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Education in MENA
MENA, which refers to Middle Eastern and North African countries, has long struggled with promoting the value of education. Many children begin their lives with an intellectual disadvantage. This creates difficulties compounded by a drop in oil prices and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, many depend on education reforms, particularly in developing technology, to increase employment rates and stabilize the economy.

Low Education Rates in MENA

While the average adult literacy rate is 86% globally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identified that only 75% of the population in Arabic regions can read and write. This is a 30% increase from the 1970s. However, when considering elderly individuals above the age of 65, UNESCO found that the global average literacy rate is 78%, but a mere 38% in Arabic regions.

There is a rising concern about the literacy rates of young children and their education in MENA. The onset of COVID-19 closed schools as a safety precaution. An estimated 100 million students between the age of five and 17 stopped attending school. Additionally, around 14.3 million children do not attend school due to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen after the destruction of 8,850 of their institutions.

Girls’ Education in MENA

Around 67% of the Levant’s younger population think that they are not being taught enough. However, it is much worse for adolescent girls. Blatant gender discrimination controls the lives of many women, leading them to have an illiteracy rate of 42%, compared to 22% for their male counterparts.

Rates of women and girls acquiring education in MENA increased over the past half-century. The largest jump in registration was 7 million between 1950 and 1975. Nonetheless, a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that women in Egypt, Jordan and Libya must still obtain permission from the dominant male figures in their life to work independently. With the help of the United States’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), programs to fund literacy campaigns, conferences and business training sessions have also expanded the support women and girls receive in relation to their education.

Education in MENA During COVID-19

To date, the pandemic closures affected more than 100 million tertiary school students and around 830,000 school staff. These students lack access to WIFI, computers, online courses and direct contact with teachers. There are increasing probabilities that less than half of students will meet the bare minimum requirements for math and language skills.

Luckily, some tertiary schools have reformed the education system. Through the Virtual University of Tunis (VUT) in Tunisia, nearly 110,000 students have started taking classes with the 18,000 professors that are aiding the initiative. In Morocco, 12 hours of daily lectures were also agreed to be broadcasted on sports channels that regularly play on television.

UNICEF updated its 2015 MENA Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) Initiative to match these unprecedented times. The organization strives to change the teaching methods presented through in-person and remote learning. Its methodology focuses on learning and teaching, promoting multiple pathways and enabling the environment. UNICEF wants to connect education to the labor market by becoming more skills-oriented. This initiative will also address the issue that the youth unemployment rate in MENA is 25%, the highest in the world.

These approaches and more can develop the future of children in MENA. Fostering a curiosity-filled environment will stimulate a productive generation and revolutionize the working sectors in the region. Transitioning to online courses and being more inclusive of gender and financial backgrounds will increase employment rates. With governments allocating 15% to 20% of total public funds on education, MENA can prosper.

– Sylvia Vivian Boguniecki
Photo: Flickr

Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy
An estimated 750 million youth and adults worldwide can neither read nor write. This is one of the many challenges that prompted UNESCO’s 40th General Conference. The agency’s Member States proposed a solution, “Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy,” on Nov. 15, 2019. This strategy’s grand objective is to extend UNESCO’s undivided support to all countries. A special focus will be on members of the Global Alliance for Literacy, the majority of whose populations show the highest literacy levels.

Strategic Priority Areas

The Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy aligns with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, this plan follows SDG 4, “Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

The strategy has four key priority areas:

  1. Support Member States in the development of strategies and national literacy policies and strategies. To achieve this, UNESCO will work hand-in-hand with the Member States to develop learning techniques. The techniques will have a comprehensive perspective and undergo integration into public systems.
  2. Aid the education needs of disadvantaged groups, such as women and girls. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population comprises women. Consequently, UNESCO’s strategy will focus on women and other specific populations that face disproportionate disadvantages. Indigenous peoples, refugees, immigrants, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities will also be a priority in the plan.
  3. Leverage digital technologies to increase access to education and improve learning outcomes. UNESCO will help the Member States fully exploit technological innovations — such as Artificial Intelligence, Open Education Resources, etc. — that can potentially transform their learning environments. To do this, UNESCO will reinforce partnerships with outstanding research institutions and private corporations.
  4. Monitor progress and assess literacy skills and programs people’s literacy skills. To assess progress with SDG 4.6.1 indicator, UNESCO will deploy data-based learning assessment systems and powerful tools like the Global Education Monitoring Report, among others.

