Turning the Right to Education into Reality

Fulfilling the right to education is not something that will happen by itself. It will take a concerted effort to make it happen; the barriers to education for the most vulnerable children remain high, and finding a way to overcome these challenges will be crucial if the dream of every child in school is to become a reality.

As our previous blog outlined, education is a human right and, as such, states have a duty to “respect, protect and fulfill” their obligations. A number of global development initiatives have aimed to do just that.

In the fifteen years to 2015, the six goals of the Education for All initiative, combined with the Millennium Development Goals, led to significant progress in getting more children into primary school and in reducing gender disparity in enrollment. The goal of Universal Primary Education by 2015 was not quite met, but the increase in the number of children in school, both as a percentage of the total number of children and in absolute terms, was impressive. By 2015, around  91% of children were in school, up from 83% in 2000, and the number of out-of-school primary-aged children fell from 100 million to 57 million.

The newest set of objectives, the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, have an even more ambitious agenda. The global goal for education aims to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”  by 2030. Specific targets are meant to direct states’ efforts to achieve this objective.  Overall, the global goals aim to reduce poverty, end hunger, reduce gender inequality, increase political awareness and take action on climate change among other worthy causes (see below).

Education is the crucial link in each of the 17 SDGs. Not only is education a right in and of itself, it is the necessary component to achieving all of these objectives. In other words, without education, development becomes exponentially more difficult.

Yet, despite this push to fulfill treaty obligations to ensure that EVERY child goes to school, progress has stalled. Enrollment rates have recently plateaued, and girls, along with the very poor and children born in rural areas, remain at a distinct disadvantage.

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics writes that “15 million girls of primary school age will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in primary school, compared to about 10 million boys.” The total number of out-of-school students at the primary level is now over 60 million, more than half of them girls. You can read about that HERE.

Breaking this down regionally, children in sub-Saharan Africa are most likely to be out of school; they account for around half of the total number of out-of-school children, globally.

Moreover, when potential secondary-aged students are added in, the number of out-of-school children and adolescents remains appallingly high at 263 million.

The graph below shows the percentages of out-of-school primary-aged children who have left school and those who may or may not ever enter the classroom.

The causes for lack of access to schooling are multiple but the three most endemic are poverty, living in a rural area and gender, as we mention in a previous blog post. Children impacted by armed conflict are also highly likely to be out of school.

That means that for states to be able to fulfill their human rights obligations to ensure that EVERY child gets a quality education, we need low-cost solutions that are easily transportable to hard-to-reach areas, combined with community engagement to encourage female participation at all levels.

We firmly believe that technology will be an important way to achieve this.

Our Mobile Learning Lab aims to bring high quality learning materials in an after-school setting to disadvantaged children who have little access to textbooks or even trained teachers. The self-directed learning aspect allows children to build on what they have learned in class and to explore new topics of interest to them. This project is based in rural Sierra Leone.

As well, through our partnership with the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Tanzania, we are supporting secondary school education for Masaai girls, an underserved and vulnerable group.

Please help these children reach their potential. It’s their Right to be able to go to school.

Every gift to the 60 million girls Foundation goes directly to the projects we support.

Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about girls’ education in developing countries and our projects which aim to give everyone a chance.

 

The Right to Education is not just Wishful Thinking

We talk a lot about the right to a quality education. We believe that every child has the right to go to school: to learn, to be given the opportunity to grow as an individual and to contribute to her community. Education is a human right, in much the same way as free speech or freedom from torture.

Indeed, this fact is not just wishful thinking. Education as a human right has been recognized in international human rights norms for almost 70 years. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) kick started this effort as the world looked for ways to safeguard and to protect individuals in the aftermath of the Second World War. The preamble to the declaration begins:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

And, as an important aspect of human dignity and equality, the Declaration promotes education with simple language, stating, in Article 26, that “Everyone has the right to an education.” Everyone. All children, no matter where they are born, no matter their gender or their race, have the right to go to school.

We know that the benefits from education are immense. Educating a child reaps massive dividends in terms of better health and nutrition, higher income earning potential, greater consciousness of the political process, more respect for the environment and, for girls, a higher standing in her community. An educated mother is more likely to ensure that her own children go to school, thus perpetrating a positive, self-reinforcing cycle. These things promote dignity and equality.

Graduation ceremony at Oleleshwa Secondary school in Kenya, a project supported by the 60 million girls Foundation.

Quality education for every child is, in fact, so important that, over the years, human rights treaties have turned this objective norm into binding law.

The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) built on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and strengthened the importance of education with the statement in Article 13 to recognize the right of everyone to education.” Moreover, this legally binding treaty goes on to promote free and compulsory primary education, along with accessible secondary and tertiary schooling.

The Convention on the Elimination against all forms of Discrimination against Women (1980) speaks to the need for gender equality in education. While there has been progress in girls’ school enrollment, much remains to be done. Girls are still more likely to drop out early and they constitute more than half of the 263 million out-of-school children and adolescents.

Finally, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the most widely ratified human rights treaty, provides a comprehensive treatment on the right to education:

 Article 28

  1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;

(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;

(c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;

(d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;

(e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.

Clearly, the right to education is not mere wishful thinking. It is what every child deserves by the very fact of his humanity. It is a fundamental part of the global framework we have created to inform how we want to live.

