus improve its economy. As of early 2019, India has seen an increase of 7.7 percent in its total GDP.

STEM and Health Care

Over the past 50 years, the Western world has made remarkable progress in medical science. With new breakthroughs developed through vaccinations and treatment, many serious diseases in developing countries are now curable. Common causes of death for children in developing countries are diseases such as malaria, measles, diarrhea and pneumonia. These diseases cause a large death toll in developing countries, but they have been largely eradicated from developed countries through proper vaccinations. As a result, these diseases take a large toll on the children of developing countries. In developing countries, a high percentage of the population is under 15 years of age. As such, it is important to prevent diseases that affect children under 15.

Lately, Brazil has seen an epidemic level of yellow fever which has resulted in numerous deaths. Brazil has addressed this by implementing a mass immunization campaign. In particular, this program will deliver vaccines to around 23.8 million Brazilian citizens in 69 different municipalities. The role of STEM in developing countries with preventable diseases will be vital to improving health and life expectancy rates.

Engineering and Infrastructure

Engineers build, create and design machines and public works to address needs and improve quality of life. Engineers construct and maintain a nation’s infrastructure, such as its fundamental facilities and systems. This includes roads, waterways, electrical grids, bridges, tunnels and sewers. Infrastructure is vital to a country, as it enables, maintains and enhances societal living conditions.

Subsequently, poor infrastructure can seriously hinder a nation’s economic development. This is the case in many African countries. Africa controls only 1 percent of the global manufacturing market despite accounting for 15 percent of the world’s total population. Ultimately, poor infrastructure, such as transportation, communications and energy, stunts a country’s ability to control a larger share of the national market.

Afghanistan has improved its energy infrastructure, using a large portion of the assistance received from the U.S. Through this effort, they have been able to reduce electricity loss from 60 percent to 35 percent. Consequently, they have improved long term sustainability and created a reliable energy system for their citizens. The role of STEM in developing countries is important on a large scale, improving infrastructure to impact their citizens’ daily lives.

STEM and the Future of the World

Societies seeking new scientific knowledge and encouraging creative and technological innovations will be able to properly utilize new technologies, increase productivity, and experience long term sustained economic growth. The developing societies that succeed will be able to improve the living standards of its population. As our world becomes more interconnected, countries prioritizing STEM education and research will make significant advances in alleviating poverty and sustaining economic, cultural and societal growth. Undoubtedly, the role of STEM in developing countries is of significant importance, just as it is in our modern world.

Randall Costa
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in ThailandThe education system, and especially girls’ education in Thailand, has continued to improve over the past few decades. Like many poverty-stricken countries, however, Thailand still struggles to provide education for all and tackle the gender equality gap among young boys and girls in school.

  1. Thailand is among the few countries in the world that have never been colonized by European powers, therefore their education system developed mainly on its own. The country focused its efforts on education reform. However, the process was a difficult one. Thailand has had no less than 20 different education ministers in the past 17 years. After the military coup in 2014, the country’s government attempted to regain the education reforms that were interrupted and increased funding for education.
  2. Thailand’s education system gives children and families many opportunities to choose how they want to receive their education. The first nine years of a child’s education are compulsory, with six years of elementary and three years of lower-secondary school. Students can be enrolled when they first turn six and admission is generally open to all children. The government also provides free three years of both pre-school and upper-secondary education that can be completed after students finished their studies, both of which are optional. In 2013, 75 percent of eligible youth were enrolled in upper-secondary school programs. Secondary education starts at the age of 12.
  3. Girls’ access to education is virtually equal to boys’, as the Thai government provides all children with a twelve-year education. In 2006, the ministry of education found that primary school net attendance for boys was 85.1 percent and 85.7 for girls. Currently, enrollment rates are mostly equal for both genders.
  4. Though girls education in Thailand is accessible, girls still face discrimination and other hardships at school. Educational opportunities in Thailand are more of an issue of class and affordability than gender and culture, though both are factors. Some such hardships are the cost of supplies and uniforms. A report by the poverty line found that in higher education, the student’s family could not afford the school fees, uniform expenses, textbooks, meals and especially transportation costs to the school.
  5. The Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., found that girls face discrimination in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields from as early as primary school. A 2015 report published by the UNESCO found that the discrimination in these cases stemmed from gender stereotypes and a lack of female role models in STEM.

UNESCO is now working with Thai educators to improve STEM education and motivate young girls to pursue their dreams in the science fields. This initiative is a part of a 20-year strategy that aims to transform the country to increase innovation, creativity, research, development and green and high-technologies driving the economy.

– Madeline Oden
Photo: Creative Commons

Twenty-three years ago, Georgia committed itself to the goal of removing all discrimination against women. This pledge occurred at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, where the involved nations signed an international convention that called on each country to create an action plan.