Literacy Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic: Attainable or Impractical?

The Coronavirus pandemic has left education systems hanging by a thread and exposed the many cracks that existed even before the pandemic. In her opening statement of the UNESCO 2020 Global Webinar, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, encouraged nations to make literacy “a force of inclusion and resilience” as they strive to reconstruct and attain more sustainable development.

UNESCO conducted a survey on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on literacy programs in August 2020. It revealed that out of a total of 49 adult literacy programs, more than 90% underwent suspension as a way to abide by coronavirus containment measures such as lockdowns.

In response to the coronavirus, UNESCO has developed the Global Education Coalition. So far, the coalition has helped over 70 countries to counter the effects that the pandemic has had on their education systems. This platform has made it possible for 82,000 teachers and 500,000 students in Senegal to carry on with their studies through the Ministry of Senegal’s “Ministry Distance Learning” platform. Furthermore, UNESCO has projected to add another 1.5 million learners and teachers through a partnership with Microsoft.

UNESCO has also assisted in creating educational resources, such as handouts, videos and guides for instructors and parents in Lebanon. These many programs have contributed to enhanced learning during these unprecedented times.

Not Easy but Possible

Despite the frailty that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, UNESCO’s Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy is thriving. The strategy is concrete proof that although the journey toward literacy is not a walk in the park, the end goal is still attainable. So long as nations are willing to push for it, literacy is possible all across the world, even during COVID-19.

Mbabazi Divine
Photo: Flickr

Computers in Ghana
As one of the world’s poorest countries, Ghana’s poverty rate rests at around 55% with only 24% of Ghanaians possessing access to the internet. As a consequence, this lack of access otherwise imposes economic stagnation on its youth population due to the mere lack of computers within the country’s education system. However, educators have recently begun utilizing this powerful resource of computers in Ghana access and information technology within communities — with its positive impact already beginning to show. While computers evolve and improve Ghana’s education system, upward economic mobility grows with it. Here are three ways that computers and new technologies are improving the standard of living in Ghana:

Teaching 21st-Century Job Skills to Teens

Including computers in the Ghanaian education system helps teens develop valuable 21st-century technology skills. In an era that places great emphasis on phones, laptops and wireless communications, technological proficiency is essential. Programs like the Ghana Code Club have taught nearly 1,700 students and trained over 300 teachers. However, the Ghana Code Club cannot replace computer science classes. Moreover, for Ghana’s youth to learn valuable computer skills such as coding, the Ghanaian education system will need to create more computer, science classes and further boost access to computers in Ghana.

Increasing Earning Power and Incomes

A Pew Survey showed that computer users with an internet connection are more likely to have higher incomes. To that end, the University of Ghana offers a dedicated computer science course, nurturing software programmers who have the potential to earn up to three times as much as their professors. However, only expanding these systems will truly allow them to reach a wider demographic of people. Currently, only around 36 people graduate from the University of Ghana’s technology program annually. Many other areas of the country still do not experience these positive impacts.

Breaking Gender Stereotypes

Although computers in Ghana are expanding social and economic standards, many traditional African communities profile against women and girls. New non-governmental organizations like STEMbees, a Ghana-based organization, allow young girls to learn coding in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other organizations – such as UNESCO’s Girls Can Code – also work to fight the battle against girl stereotypes in the African educational sphere. For example, UNESCO builds computer stations in Ghanaian villages and new schools equipped with the latest technologies.

Ghana is on the verge of a technological revolution as well as an industrial revolution. These two events will pull the country into a better future with greater opportunity for its children. As more computers get into the hands of Ghanaian students, the country’s standard of living continues to improve.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in Zimbabwe
In 2013-14, the national survey Living Conditions among Persons with Disabilities recorded that out of Zimbabwe’s population of 13 million, more than 900,000 people had disabilities, amounting to nearly 7% of the population. The survey also found that 53.5% of the disabled population were disabled before the age of 20 with about 27% being present at birth. With a disability, a person often experiences exclusion from government resources. This exclusion adds to the link between disability and poverty in Zimbabwe, and so some are placing focus on aiding the disabled population.