However, there remains a lot of work to do. The map below shows the out-of-school rates by region, with the highest concentrations in sub-Saharan Africa where around 21% of children are not in school, followed closely by Oceania at 12% and Western Asia with 11% of children not in the classroom.

Let’s not ignore this human right. With so many children and adolescents still out of school, and with girls still at a disadvantage, we clearly have to work towards ensuring that EVERY child gets a quality education. It’s just the RIGHT thing to do.

Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about our projects and the issues facing girls’ education.

Here’s a ‘Shout Out’ to our Supporters: Thank you!

Individuals can make a difference in people’s lives. We see it in our work, in the lives of the children we support, in the dedication of our partner organizations, in the everyday devotion of our volunteers and in the generosity of so many supporters who have contributed time and resources to girls’ education.

60 million girls is a volunteer-run foundation that funds educational projects for vulnerable children globally. In-kind gifts have helped us to keep our administrative costs low (ideally, zero!) so that all of your donations can go towards supporting children in need.

Our vision is to help build a world where EVERY child can go to school to get a quality education – not just access to a class room, but a place where they can truly learn and get ahead. We focus on girls because they are disproportionately impacted by attitudes and social norms keeping them out of school.

More than half of all out -of-school children are girls – but that’s not the worst of it. For children already out of school, girls are much less likely than boys to ever see the inside of a classroom.

In fact, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics says that 15 million primary-aged girls will never set foot in a classroom compared to about 10 million boys.

And, as the map below shows, many young adolescent girls, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are struggling to even enroll in secondary school.

We know how transformative girls’ education can be – it saves lives by allowing women to make better choices for their families. Education gives women higher earning power, respect within their communities and hope for the future.

The support of our donors, and collaboration with great organizations, is the pathway to our success. Without you we would not have been able to raise around $200,000 every year for the last ten years to support girls’ education around the globe.

We would like to give a shout out to some organizations who have taken that extra step to make a difference in helping with special projects such as setting up our Mobile Learning Lab in Sierra Leone. We have also had tremendous in-kind support to meet our operational costs.

  • Code Canada gave us permission to use their Sierra Leone e-books.
  • Early Reading, the Australian creators of literacy software Fantastic Phonics, allowed us to develop an offline version of this learning tool for use on our Mobile Learning Lab.
  • eXplorance, a Montreal-based learning software company, has had a team supporting us to develop the off-line version of Fantastic Phonics.
  • Luna pads  donated 30 packages of feminine hygiene products for girls participating in our project in Sierra Leone.
  • California based World Possible helped us to download educational materials onto the RACHEL Plus.

 

  • The Banque Nationale has been supporting us with no fee bank accounts.
  • Bureau en Gros (Atwater/Westmount store) recently gave us a discount on the tablets, headphones and splitters that comprise the Mobile Learning Lab.
  • The team at Concept9, a digital strategy agency, help us with any technical issues we have with our website.
  • Google has supported us with free analytics, google adwords and a free venue for a fundraising cocktail event in 2015.
  • Mazars Harel Drouin have been supporting us with free or greatly discounted accounting services since 2006.
  • The Y des Femmes has been allowing us to use their meeting rooms and halls for over 8 years for our meetings and AGM.

It is with your help that we are able to keep our administrative costs at close to zero so that all of the funds we raise can go directly to our projects.

This year, we are supporting girls’ education in Tanzanzia’s Maasai Mara. We are partnering with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to fund secondary school education for a cohort of underserved and vulnerable girls in a region where most girls marry by the age of 15. These children would otherwise not have the opportunity to go to school and we are proud to help their dreams for the future.

In addition, we are continuing our two-year collaboration with CAUSE Canada to bring our Mobile Learning Lab to a remote community in Sierra Leone. This project will bring quality educational materials to children living in a region where text books, and even trained teachers, are in short supply.

If you would like to support our projects, please click here to see how you can help.

 

2017 Projects Bring Education to Vulnerable Children

FOCUS ON COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION WILL ENSURE LONG TERM SUCCESS

Hurray! We are thrilled to announce our new project to fund secondary schooling for 100 girls in Tanzania’s Maasai Mara. We are partnering with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to provide not only education, but a holistic complement of services to ensure that this vulnerable population has the necessary tools and resources to learn, progress and graduate. Empowering these young women, and working with their communities to promote the value of girls’ education, will give them the tools to escape the cycle of poverty. You can find all the details HERE.

We know that education can be transformative and, in areas where girls are not always seen as equal or as important as boys, encouraging their communities to support girls’ education is crucial. Educating girls helps an entire community to become healthier and more prosperous. Data show that an educated girl is more likely to delay marriage and childbirth and, when she does start a family, she is better equipped to seek better nutrition for the children, to ensure that they receive healthcare and that they are able to go to school themselves. Educated women have higher earning power, which can help a family escape poverty and can give her a higher standing within the family and in the community. Finally, education encourages greater respect for the environment and higher rates of political involvement and participation.