While social norms continue to reinforce a gender divide that undermines girls’ education in Georgia, a lot has changed since the momentous convention. Here are seven things to know about girls’ education in Georgia.

7 Important Facts About Girls’ Education in Georgia

  1. Georgian girls outperform boys in reading, mathematics and science. Indeed, the average mathematics score for 4th-grade girls was seven percent more than that for boys; in addition, the average science scores favored 4th-grade girls by nine percent.
  2. The graduation rate from upper secondary schools in 2012-2013 was 74.4 percent for females, compared to 68.8 percent for males. In those same years, 91.2 percent of all females transitioned from lower secondary to upper secondary schools, compared to 85.8 percent of males. The dropout and repeat rates, on the other hand, were the same for both girls and boys, with a dropout rate of 0.2 percent and a repeat rate of 0.1 percent in grade three.
  3. Despite their academic achievements, Georgian girls are underrepresented in STEM and entrepreneurial occupations. In fact, 58 percent of all respondents to a research report by the U.N. Development Program saying that a man would make a better business leader. According to the World Bank, Georgian girls are brought up to believe that STEM careers are more suitable for men; young Georgian women overwhelmingly major in arts, education and healthcare. Men, on the other hand, tend to major in high-wage sectors like engineering and manufacturing. Organizations like the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Girls Up are stepping up to fill in the gap in Georgian girls’ STEM education. Since 2015, MCC has arranged exchange programs between Georgian and American students, placing a special emphasis on women participation and allowing Georgians to earn reputable STEM degrees. The global initiative Girls Up has organized a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Design and Mathematics camp to help girls realize their leadership potential and explore new disciplines.
  4. In some cases, early marriages have prevented teenage girls from completing their education. In 2015 alone, 224 girls aged 14 – 16 left school on the grounds of marriage. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that 17 percent of Georgian women married before the age of 18. Recognizing that early marriage carries adverse effects for girls’ education in Georgia, the Georgian Parliament ruled in a law passed on January 1, 2017 that only individuals who have reached the age of 18 are legally allowed to marry.
  5. Girls from ethnic minorities — Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Russians, Ossetians — are more likely to drop out of school. In an effort to engage these ethnic minorities with the school curriculum, Georgia’s Ministry of Education and Science has supported bilingual education programs and professional development for teachers residing in ethnic enclaves. In 2014, the Ministry awarded certificates to 80 teachers for their completion of the “Teach Georgian as a Second Language” program, which offered professional development for educators in non-Georgian schools.
  6. While Georgian girls are more likely than boys to enroll in tertiary education, educated women make up the largest category of underemployed women. Once employed, these women face a 37 percent earnings gap with their male counterparts. Diminishing this gap will incentivize more girls to pursue higher education. The Law on Gender Equality — passed on January 1, 2014 — sought to do just that by raising paid maternity leave from 126 to 183 calendar days.
  7. U.N. bodies have collaborated with Georgia’s Ministry of Education and Science to foster gender equality at school. The U.N. Women initiative, which took root in Georgia in 2001, supports girls’ education in Georgia by hosting training sessions for women interested in entrepreneurial careers. On July 25, 2018, a U.N. Women training on organizational management and leadership brought together 25 aspiring women entrepreneurs. Likewise, the Peace Corps sent 114 volunteers to Georgia to assist with English education in geographically remote areas of Georgia. After being assigned to a public school, volunteers work with teachers to organize after-school English clubs and teacher workshops in regional centers.

Increased Opportunities

With more national awareness and international assistance, Georgia has worked to promote educational opportunities for girls. Laws like the ban on early marriages help keep girls in school for longer and further their career goals.

– Mark Blekherman
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Fiji
Fiji is currently in the midst of altering their education system to better incorporate girls and empower them to lead more fulfilling lives. About 83 percent of students in Fiji — both male and female — complete their compulsory education; however, it has been found that girls’ education in Fiji lacks STEM subjects and menstrual health.

Fijian Culture and Views About Women

The culture of Fiji has remained traditional, and until the early 2000s, still viewed its women as inferior to its men. The World Bank reported that in 2012, young girls — although educated — were often domesticized directly after completing their compulsory education.

It was noted in the same World Bank report that boys are more likely to focus their attention on making money, while girls are expected to live almost solely within the home. As of 2016, 41 percent of women and 76 percent of men work in the labor force of the Fiji Islands.

To change the outcome of girls’ future, the Fiji government is encouraging young girls to engage more with nontraditional, ‘non-female’ education tracks like math, physics and science. Leadership works to accomplish such prioritization through altering education systems to index young girls’ early education towards these STEM subjects. However, the World Bank found that in 2013, only 3.88 percent of the country’s GDP is spent on education.