Children with Disabilities

In Zimbabwe, it is difficult to gain accurate statistics of children with disabilities because of the lack of routine data collection. This creates a problem because organizations are not able to aid with proper services. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Annual Statistics Report 2016 stated that 52,232 in-school children had impairments, increasing by nearly 50% from 2014. These children are not able to participate within the community in ways others can, which leads to exclusion in social services such as conventional health support, education, legal aid and more.

Socioeconomic Challenges

From 1996 to 2005, there was a major decline in Zimbabwe’s social and economic condition. Poverty is often due to a lack of resources and the inability to access the resources because of a person’s belief or location. In 2019, a Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee reported that more than 5.5 million people needed humanitarian assistance, showing a link between disability and poverty in Zimbabwe and around the world.

As mentioned, people with disabilities are often unable to contribute to certain aspects of social and economic life, thus contributing to the community’s poverty. Additionally, poverty can affect disabilities because of poor living conditions, health care and malnutrition. In fact, about 52% of people with disabilities stated that they did not receive the necessary medical rehabilitation.  Excluding the disabled population from social services causes them to become more prone to malnutrition and diseases. This exclusion stems from the discrimination of people with disabilities and adds to the community’s poverty.

Solutions for Children with Disabilities

The UNICEF Zimbabwe Country Office (CO) created a Disability Strategy 2018-2020. According to the Zimbabwe, Disabled Persons Act, Chapter 17:01 Acts 5/1992,6/2000,22/2001 disability is a human right and developmental issue. The Disability Strategy will assist in the equality and dignity of children with disabilities as well as create equal opportunities. UNICEF writes that this strategy hopes to help by “ensuring the best interest of the child, independence, freedom of choice, full and active participation in all areas of life and society.”

UNICEF’s Life-Cycle-Approach will focus on all stages of a child’s life where disabilities can or may occur. This approach will aid in prevention and assistance to the population by focusing on the prevention of a disability from conception to birth. From birth to 4 years old, the strategy will help with early detection and intervention, and inclusive access, development and protection until the child is 18. Through the National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Phase II, UNICEF has managed to distribute up to $25 monthly cash transfers for 20,000 households, including households with disabilities. To help decrease the link between disability and poverty in Zimbabwe, the national budget in 2017 provided $800,000 to help support people with disabilities.

Advocating for Disability Rights

Exclusion is a big focus when discussing people with disabilities. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) uses the phrase “Leave no one behind” in its Agenda 2030. UNESCO focuses on inclusions for all. In 2019, UNESCO was able to produce four advocacy and tools to raise awareness for increasing disability rights and the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Through these strategies, the hope exists that there will be a decrease in the link between disability and poverty in Zimbabwe.

– Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid  in South Sudan
As the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan has amazing potential to be an emerging economy in East Africa. Unfortunately, conflict has plagued the newly formed country, as it emerged as a result of a war for independence, and continues to see regional conflicts as it remains politically unstable, resulting in weaker public institutions and infrastructure. Due to this instability, it has been difficult for a strong and developed economy to take hold. However, with South Sudan’s access to natural resources and untapped human capital, a strong economy is definitely possible if there is enough of an investment in humanitarian aid in South Sudan.

Many nations and organizations, such as the United States and UNESCO, have planned solutions and committed resources to help South Sudan remedy its largest issues. The most prominent issue facing South Sudan is the continued conflict the fledgling country faces. These issues cannot be fixed purely from foreign donations and humanitarian aid but there has been a concentrated effort to help relieve the worst impacts the continued fighting has caused.

Peacekeeping

In a U.S. backed mandate, the U.N. has committed to providing humanitarian aid in South Sudan by maintaining a peacekeeping force in the country till at least March 2021. These peacekeeping forces have the task of maintaining the stability of the new peace agreement as well as assisting the roughly 3.9 million displaced South Sudanese citizens. The U.N.’s forces will have the job of monitoring the new transitional government for abuses of international humanitarian law.

While a lack of political stability is the root cause of most of South Sudan’s economic struggles, a lack of dependable infrastructure also hampers the country’s ability to combat poverty. Humanitarian aid workers have found difficulty reaching rural populations in South Sudan during regular flood seasons. Roughly 70% of South Sudan’s population lives in rural areas and as many work in the agricultural sector, meaning that for a lengthy portion of the year, they are inaccessible to humanitarian workers in addition to not having access to urban centers.