In Tanzania’s very traditional, pastoral communities, educating girls at the secondary school level will be transformative. The Stephen Lewis Foundation writes that “…. Maasai girls are traditionally married off by the time they are fifteen years old, and only 1 in 100 girls gains access to secondary education. This dearth of education leads to a generation of women who suffer early and unwanted pregnancies, HIV infection, gender-based violence, illiteracy, poverty and hunger. Maasai girls are not encouraged to learn their rights or reflect on and gain the tools to explore their dreams and opportunities. Without any hope of a full educational cycle, there is little hope of change, physical or emotional security, fiscal independence… and so the cycle continues.”

SIERRA LEONE PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS USE OF TECHNOLOGY TO ENHANCE LEARNING

In addition, we are continuing our two-year funding commitment to our partner, CAUSE Canada, in Sierra Leone. This project focuses on using our new Mobile Learning Lab to bring up-to-date, rich and interactive learning materials to children in this rural community who have little access to traditional textbooks or even trained teachers.

Peer literacy facilitators, young women from the community who have progressed to secondary school, also work with primary-aged children, as part of this project. This peer mentoring encourages the younger girls to improve their reading skills and this positive example of what is possible helps them to stay in school to learn. You can read about this project HERE.

60 million girls’ Founder and President, Wanda Bedard, visited Sierra Leone last November to implement the first Mobile Learning Lab and to see the children’s reactions to this new tool. They loved it! Her blog from Sierra Leone explains what she did and the expected impact on the children of access to this incredibly informative and fun learning resource.

Together, these two projects, one traditional and one which uses new technologies to address educational needs, will be the focus of our 2017 funding campaign. We aim to raise at least $200,000 this year to support these worthy causes and we know that with YOUR help, we will be able to get there.

Thank you!

Please follow our blog, and befriend us on Facebook and Twitter for more information on what we do and how you can support girls’ education in developing countries.

 

How I hand carried 100,000 books from Montreal to Sierra Leone

By Wanda Bedard, Founder and President of the 60 million girls Foundation

On November 18th, 2016, I left Montreal for Kabala, Sierra Leone in the northern district of Koinadugu. I brought with me, on the plane, 100,000 school books in our Mobile Learning Lab.

This is the heart of the Mobile Learning Lab: The RACHEL Plus. RACHEL for Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning. It is a WI-FI server on which we can store up to 500 GB of content: the equivalent of 100,000 books or over 4,000 hours of video content – a $400 device smaller than a dinner plate, weighing only 600 g, that easily fit into my backpack.

 wanda-MLL1

To complete the Mobile Learning Lab we add thirty 7-inch tablets and headphones and voilà!!  A learning centre that can be set up in minutes anywhere – literally! Even in the most remote and underserved communities in the developing world.

Travelling from the northern town of Kabala to outlying villages only 23 miles away takes over two hours by truck – assuming the almost impassable roads won’t break an axle or puncture the oil pan and leave you stuck by the road with no roadside assistance, no mobile phone connectivity and no local mechanic to get you out. And this isn’t considering the rainy season when for 2-3 months, the roads are literally rivers of water and mud.

While reaching these communities is a costly and time consuming investment when it’s even possible, the Mobile Learning Lab’s value is immediately apparent. For $5,000 we can fully equip a Mobile Learning Lab including the solar charging system. It requires no special IT support and the MLL has been designed with user friendly academic content so that students can use it completely self-directed: i.e. no adults or teachers required!

The Mobile Learning Lab looks like this:

wanda-MLL2

A small sturdy hand-luggage sized suitcase with foam insert to store the tablets and the RACHEL Plus. Charged using the BBOXX solar charging system. The whole system can fully equip a community (with no electricity or access to the internet) providing students, teachers and adults with wireless access to a wealth of content.

Wanda letter -charge station

Educational content uploaded onto the RACHEL Plus includes:  Wikipedia Academic, Khan Academy math and science tutorials and Khan Academy Health, Fantastic Phonics literacy software tutorials, Sierra Leone reading books from CODE Canada, reading books from the African Storybook project, hundreds of classic e-books from the Gutenberg Project, Hesperian Health Guide, academic textbooks, information on agriculture, interactive maps, MIT Scratch coding, music, PowerTyping, videos on science lab experiments and more.

And what’s truly amazing is that the content can be updated, modified or changed at any time at no cost!  By simply bringing the RACHEL Plus to an internet connection, the content can be modified by World Possible, the developer of the RACHEL Plus, from California.

The RACHEL Plus also has a five-hour rechargeable battery capacity and an Apache log to enable us to see what the students are most often using and interested in. We can follow their needs and adjust the content accordingly!

The Mobile Learning Lab is an after school activity that students can participate in for free. They can work on any subject matter they feel they need help in, completely on their own, at their own pace and with the most up to date, interesting and interactive content available. Up to 50 devices can connect wirelessly to the RACHEL Plus at any one time working on any of the content on the server.

The first test of the Mobile Learning Lab was a huge success! After three years of research and planning, 60 million girls and our partner in Sierra Leone, CAUSE Canada, officially launched the Mobile Learning Lab in Kabala on November 25th to give thirty grade 5 students access to an IT tool for the first time in their lives.

With no instructions whatsoever on how the device works (the tablets were given to the students turned off), the students discovered on their own how to work with the tablet and within 15 minutes were able to access the RACHEL Plus server and start working on Fantastic Phonics, Khan Academy math, Wikipedia and watch TED Talks.