Changing the STEM Status Quo

Nevertheless, Fiji’s government has promised to alter its education budget so that primary and secondary education facilities throughout Fiji receive proper funding for STEM subjects. The purpose of pushing these subjects is to encourage young girls (and later women) of Fiji to pursue careers in technological, mathematical and scientific fields, which have historically been dominated by men.

This gender disparity in STEM fields can be seen at the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF), an organization formed by the Fiji government to provide a sustainable and effective water system for the country. As of 2017, only four percent of the engineering and technical staff and about 25 percent of the entire staff of WAF are female.

This gender imbalance at WAF can be traced back to gender stereotypes that dominate much of Fiji’s culture, and discourage women from entering male-dominated fields.

Finding Empowerment Through Education

To combat much of the traditional gender segregation embedded in the mindset of Fiji’s society, The World Bank suggests that Fiji begin to teach courses on gender, like the empowerment of women, in schools.

Fiji also has struggled to teach young girls about menstrual health and hygiene due to shaming. Fiji’s education board classifies menstrual health as a ‘women-only’ issue and therefore does not educate male students about the subject. This separation has created a divide in education amongst the students and thus the society.

Moreover, labeling menstrual health as a ‘women-only’ issue has made the subject taboo for men in Fiji. This restriction often translates to the shaming women for their education of the topic. UNICEF’s menstrual health and hygiene assessment found that the number one reason girls are dissuaded from continuing with education in menstrual health is that of the taunting they receive from their male counterparts.

Female Under-Representation in Leadership

As a result of the inadequate girls’ education in Fiji, there remains a major under-representation of women in senior positions of power — in parliament, managerial roles, deans of education and many others. The Human Rights Commission found that in 2016, only 16 percent of Fiji’s parliament was made up of women.

Moreover, as of 2004, only five percent of directors of publicly listed companies were women, 14 percent of legal partnerships were held by women, and about 15 percent of professors and associate professors at universities in New Zealand were female.

Much of the inconsistencies amongst genders comes from the cultural norms of New Zealand. The norm of New Zealand is that the woman cares for the home and the children, while the man works. As a country, New Zealand has struggled to shake the idea of the “domestic woman” and the “working man” from its public perception. Consequently, women’s jobs, girls’ education and overall female opportunities have suffered.

Attaining Equality for Girls’ Education in Fiji

Fiji has strived for equality and has recognized that their major setbacks — particularly in girls’ education — are hindering them from reaching such a goal. These setbacks are large and are deeply rooted in the cultural norms of the country.

Nevertheless, the fight for girls’ education in Fiji has remained firm in ensuring that the government’s promise — to provide female students with equal opportunities — is pushed through to completion. It remains to be seen, however, how Fiji’s government will further drive the equality agenda, and how much of a priority equal education will continue to be.

– Isabella Agostini
Photo: Flickr

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Education, in general, diminishes poverty, encourages economic growth and increases income. It improves the prospects of having a healthy life, reduces maternal mortality and battles epidemics including HIV/AIDS. Education fosters gender equality, reduces child marriage and promotes peace.

In the late 20th century, the world shifted from being a skills-based society to a global, primarily knowledge-based system. Therefore, the focus of global education needs to expand from its previous focus on predominantly primary and secondary education. Enhanced concentration on tertiary education reduces poverty in this new world environment.

A knowledge-based civilization depends on well-educated societies that rely on the specialized education of citizens to stimulate innovation, entrepreneurship and the dynamism of that country’s economy. Education, science, culture and communication have replaced skills learned in apprenticeship and hands-on training geared toward manual trades.

Today’s economy requires STEM education. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Defined as “an interdisciplinary approach to learning,” STEM education instructs students in technological concepts. Advanced lessons allow students to employ science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Cooperation grows between school, community, work and the global enterprise. STEM literacy permits impoverished nations to compete in a modern economy.

Tertiary education reduces poverty by facilitating STEM learning. Post-secondary education challenges poverty. It empowers students from countries with a high poverty rate to acquire the skills needed to compete in a modern marketplace. Additionally, STEM education furnishes an opportunity for students to return to their homelands (and may yet have family members) to share educational gains with the governments and communities of their youth.

Once completing post-secondary degrees, students who travel from their from their country of origin for tertiary education acquire higher paying jobs abroad. Subsequently, they send money back home to their families, a practice called “remittance.” For example, Mexico garners approximately $24.4 billion in remittances each year from immigrants in the U.S. This amount accounts for roughly 2 percent of the Mexican GDP, according to the World Bank. Across the globe, immigrants sent $583 billion to their home countries in 2014, $440 billion of which went to developing countries. Although these funds may form just a small fraction of a country’s national GDP, they still account for almost four times the $135 billion in global foreign aid disbursed in 2014. India receives about $12 billion in remittances from the United Arab Emirates, and money sent home from the broader Gulf region plays a significant part in the economy of South Indian states like Kerala.