Education

Another difficulty facing South Sudan is a lack of a comprehensive education system. In 2018, South Sudan had the lowest rate of adult literacy in the world at 27%. This is partly due to its reliance on agriculture and the sparse rural communities where many South Sudanese people live. As a response, UNESCO is promoting non-formal educational spaces to not only educate South Sudanese youth but also illiterate adults. Expectations have determined that over 2,000 learning spaces will emerge by the year 2023, which will serve 330,000 children who cannot attend a traditional school due to displacement from conflict.

As of 2018, 70% of South Sudan’s population was under the age of 29 years old which has the potential to lead to exponential growth in the country. The young nature of the country’s population means that they can receive training in specialized skills and can create a sudden surge of development in certain sectors of industry. Combined with developing a stronger educational network for young adults, South Sudan can see a major increase in educated and skilled workers.

The United States, recognizing the potential for South Sudan to become a strong economy in East Africa, has continued to provide humanitarian aid in South Sudan as it develops. The United States has dedicated $97 million from the State’s Department’s Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration as well as an additional $11 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance in an effort to aid those displaced due to the conflict in South Sudan.

Looking Forward

South Sudan has all the makings of a stable and prosperous economy, a substantial amount of natural resources, access to undeveloped land and a population that is young enough to receive thorough training and education. All the country needs to do is to create and maintain political peace within its borders and continually receive humanitarian aid from global leaders such as the United States.

Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

effect on educationFor years, Lebanon has been a great place to go to school. In math and science education, the country of Lebanon ranks fourth in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. The explosion that occurred on August 4th, 2020, however, destroyed about 120 public and private schools in Beirut. The obstruction of schools will inevitably result in the obstruction of the Lebanese right to education and upwards movement in society. This article analyzes the blast’s effect on education, and how a lack of education resources in Beirut may lead to further concerns of poverty.

The Explosion

A lethal blast occurred at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon in early August. The explosion killed at least 200 people, according to the BBC, and injured around 5,000. It began as what seemed to be a warehouse fire, but it soon evolved into a catastrophic, supersonic blast that penetrated a large portion of the city. Before the explosion, Lebanon was already in an economic crisis. Nearly half of the population (45%) lives under the poverty line; the explosion has only worsened this number. Beirut’s governor stated that the financial damage to the city is $10-15 billion. The tragedy’s effect on education is a pervasive concern.

How Schools Are Impacted

Beirut was the education, publishing, and cultural capital of Lebanon, as asserted by Al-Fanar Media. With its well-known universities, Beirut was a place for locals and tourists alike to admire. The destruction to the city, though, is causing a major halt to the flourishing academic hub. The damages done to these universities amount to millions of dollars, according to the media advisor at the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Albert Chamoun.

Lebanon’s only public university, Lebanese University, has seen the worst damage out of all of Beirut’s universities. Given the financial status of Lebanon before the blast, the tragedy has only worsened the state of the university. Permanent closures may cost faculty their jobs, thus threatening them with potential poverty. Moreover, Collège du Sacré Coeur-Frères, or the Sacred Hear-Brothers College, founded in 1894, is another school affected by the blast. Considering that the school had 1,300 students enrolled, the destruction of the building hinders students’ ability to go back to school anytime soon, leaving them at home. The effects on education extend to faculty, students, and students’ families.

Future Poverty

In a country already riddled with poverty, “Lack of access to education is a major predictor of passing poverty from one generation to the next”. Schools and universities, like Lebanese University, are oftentimes young people’s only hope in moving up socioeconomically. Attaining literacy and numeracy skills greatly aids a young person’s ability to get a job in the future. Coupling this with the COVID-19 pandemic, online-learning is also not accessible for all students; many depend on in-person teaching simply because they do not have access to technology nor the internet while at home. The blast only furthered this technology gap, resulting in worse poverty for those involved in the tragic event.

According to Governer Marwan Abboud, about 300,000 people are currently without a home in Beirut. Without the reconstruction of schools, Lebanese children and young people face the lifelong threat of remaining in poverty. Therefore, the blast’s lasting effect on education directly relates to its’ effect on poverty levels in Lebanon.