Wanda letter test5

The real problem was convincing the kids to turn off the tablets after an hour and a half and that they would be able to come back again in a few days and continue working on the devices.

These pre-trial activities are allowing us to fine tune the content and the structure of the Mobile Learning Lab for our next step: scaling up to 5 communities in Koinadugu in September 2017 to reach close to 1,000 students.

And, of course, follow up is crucial. With the recent support of McGill University and ISID (Institute for the Study of International Development), we developed a series of tests and surveys to evaluate the impact of the MLL and self-directed learning on the students’ math and literacy outcomes. These tests will also look at the impact on non-cognitive skills such as self-confidence, intrinsic motivation and level of aspiration. Non-cognitive skills are known to have a sustainable and durable impact on learning and positive life outcomes.

60 million girls deeply believes in the transformative power of education for all children and very specifically for girls. Research clearly shows that girls’ education decreases maternal and infant mortality rates, increases potential income, and decreases  the rate of early pregnancy and child marriage. It also decreases the incidence of a whole range of illnesses and diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Educated women are more resilient when faced with the impact of climate change and catastrophic events. Educated mothers are more likely to send all their children, both girls and boys, to school, thus breaking the cycle of poverty.

In communities with over 100 children per class, with 50% of teachers not paid and therefore difficult to recruit and retain, and with few fully trained and qualified teachers even available, with a chronic lack of textbooks and classroom teaching aids, no laboratories or hands-on experiments, an alternate model to support learning needed to be created.

The Mobile Learning Lab provides these students with the high quality, rich and interactive content  and support they need in a low cost model with the capability of being immediately implemented in any community.

Special thanks to our amazing all volunteer 60 million girls team – and particularly our R&D team members – as well as the many NGOs, businesses and individuals who have supported the development of this project pro bono and, of course, our generous donors – we couldn’t have succeeded without this great collaborative effort.

Thank you to:
CAUSE Canada
World Possible
eXplorance
CODE Canada
Bureau en Gros (Staples)

Notes from Sierra Leone: The First Test

Introducing the Mobile Learning Lab

By Wanda Bedard, 60 milllion girls Founder and President

I’m overwhelmed…. If I had to script the results of our first test of the Mobile Learning Lab, I couldn’t have imagined a better scenario. And, if I hadn’t been there to see it myself, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.

The team is comprised of:

Samuel and Matthew – CAUSE IT specialists who work with the Peer Literacy (PL) program and mobile library and after school ILRC (Integrated Learning and Resource Centre) programs.

Balla Musa – the CAUSE staff member who oversees the PL program and part of the CAUSE Kids program.

Barb – the CAUSE staff member who specifically works on our evaluation project as well as the PL program.

Wanda letter -test2

Some context

We had set up the Mobile Learning Lab, the RACHEL Plus and 30 tablets, in the ILRC and asked four local primary schools to each send us 5-10 grade five students. None of these students has ever been part of CAUSE’s Peer Literacy program. Thirty-two students showed up: 19 boys and 13 girls. CAUSE let the schools’ teachers decide whom they would invite.

Our initial objective was to see how the children reacted to the tablets – this would be an important first step in understanding how our idea of self-directed learning would unfold. The idea behind our project, as explained in our previous blog, is to offer after school access to offline educational software to improve learning outcomes and enhance intrinsic motivation to learn. With large class sizes and poorly trained teachers we were looking for another way – using technology – to get children to learn.

Wanda letter-test1

The Test

The session was to start at 3 pm at the ILRC. We set up 40 chairs with arm table support. We had water for each of the kids and a ledger book so they could sign in. The teachers came with the kids though they had been told they could only observe. They had not been told much other than CAUSE wanted to try a new learning tool with the kids. They insisted on staying because they were curious.

Half of the kids arrived at 3 pm, the other half at 3:30 pm. So the first group of kids had to wait 30 minutes with nothing to do. Samuel and Matthew chatted with them and “worked the crowd”. When the students finally arrived, they sat next to their classmates and the teachers sat at the back of the room.

Wanda letter test5

At 3:45, Samuel and Matthew handed out the tablets, which were turned off. Each child received a tablet except for two pairs of students who had to share. We did not hand out the earphones. Just before handing out the tablets, Samuel asked the children one by one if they or their family had a cell phone. 3-4 children answered yes. None had had access to a computer before.

Each child received the turned off tablet on their desk without instructions. Samuel and Matthew then went to the front of the class talking to each other with their backs to the children.

The students seemed surprised and intrigued to have this device given to them.

The children figured out how to use the tablet and how to access information. All with no adult instruction or interaction.

Within 30 seconds, one student figured out how to turn on the tablet. Within a minute, every tablet was on. In another minute, kids were taking photos and videos. They took photos of everything, including each other taking photos! Some figured out how to modify the pictures and put them together in a collage. They experimented with portrait and landscape and learned that, if they rotated the tablet, the image would change. This activity was so intense. The kids were posing and laughing so much and we all thought that’s all they would do the whole session.

But, after 15 minutes, a student was watching a Fantastic Phonics (FP) video. He had managed to get onto RACHEL and chose FP. In minutes, wave after wave of student from that section of the class to the opposite corner of the room, got onto FP. At 20 minutes, some kids were on Wikipedia.