Completed tertiary education reduces poverty more effectively than secondary education. Those who complete tertiary education are six times less likely to fall below the poverty line. Tertiary instruction reduces poverty through the creation of social equality and empowerment. It creates personal and social opportunities through the development of social capital and assists in the allocation of funds by extending possibilities for employability, income and movement between social strata.

Heather Hopkins
Photo: Flickr

Reduce Poverty in Developing CountriesA country’s economic growth, security, development and prosperity depend on the ability of its young population to obtain proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Students exposed to STEM education at an early age gain valuable experience in a consistently growing field. The skills they gain can be used to create a more innovative, efficient and productive workforce. Though most developing countries face many obstacles in affording basic education for young children, promoting STEM education can be one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty in developing countries.

As technological advancements become an inseparable part of our lives, STEM education can empower human resources with global competitiveness. UNESCO emphasizes that it is also a building block in creating “a critical mass of scientists, researchers and engineers to enable them to participate fully in the global economy.”

Obstacles in providing STEM education remain. According to the Institute of Engineering and Technology, low-quality teaching and a monotonous curriculum have been identified as two common barriers to students who end up losing interest in STEM education. Afraid of being perceived as “geeks” or “nerds,” students give in to negative stereotypes and fail to see how a STEM education can help propel them towards interesting, lucrative careers and reduce poverty in developing countries.

The perceived difficulty of STEM subjects and the ever-present pressure to obtain high scores scare off students, while a passive approach in transitioning from primary to secondary school discourages more thorough engagement. Furthermore, gender stereotypes create significant challenges for girls in developing countries to maintain an appreciable literary level, much less make strides in the STEM arena.

But there are also positive developments. In 2014, for example, 19 universities in west and central Africa received funding from the World Bank for specialized studies in STEM-related disciplines, as well as in agriculture and health.

Initiatives like Code to Hope seek to improve digital literacy and education by empowering underserved communities with the necessary computer and technical skills. Code to Hope notes that access to technology is directly related to an income increase of $21 per month.

Organizations such as the WorldFund work in Latin America and target poverty by assisting educators in devising teaching methods that can help spark students’ interests in learning STEM-related subjects.

Moreover, open source applications, which depend on the collaborative work of people all over the world, are also enhancing learning in STEM fields for students and helping to reduce poverty in developing countries. Schools utilizing the open source approach not only provide a more robust education for their students, but also help create a more sustainable future by helping people move out of poverty.

The United Nations places a special emphasis on STEM education, noting that it can empower youths and help eliminate the gender gap for young women and girls. The U.N. also notes that growing career opportunities in STEM-related fields present the best antidote to chronic youth unemployment and that STEM skills are “an ideal communication channel that enhances social engagement as well as sharing information and innovative ideas to overcome poverty and to promote peace and prosperity for all.”

By providing the necessary skill development and equal employment opportunities as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce inequality, STEM education can help reduce poverty in developing countries.

Mohammed Khalid

Photo: Flickr

STEM Programs in KazakhstanRobot battles, solar trackers and a laser that shoots for the moon — these are the inventions of western Kazakhstan’s youngest engineers. As part of their experience with the Zangar Initiative, which runs several STEM programs in Kazakhstan, these students combined the math and science they learn in school with the technological skills and hands-on experience that the initiative provides. The results seem almost like science fiction.

The results seem almost like science fiction. Although supported by Chevron and the International Youth Foundation, the community propels the initiative. The young people and their families chose the name “Zanger,” which is Kazakh for “mighty.”
The participating students are taught to use the engineering design process, a step-by-step guide for how to turn a brilliant idea into a concrete model. The process gives students a straightforward way to address a problem. They also learn skills like C programming and 3D design, which are not in the school curriculum, and have access to high-tech equipment.

The teens who participate in the STEM Capstone after-school clubs learn more than just technical skills. They often work in groups and learn both teamwork and stress management. One of the key tasks of a teammate, besides helping with design, is to steer his or her fellow engineers away from the temptation to give up should the early prototypes fail.

Perseverance is always rewarded. Many of these students go on to win regional and even national competitions. One student who created a laser designed to beam Helium-3, a potential clean energy source, from the moon to the earth, received a scholarship to the university of her choice in Kazakhstan.

The students of these STEM programs in Kazakhstan gain confidence in themselves and have high motivation to continue learning. Many of them gain the courage to become entrepreneurs. The program also opens their eyes to the needs of the community, inspiring service work and volunteering.

In December 2016, the city of Atyrau hosted its first STEM and English fair, featuring games and activities provided by the Zangar Initiative. Government officials hope that STEM programs in Kazakhstan will inspire a new generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, promoting economic and technological development within the country.

Emilia Otte