Taking Action

The tragedy that occurred in Beirut is one that will permeate throughout the country for years to come. The effect on education is just one consequence of the deadly blast. Luckily, there are fundraisers and other efforts in place to help those affected by the Beirut blast, many of which involve education. Linked here is a GoFundMe to raise money for computers for students at Sacred Heart-Brothers College that do not have access to technology at home. In addition, UNICEF is helping reconstruct the damaged buildings in Beirut and aid Lebanese people across the country. They have delivered close to 20 shipments of PPE, nutrition supplies, and other hygiene necessities. They have also provided psycho-social first aid to children affected, along with caregivers that offer health referrals and counseling.

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has proposed a fundraising appeal called Li Beirut, or “For Beirut.” The purpose of this fundraising is to reconstruct schools and museums that were affected by the blast. This proposal has the potential to help many children and adolescence retain their right to education and to move up in their economic class.

Anna Hoban
Photo: Pixabay

gender discrimination in niger
Niger is a country located in West Africa that spans more than 1.3 million square kilometers and is home to approximately 22.3 million people. It is ranked the lowest out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). A prominent issue is its weakened education system, where children in Niger spend a mere two years on average. Additionally, there exists a gender gap that exacerbates discrimination against girls’ education. To combat this burgeoning issue, a variety of organizations have been working towards eliminating gender discrimination in Niger to provide better quality education for girls.

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been focusing on reform of Niger’s education system for five years. Starting in May 2015, the project targeted several schools in the town of Torodi. While this small town has been left out of many national development programs, UNESCO is working to successfully implement accessible schooling services to all girls in the region. The program also facilitates tutoring sessions and encourages female teachers to be employed in local schools.

UNESCO recognized that due to the rapid population growth, empowering the youth through education would go a long way towards improving the country’s socioeconomic standards. Moreover, with organizations like UNESCO teaming up with the government of Niger, the country is seeing positive developments in girls’ education. They reported a jump from 27 % to 65 % in girls’ primary school enrollment between 2000 and 2014.

UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also played an active role in reducing gender discrimination in Niger’s education system since 2012. Through significant investments and thorough management, enrollment into primary schools has increased remarkably, especially with girls. Approximately 66% of the 71% of children enrolled in primary schools are girls. While these numbers are promising, factors like child marriages and safety concerns remain to be a significant barrier to girls’ education. UNICEF has laid out several objectives and solutions to overcome these issues.

According to a UNICEF representative in Niger, “only one in two girls goes to primary school, one in ten to secondary school and one in fifty to high school.” UNICEF partners with Niger’s government at the ministerial level to ensure that that access to girls’ education is a policy priority. In doing so, UNICEF monitors how Niger is meeting its education goals. Additionally, UNICEF works at the community level to monitor that both boys and girls receive quality education. For girls, UNICEF realizes the cultural and societal issues at play, like the expectation of housework and child marriages, and works with those effected to overcome these obstacles.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has signed a ten year deal  (2014-2024) with Niger’s national education sector to help decrease the gender discrimination present in its education system. USAID also promotes parental education to the community as a whole. Well-educated parents are more likely to enroll their children in school as well as encourage the completion of their curriculums.

International organizations are continually working to help Niger’s government through funding and managing the country’s education sector. Reform of the country’s education system has been progressing over two decades and has made notable improvements in terms of enrollment rates. As the country progresses into the next decade, organizations like UNESCO, UNICEF, and USAID plan to further support children in Niger by working to provide them with equal and quality education. Such improvements in education and gender discrimination can have a ripple effect, bringing positive change to Niger’s social, political, and economic systems.

– Omer Syed
Photo: Flickr

Jamaica's First Skatepark
Will Wilson, the co-founder of nonprofit organization Flipping Youth, is building Jamaica’s first skatepark. Wilson and his nonprofit are building Freedom SkatePark in an effort to make action sports an accessible recreational opportunity for Jamaican youth.

What Is Flipping Youth?

After an exposure to international poverty while volunteering abroad, passionate skateboarder Will Wilson came up with the idea for Flipping Youth — a nonprofit organization driven by the mission to “empower young people from challenging environments internationally through action sports, creative arts and entrepreneurship.” This unique idea has propelled Wilson to accomplish great acts of service in impoverished countries, specifically Jamaica. In addition to fostering strong skating communities, Flipping Youth seeks to promote youth entrepreneurship, teach business skills and improve employability.