At 24 minutes, I saw a student trying to sign in to e-mail. Not 10 minutes later, we heard the first TED Talk video, then another. By this time, the students were changing places, helping each other, talking to students from the other schools, sharing what they had learned. There were giggles, laughter and one young guy was so impressed with what he could do that he did a little celebration dance every time he managed something new!

Some kids were standing up by this time; some had a friend pose outside and took their picture. If they had to leave the room to go to the latrine, they gently placed the tablet on their desk. Every student handled the tablet with care. Some pretended it was a cellphone and put it up to their ear and pretended to talk.

Not once did any of the students ask an adult for help or advice. They went to one another for help or to see what they were working on when they heard new voices from the videos or saw cool pictures.

At 4:40 pm, Samuel told the students the session was over and asked them to return to their seats. He then told them to turn off the tablets with no further instructions. As each child was able to turn it off, they raised the tablet in their hand to show it was done. The tablets were then picked up. 30 tablets duly returned, covered in fingerprints!

Samuel, Matthew and Balla Musa then asked the students what they had been able to do: snap (take photos), take videos, read, do math, play games, read the Bible (I didn’t know that was on the RACHEL), watch films. Asked if they would like to come back next week, there was a very loud chorus of “YES!”.

Wanda letter test6

Was there anything they didn’t like? Very quickly they answered they liked everything. What did they enjoy the most about the tablets? “We like learning on our own peacefully. There was no yelling or threatening.” These were the students’ exact words and remember: their teachers were sitting in the room and heard everything. This was a different group of kids from just the hour before. They were still smiling, giggling and laughing.

I was overwhelmed. I was sure it would take the kids some time just to turn the tablets on. Once they were on, they intuitively tried touching and incessantly poked at the screen, then figured out they could swipe from side to side and up and down. They were in a frenzy to try every possible combination of buttons, clicks and swipes to find something new.

Most of the class naturally worked in small groups, moving around at will to get or give help and peek at what the other students had found. But a few students – about 10% – worked on their own, completely engaged in what they were doing and hardly moved the whole time.

Wanda letter - school building

Balla Musa asked the teachers what they thought. They had been given computers with no instructions while the kids were on the tablets. Only one teacher had some computer experience. They managed to get on FP and were fully absorbed with their discoveries. They told us they saw the great value of the content available and that it could help them with their teaching and that they should have access to it. Balla Musa, with extraordinary tact and diplomacy, answered that it was under consideration but, as he was sure they would agree, these tablets were first and foremost to help their students.

Once the students and teachers left, I spoke to the CAUSE team. From the first sound of the first tablet being turned on, Samuel and I had just looked at each other in wonder. Both he and Matthew were amazed at what they had just witnessed. We didn’t think they would be able to get so far so fast – especially being able to log onto RACHEL, which requires a few commands in sequence. Balla Musa admitted he wasn’t sure that all the research I had explained about the impact of self-directed learning on non-cognitive skills would hold true. He said now he understands precisely what we meant.

Barb was also surprised at how the mood of the class changed and how much the kids could accomplish. Everyone noted that the kids never once asked for our help!

I don’t think I would have believed the transformation in these kids in just one hour if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. They are so hungry to learn and as curious as any other child in the world. They are smart, interested and so capable – and seem to be crying out for the chance to learn in a peaceful environment at their own pace doing what they want.  And, more than anything, I saw kids having a wonderful time! We badly underestimate what these children are capable of.

 

Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter @60milliongirls

Notes from Sierra Leone: Setting up the Mobile Learning Lab

A full day in Kabala

by Wanda Bedard, 60 million girls Founder and President

The day started at the offices of our partner, CAUSE Canada, just outside the town centre of Kabala. It’s another tremendously humid and hot day. I heard it snowed in Montreal so I’m just trying to keep that image in my mind to keep cool.

We showed the Mobile Learning Lab to Samuel and Matthew, CAUSE’s IT specialists. Samuel works closely with World Possible and had been anxiously awaiting the new RACHEL-Plus, a WiFi server with up to date educational programs. He wasn’t disappointed! We took out some of the tablets, fired up the RACHEL-Plus and then I got to see the wonderful look of amazement on his face. Priceless!

Barb and Jalloh of CAUSE Canada

As Samuel, Matthew and Barb McIntosh started going through the content, I could hear the excited comments over its quality and diversity. They could visualize the impact of this information at many levels in the community. They immediately saw the Sierra Leone books from CODE Canada as a wonderful addition to help the children enjoy reading something with a familiar context. I can’t convey just how deeply they saw the value of this.

Of course, KA Lite, an offline math and science tutorial, is already a huge hit throughout the District of Koinadugo. Since it was the main software on the Raspberry Pi (RPi) (an earlier version of the WI-FI server), they have been using it for the last three years and are familiar with the program.

They can’t say enough about how students and adults alike have found it useful. People are drawn to the technology and are absolutely entranced by what they can learn.

Later in the morning, I was able to join part of CAUSE’s staff meeting. Country director Joseph Bangura introduced me and thanked 60 million girls for our support of the Peer Literacy (PL) program, which has grown incredibly since we first funded it in 2012-2013.

 During a recent visit by UNICEF Sierra Leone, the PL program came to their attention. They were intrigued by this innovative approach to supporting literacy and have asked to return to learn in more detail how it works and to discover whether it can be replicated on a larger scale. High praise indeed!

I met with Mr Bangura after the meeting and heard about CAUSE’s recent work with UNICEF: new programs in Early Childhood Education, helping out-of-school children get back to school, and a program targeting girls, who are pregnant or have become mothers, to support them and their children and ensure they can get back to school. Fascinating approaches to seemingly intractable problems.

Setting up the Mobile Learning Lab

We finally brought the Mobile Learning Lab to its new home at CAUSE’s Integrated Learning and Resource Centre (ILRC). We set up the RACHEL Plus, pulled out some tablets and let the staff figure out the rest. Thirty seconds later, I could hear and see the amazement in the sheer volume of content available.

post_2016-Nov21-RACHEL

You cannot imagine how limiting the lack of textbooks and Internet connectivity can be. Cell phone connectivity is sporadic throughout this very remote area. While CAUSE has a Wi-Fi connection at their office, the bandwidth is too limited to do much more than send e-mails.

The ILRC is a very busy place. Four days a week for two sessions of 90 minutes each, groups of 25 senior secondary and junior secondary students come in after school to work on KA Lite – at the student’s choice and level. Samuel and Matthew are there to set everything up, troubleshoot and then (literally!) pull the kids away when their time is up.

The students often beg for more time to continue working. Wait until you see the size of the classroom where this happens. The desks are placed together in four rows the width of the room. It’s 30˚C outside with high humidity. But the students are glued to the monitors in absolute concentration – all after a full day in school.

One day each week, the RPi and laptops are taken by jeep or motorcycle to various remote areas for 3-4 hours for local students to use KA Lite. I’ll see that in action later this week.

Seeing the Peer Literacy Program in Action

In the late afternoon, we went to WCSL Primary School to watch the PL program in action. Once a week, the PL girls have a lap top computer to show the Fantastic Phonic videos to the kids, both to enhance the program and increase the children’s engagement. Samuel or Matthew come by with the laptops and the RPi to different PL programs in the district. The new RACHEL Plus will make life much easier because of its rechargeable battery that doesn’t need to be powered up through a laptop and for its much wider Wi-Fi range. And now, of course, the Fantastic Phonics content has quadrupled with the addition of multimedia and exercises!

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This year, the PL program will be following Grade 1 and 2 students all year. It was felt that the younger kids would most benefit from this intensive immersion in learning English through phonics using Fantastic Phonics. I saw The Cat on a Mat in action, yelled out by groups of giggling 6 and 7 year olds. Some of the PL girls brought in props like a cap from the stories to help the kids visualize what they were learning.

I wish you could have been there to witness the unbelievable enthusiasm of the almost 200 students. Yes, 200 grade 1 and 2 students. At WCSL, there are over 100 students in the grade 1 class. Not the grade 1 level, the grade 1 class! Elementary school is grade 1-6 and there are over 700 students in this seven-classroom school.

Only half of the teachers are fully trained and paid. The other half receive a stipend from CAUSE and are supported by the community. Parents send their kids in such great numbers because of CAUSE’s support of the school through their CAUSE Kids program and the PL support.

The mobile library helps reach students in outlying communities

This morning, I went to Musaia with Barb, Samuel and Matthew so to see how CAUSE’s mobile library works. This was initiated in January 2015 as a way to give some support and access to content for students who had already been out of school since September 2014 because of the Ebola outbreak. Schools were closed for 10 months until the virus was contained and, as a result, children lost a full school year.

CAUSE brought the RACHEL and computers to a number of outlying communities to give students access to Khan Academy. The interest was so great that literally hundreds of kids would line up waiting for the jeep to arrive each week.

The program has continued since then because of the great demand from these villages. I’m told the Paramount Chief himself attends to work on KA Lite with the kids!

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Community centres prepare younger children for school

 We visited some early childhood education (ECE) centres that are being run by CAUSE for UNICEF and will open next week. These are centres, given by the community, so that trained personnel can help parents understand the importance of early play with their children.

Children come with their parents and have time to play with a wonderful assortment of toys: blocks, puzzles, crayons, paper, scissors, puppets, finger puppets, measuring cups and so much more. The centres are essentially one large room where kids can play on mats as the parents learn intervention techniques. The goal is to stimulate kids aged 0-5 years so they are better prepared to enter school.

We visited three new centres in Fadugu, about 25 minutes south of Kabala, on fully paved roads! In the meantime, Samuel and Matthew are preparing the tablets, charging them, and making sure everything is ready for tomorrow’s test of the Mobile Learning Lab with the grade 5 students from Kabala. Very exciting!

We had a super day today, scouting out possible locations for our year-long trial. (By chance, we came upon a perfect solution to many of our concerns: security, proximity to the schools, and proximity to CAUSE office.)

Planning for the first test of the new RACHEL Plus

I spent this afternoon with Barb, CAUSE’s amazing IT guys, Samuel and Matthew, and Balamusa to discuss the details of our first “live” trial of the tablets and the RACHEL Plus. We have decided to do an absolutely completely self-directed program.