Flipping Youth in Jamaica

After watching a viral skate video that showcased a talented, Jamaican skater and a budding skateboarding community in 2016 — Wilson decided to bring Flipping Youth to Kingston, Jamaica. The idea was to help grow the skateboarding community even more. Since then, Flipping Youth has developed both local and international relationships to better understand what sort of aid is most needed in Jamaica. Flipping Youth’s main goal at the time was to decide the best way to implement the Freedom SkatePark, in an effort to foster a strong community of Jamaican youth. Also, safety is an important feature of the program for Wilson. He wants to ensure that the skatepark will become neither a place for drugs nor other criminal activities.

Progress Through Partnerships

Though the planning and building process has been slow, the future looks promising for Jamaica’s first skatepark. Thanks to funding from popular skate brands such as Supreme New York and a partnership with a nonprofit called Concrete Jungle Foundation, the Freedom Skate Park is nearly complete. Notably so, Concrete Jungle Foundation helped to complete over half of the project, including the construction of the park, itself.

Kevin Bourke, a member of the Freedom Skatepark team, celebrated overcoming many obstacles throughout the project’s duration, stating “It shows that a project that was rooted in love [can’t] be stopped.”

Improving Communities Through Sports and Activities

Flipping Youth is not the only organization using recreational opportunities to empower youth, globally. In the past, UNESCO has used youth sports programs to encourage social cohesion in areas of conflict. Organizations like Flipping Youth understand the value of recreational opportunities for youth in struggling communities. Recreation is not just for fun; according to Dr. Seiko Sugita of UNESCO Beirut, “Sports [have] proven to be a cost-effective and powerful tool for promoting peace and human values such as respect for others, teamwork, discipline, diversity and empathy.”

Recreation and Youth Empowerment

Working from a similar approach, Will Wilson’s project to create Jamaica’s first skatepark is an example of international development rooted in recreational opportunities and youth empowerment. Flipping Youth and other organizations look to sports and activities as a means of creating strong, vibrant communities and thus — a better future for younger generations and society as a whole.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Pixabay

Gender Gap in STEM CareersDigital technology has become a core asset to everyday life. The mind-boggling contributions that it affords the world are the closest to magic that we can get. This rapid progress has required the world’s workforce to evolve as well. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is crucial to supply every member of the future workforce with the skills needed to occupy future careers. Despite this necessity, many countries –particularly those in Africa–experience a gender gap in STEM careers and education, leaving female workers far behind their male counterparts.

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects, over 60% of Africa’s population is currently under the age of 25. Because of this, countries in Africa have the incredible opportunity to elevate their economies by producing a workforce of skilled STEM professionals. Despite this opportunity, there is still a worrisome gender gap in STEM careers in Sub-Saharan Africa–in order to take full advantage of advances in technology, this must be rectified. Here are five things to know about this gender gap in STEM careers.

5 Things to Know About the Gender Gap in STEM Careers in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Inconsistent Access to Electricity: Only 22% of primary schools have reliable access to electricity. This instability in electrical infrastructure makes it difficult for teachers and students to utilize technology to facilitate learning. This is a missed opportunity to expose children, including young girls, to technology and to spark a potential interest in STEM careers.
  2. Lackluster Enrollment Rates: Many children are out of school. According to the 2018 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Monitoring Report, 21% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are not enrolled in primary school. The rate of unenrolled students surges up to 57% for upper secondary education.
  3. Gender Gap in Leadership Positions: There are few examples of women in leadership positions. In most African countries, leadership positions for universities and research facilities are occupied by men. Men employed in these positions of power influence the decision-making process and tend to enjoy a higher salary than their female counterparts. Women in science typically work primarily in academic and government institutions as lecturers and research assistants. Very few women become professors or are able to contribute to major studies.
  4. Household Burdens: There aren’t sufficient frameworks or policies in place to encourage and protect women in science. Women are less likely to enter and more likely to leave STEM fields than their male counterparts. In many African societies, women shoulder the majority of the household burdens. They don’t receive the support they need to simultaneously juggle their academic ambitions and care for their families. Many women find it difficult to find adequate childcare. Additionally, if a woman decides to take a break to start a family, she may find it difficult to resume her career because of a lack of re-entry programs.
  5. Weak Support Systems: There are a lack of female mentors. In a challenging career path dominated primarily by men, it’s necessary for women to have a support system. Mentorship helps provide the potential to establish networks and grow professionally. The absence of this support system is a big deterrent for women who may find themselves feeling isolated or diminished in their field.

A country’s ability to fight disease, protect its environment and produce necessary products for its citizens is largely dependent on its citizens’ technological prowess and skill. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a wonderful opportunity to tap into their youth and produce a workforce of highly skilled professionals. Women’s participation in sciences and technologies will be a key driver in this development. There are many organizations taking a stance to address the gender gap. The African Ministers of Education adopted the Gender Equality Strategy for CESA 16-25, a detailed strategy and plan to bridge the gender gap. The future is looking brighter with each passing day. If African governments continue to support ambitious young women, the gender gap in STEM careers in sub-Saharan Africa will surely begin to close.

Jasmine Daniel
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in ChadLocated in Central Africa, the country of Chad is the fifth largest landlocked state and has a poverty rate of 66.2%. With a total population of approximately 15.5 million, a lack of modern medicine, dramatic weather changes and poor education have riddled the country with deadly diseases and resulted in severe poverty in Chad.

Poor Health Conditions in Chad Lead to Disease

The most common types of disease and the primary causes of death include malaria, respiratory infections and HIV/AIDS. Malaria, usually spread through mosquito bites, is a potentially fatal disease and is quite common in the country of Chad. Due to poor sanitation, Chadians are more susceptible to malaria; the most recently estimated number of cases was 500,000 per year.

Along with malaria, lower respiratory diseases contribute to Chad’s high mortality rate – the most common and deadliest of those being meningitis.  Lower respiratory tract infections occur in the lungs and can sometimes affect the brain and spinal cord. A lack of available vaccinations in the country has increased susceptibility to meningitis. Meningitis is most deadly in those under the age of 20, and with a countrywide median age of 16.6 years old, Chad has seen a rise in total meningitis cases and overall deaths.

As of 2015, there were an estimated 210,000 Chadians living with HIV. According to UNAIDS, there were 12,000 AIDS-related deaths just last year, along with 14,000 new cases. Those living with HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk of death with their compromised immune systems. They are unable to fight off diseases and, with the preexisting severe risk of malaria and meningitis, they are more susceptible to death.

Harsh Weather and Its Role in Food Insecurity and Disease

Due to its geography, Chad is one of the countries most severely affected by climate change. Approximately 40% of Chadians live at or below the poverty line, with the majority relying heavily on agricultural production and fishing. The drastic change in rain patterns and the consequent frequency of droughts have placed a significant strain on their food supply. Fishing in particular has been sparse. Lake Chad, the country’s largest lake, has diminished by 90% in the past 50 years. The rising temperatures in Chad have caused a decrease in both crop yields and good pasture conditions, placing more strain on those who depend on Lake Chad for food and the nutrients it adds to farming.

In addition to affecting poverty in Chad, intense weather patterns have also increased the number of infectious diseases. The infrastructure of the country has not been able to keep up with the rapidly growing population in urban areas. This results in poor sanitation. The sanitation services are overwhelmed during floods: which contaminates the water supply.

Lack of Education Affects Poverty in Chad

Despite the relatively large population, less than half of school-aged children are enrolled in school. With attendance rates so low, the literacy rates in individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 fall; currently, they only reach 31%.  According to UNICEF, attendance rates are astonishingly low; 8% for children in upper secondary school and 13% for lower secondary school. With education rates so low, income inequality, infant and maternal deaths and stunting in children continue to rise; as a result, the overall economic growth of the country declines.

Enrollment is low in Chad due to the lack of resources in schools. With the country in severe poverty, schools remain under-resourced, both in access and infrastructure. Some schools have no classrooms and no teaching materials. Furthermore, teachers are often outnumbered 100:1. As a result, the quality of learning decreases, as does the overall attendance rate.

As of now, only 27% of primary-school-age children complete their schooling. According to UNESCO, if adults in low-income countries completed their secondary education, the global poverty rate would be cut in half. Even learning basic reading skills could spare approximately 171 million people from living in extreme poverty. Educated individuals are more likely to develop important skills and abilities needed to help them overcome poverty. Education also decreases an individual’s risk of vulnerability to disease, natural disasters and conflict.

Poverty in Chad is widespread, and the rate of impoverished people will continue to grow if it is not addressed. Poor health conditions and a lack of education are just a few of the many problems people face; while the living conditions may seem dire in Chad, a gradual decrease in overall poverty rates proves that there is hope.

Jacey Reece
Photo: Flickr