The grade 5 students will be given the tablet – not turned on – with no instructions other than not to drop it. The 30 students will have access to the tablets for 2 hours without any assistance. We will watch what happens and learn from the experience to see what works and what doesn’t. The students are from four schools and their teachers will come too. Apparently, they are so curious about what we are doing! We will just have to keep them from the kids! I can’t wait to see how it all works.

This same group of kids will come for a total of 4 weeks until the holidays. I should see them once more before I go. We will collect our observations and then probably do another 8-week trial with another group in Kabala to fine-tune anything we discover.

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Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter @60milliongirls

 

First Mobile Learning Lab Set up in Sierra Leone

It all started with a question. How can we improve learning outcomes for children living in remote villages with few trained teachers and textbooks, limited electricity and no Internet connectivity?

Five years later, after many hours of research, consultations with experts, and pro bono help from a large contingent of tech experts around the world, we have put together our first Mobile Learning Lab to enable children to explore subjects of their own choosing, after school, through offline, interactive educational games, videos and tutorials.

From the beginning, we intuitively felt that harnessing educational technology was the most effective way to improve learning outcomes for vulnerable children – and our research backed this up. Training enough teachers to meet demand, even at the primary level, could never happen quickly enough.

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimates that globally, 3.2 million new teachers will be needed (excluding attrition) to achieve universal primary education; 2.2 million of those are in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Sierra Leone, one of the world’s poorest countries, this challenge seemed even more daunting. Currently, only half of children complete primary school, a mere 37% of children go on to secondary school and less than half of all adults over the age of 15 are literate. It would be hard to find a cohort of adults to train to become teachers.

We had to find another way to improve learning outcomes and to encourage children to stay in school.

The Mobile Learning Lab solution

Wanda Bedard, 60 million girls’ founder and president, is in Sierra Leone (traveling at her own expense) to deliver the first Mobile Learning Lab, a RACHEL Plus and 30 tablets, to our partner organization, CAUSE Canada.

The RACHEL Plus acts as a Wi-Fi server, and can connect up to 50 tablets simultaneously so children can access  educational software such as Khan Academy and Fantastic Phonics, offline. It’s a small, easily transportable device, and costs under $400 US, a small investment for the scope of the impact.

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Khan Academy tutorials already came in an offline version called KA Lite , which we simply uploaded onto the RACHEL. We worked with eXplorance, a Montreal company, to create and add an offline version of Fantastic Phonics, an interactive literacy software, and CODE Canada provided e-books with local stories. Plus, it’s all powered by solar energy. You can read about the details of the project HERE.

By next year, our project will provide around 5,000 children access to the Mobile Learning Labs.

Our Mobile Learning Labs are based on self-directed learning. This personalized education is the way learning occurs outside of the classroom, in the real world, and throughout life. We feel that this method not only makes sense, it is aligned with the education objective of the Global Goals, to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The children who need a little extra help will have the tools at their disposal. And, those who want to advance their learning further, will be able to do so as well.

The concept of self-directed learning is backed up by research that shows that children have an innate capacity to teach themselves. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” TED talk proved that children are curious and natural problem solvers. MIT’s Esther Duflo noted that remedial education, as well as computer-assisted learning, can be very effective as students can learn at their own pace.

Furthermore, the success of Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at the university level suggests that younger children could also benefit from this wave of access to open, license free education.  But while MOOCs are online courses offered through universities, The RACHEL Plus allows us to deliver educational materials offline to primary and secondary aged students in remote communities.

It is our hope that the program will not only improve learning outcomes but also increase children’s intrinsic motivation to learn. Initial research suggests it will. The offline software we offer is fun. One of the main takeaways from our pilot project was that the children enjoyed the new learning tools; 86% of them kept returning to our initial learning centre and math scores improved.

Overcoming Barriers to Education

We know that the barriers to education for children in poor, rural communities are very high, yet we feel that the mobile, after-school concept solves many problems inherent in reaching this population.

As the children will access the Mobile Learning Labs after school hours, we don’t need to train more teachers.

The materials are offered offline so children in remote villages without Internet connectivity can access the information. And, because the RACHEL Plus is so small, it can be easily transported to a location with Internet access to upload more information or new software. This means that the educational software can be kept up to date.

Furthermore, in times of crisis, the Mobile Learning Labs can go to the children. When Ebola hit Sierra Leone in the middle of our small pilot project and children were no longer able to go to school or gather in large groups, our partner was able to take the Lab to the children.

For girls in remote communities the stakes are even higher. They are among the least likely to go to school even though research shows that a longer a girl stays in school the less likely she is to marry young. Our project in Sierra Leone works with girl and boys (50/50) and includes a peer mentoring aspect so that girls have someone to look up to.

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Ultimately, our goal is to improve the quality of education to achieve higher learning outcomes and to foster children’s intrinsic motivation for learning.  Education is crucial to development and leads to higher incomes for individuals, more economic growth nationally, better health, a stronger sense of gender equality, lower rates of child marriage, a better understanding of environmental issues and higher rates of participation of women in the political process

If the Mobile Learning Lab concept works in Sierra Leone, we feel that it will also translate to other countries, and other vulnerable populations.

Start small but think big. We are a small organization trying to use technology to make a big impact to improve learning outcomes for children around the world.

Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter @60milliongirls to learn more about girls’ education and to keep up to date with our projects.

 

Investing in Education Depends on You!

The 60 million girls Foundation is dedicated to getting more children, especially girls, into school and learning. The quality of education is crucial for us. Access is simply not enough. With this in mind, our Project Evaluation team works hard to make sure that the projects we ultimately choose meet this goal; it’s one of the most important things we do every year.

Our $100,000 investment in a project is significant, so we want to ensure that we make the biggest impact we can with the dollars, your dollars, that we give. We are always thrilled to let you know what we have done so far:

Since our inception 10 years ago, we have invested $2.4 million in 20 projects which have helped over 20,000 children in 14 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. To have a look at all the projects we have supported click HERE.

We are truly proud of the scope of our investments, in geographic terms, and in the range of vulnerable children we have reached.

The projects we’ve supported have impacted children in aboriginal communities, HIV/AIDS orphans, handicapped children, those living in rural villages and areas dealing with climate change, girls facing discrimination because of caste or ethnicity, children in war-torn countries, and those living daily in extreme poverty.

How do we choose?

Every fall, we receive 10-15 proposals from potential partners, all Canadian registered charities.

It is difficult to select which projects to support, but our strict criteria and rating system helps to keep us focused and we always strive to ensure that girls comprise at least half of the children in the projects we fund.

This is still important because while gender disparities have fallen along with rising attendance – around 90% of children, globally, are enrolled in primary school – if a girl is already out of school and behind her peer group academically, the likelihood that she will return to the classroom, or start at all, is much lower than it is for boys. As the chart below shows, globally, of the children who are already out of school, 47% of girls are expected to never enrol, compared with 35% of boys.

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So, we focus on girls, and, we focus on the quality of education. We aim to make sure that children who are in school are actually learning. This is important for parents, and anyone who wants to see real benefits from time spent in the classroom. Finally, if children have been out of school due to conflict or other dislocation, we look for projects that find a way to help them catch up.

All of this means that our Research & Development team is always on the lookout for innovative ways to bring learning to children in need. There are many educational technologies and platforms to find new ways to reach isolated children, who are often from remote, rural communities, and have little access to traditional textbooks, and sometimes even trained teachers.

This past year, we have been working hard to raise funds for our current project, peer mentoring and self-directed learning in Kabala, in northern, rural Sierra Leone, partnering with CAUSE Canada. Some of these new technologies will be put into play and you can read about them HERE.

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The relationship with our partners is a critical ingredient in what we do. We’ve worked with WE Canada (formerly Free The Children), the Stephen Lewis Foundation, CARE, World University Service Canada (WUSC), War Child, and others.

During the year, we follow up. We ask our partners to provide regular progress reports so we know the results of your investment. Are we on track and did we get the expected results? Is our partner meeting their own performance targets?

Furthermore, Wanda Bedard, 60 million girls’ Founder & President, often visits projects (at her own expense). In fact, she will be going to Sierra Leone next month; keep an eye on this space for fun details about her trip.

To get it all done, we count on you. Your support makes a difference.

To donate to the 60 million girls Foundation, please click HERE.

Thank you.

Follow us on FaceBook and Twitter @60milliongirls

Educating the World’s Most Vulnerable Children

Every day, it seems, we hear about children denied an education. The reasons vary widely and include war and conflict, early marriage, gender and the grinding effects of poverty. The scale of the problem can seem daunting, with 124 million children and adolescents out of school. On top of that, the poor quality of education available to many of those who are in school means that many children are barely getting the basic literacy and numeracy skills they need to get ahead. There’s a lot to do to ensure every child has the chance to go to school and to learn. We, at the 60 million girls Foundation, are working towards finding new ways to effectively reach some of the world’s most vulnerable children by supporting innovative projects for maximum impact.

To achieve our goals, we devote a huge amount of time and energy into choosing projects and liaising with international partners to find effective learning materials and the means to distribute them.

The need is massive yet our resources limited. We want the biggest bang for our buck, the largest impact possible, and one that will be sustainable well into the future. This gives our investment a “multiplier effect.” A dollar now yields larger future rewards. This sustainability is crucial to making sure that future generations benefit from our investments now.

As you can see in the graph below, the number of out-of-school children fell drastically from 2000-2007, then stabilized at a high level. The most recent data showed a small increase.  If we continue on the same path we are on, with marginal improvements that can barely keep up with population growth, it will take 70 years to ensure that all children can finish lower secondary school. That is simply not good enough. A new approach is needed. The question is HOW to reach them.

Out-of-School Children & Adolescents

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Thankfully, open source educational materials and new, mobile technologies are opening up a myriad of possibilities.  Our research team has analyzed best practices and the most effective ways to integrate technology into the learning process.

Our project in Sierra Leone this year will give girls and boys in a remote community access to offline learning materials KA Lite and Fantastic Phonics  in an after-school setting. We want the program to be fun and to ignite and sustain in the children a passion for learning. Moreover, through a partnership with McGill University, we will be measuring the results so that we can better understand the impact of our investment and it’s applicability to different groups of out-of-school children.

You can help. Children are the future. Work with us  and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @60milliongirls to make sure that EVERY child is getting a quality education.