Refugees Have a Right to an Education Too

Human Rights belong to everyone, so let’s not leave anyone behind

The annual campaign to bring greater awareness to gender-based violence takes place between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25th and Human Rights Day on December 10th. This is, clearly, not mere symbolism. The right to freedom from violence and the right to equality are tied up together, along with the right to education.

This year, the 16 days of activism follows an outpouring of awareness of harassment as prominent men in entertainment and media are outed, and as the #MeToo campaign shows how uninvited sexual advances affect women across the spectrum of privilege.

And what about the world’s most vulnerable people?

This year’s theme of #LeaveNoOneBehind reflects the fact that women around the world are affected by the blight of gender violence. And women and girls in a conflict zone, or fleeing one, are among the most vulnerable. Looking for safety, they flee to refugee camps, but women don’t always find the protection they need. Refugees, who have been torn from their communities by war and conflict, can become even more vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence.

But women and girls are not alone. A new report from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reveals that men and boys are also subjected to this dehumanizing behaviour.

Source: UNHCR. Thirteen-year-old South Sudanese refugee John Luis, from Juba, South Sudan.

Protection is a priority for humanitarian organizations, and one of the main solutions is education.

Schools can create safe places for children, especially girls. Schools also provide routine, psychosocial support and the benefits that stem from learning.

The experts say that:

“If they receive safe education of good quality during and after an emergency, children and youth are less exposed to activities that put them at risk. They also acquire knowledge and mental resources that increase their resilience and help them to protect themselves.”  UNHCR

The most common protection risks associated with non-participation in education are:

  • Loss of peer-support and resilience.
  • Loss of meaningful activity and engagement.
  • Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).
  • Child labour, including transactional sex.
  • Early marriage and pregnancy.
  • Economic exploitation.
  • Forced recruitment into armed groups.
  • Perpetuation of poverty.

source: UNHCR Emergency Handbook

The list of possible outcomes for children exposed to conflict run the gamut of the worst forms of human depredations that are out there.

So, education must be a part of all emergency response operations. It is a basic need. It is a human right. Education is one of the most important pillars necessary to keep children safe.

Humanitarian workers coordinate with UNICEF and others in the development sector to build lasting education programs for refugees in host communities. It can be complicated because so many children have missed school – sometimes for years ­– and remedial or accelerated lessons are needed before children can be integrated into age-appropriate classes.

“Evidence indicates that the best strategy is to provide refugees access to host country schooling delivered by qualified teachers. This provides full-cycle access to education and the protection benefits of such access.” UNHCR

The issue of what curriculum to use can complicate matters further. Usually schooling for refugees is offered in the language, and based on the course structure, of the host country. This can make it harder for refugee children and youth to catch up, but it is necessary if they are to attain any accreditation for their efforts – a crucial factor for adolescents to qualify for national exams and to continue on to secondary school and beyond.

This accreditation, a piece of paper signifying recognition of achievement and the completion of one level of schooling, is so important. Melissa Fleming, Head of Communications for UNHCR, recounts the story of Hani, who, in fleeing his home in Homs, Syria, grabbed his most important possession: his high school diploma.

Hani, a refugee, poet, and student, wrote:

I miss myself, my friends, times of reading novels
or writing poems, birds and tea in the morning.

My room, my books, myself,
and everything that was making me smile.

Oh, oh, I had so many dreams
that were about to be realized…

After four years in a refugee camp in Lebanon, Hani’s family is now settled in Regina, and he is attending Ryerson University in Toronto.

Education can give children and youth hope for the future and is vital to ensuring their safety.

International organizations and NGOs are working on different options to keep learning on the agenda, to make it more accessible and to use it to address a host of other issues, such as finding young people a place to create a community, providing literacy programs for parents, and engaging teachers in curriculum training and pedagogy.

Finding the right way to do this takes lots of research as educators strive to establish the best evidence-based practices. New technologies are becoming an important tool to deliver quality academic materials. Our Mobile Learning Lab is one option, as it can run programs offline and without electricity.

The difficulties of getting children into the classroom, however, remain quite high, and refugee children are out of school at much higher rates with just 61% in school compared to 91% of primary-aged children, globally. At the secondary level just 23% of refugee youth are in school, a significant delta from the worldwide enrollment rate of 84%.

This is because the funding for education in emergencies is just not sufficient – despite a significant push up in 2015 and 2016. Educational initiatives account for just 2.7% of all humanitarian aid, far below the 4% target. To ensure that all children, especially the most vulnerable, can go to school and get the protection and quality education they need, the world must step up to make sure that there is enough money to provide the facilities, learning materials and teacher training to make it happen.

Their future depends on it.

So, as the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence comes to an end, please consider what YOU can do to continue the discussion and to turn #MeToo into #NoOne.

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Educating One Child at a Time

In a world rife with massive need, does the word ‘millions’ create an empathy gap?

In our data driven world, numbers have become a part of our information landscape as we try to understand the magnitude of the issues that surround us. Reports of millions fleeing war and economic hardship, and millions more lacking access to education, implore us to feel compassion and empathy and to recognize the massive scope of need around the world.

We are asked to do what we can to help in the name of our common humanity. We are asked to recognize that, but for circumstance, that child fleeing war or that girl unable to go to school because her parents can’t afford to educate both their daughter and their son, could have been you. It could have been your child. But for circumstance and place of birth.

The need is clearly so large and, when we hear the stories of suffering mixed in with hope and a search for something better, you would think that we would all give what we could, to do our little part in helping to relieve the individuals caught up in the mayhem of war or hemmed in by the high barriers to schooling.


It turns out that when we hear about millions in distress so many tune out, unable to process the largeness of the need. This fact has been brought to light and studied by researcher and psychologist, Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon.

Due to a phenomenon he calls psychic numbing or compassion fade, Dr. Slovic explains that large numbers overwhelm us. Instead of feeding our compassion, they turn a quest for empathy into apathy. So many of us have become desensitized.

Yet, while we turn away from scary numbers, the rise of the data-driven age has given us a deep pool of information to make better policy decisions and to target the most vulnerable.

In the case of education, the availability of data has been enormously helpful in identifying children who are out of school across different age groups, income brackets and place of birth. We know, for example, that more than half of all out-of-school primary aged children live in sub-Saharan Africa.

We know in which countries the out-of-school children live, the income level of their families, and if they live in the city or a rural area.  We know how many children went to school but dropped out. We know how many started school late.

Due to the advances in gathering reliable data, we know that globally, girls are still more likely than boys to be denied an education, and that out-of-school girls are much less likely to ever go back to school than out-of-school boys.

We know that refugee children are much less likely to be in school compared to all children, globally (source: UNHCR, 2016, “Left Behind: Refugee Education Crisis”).

And, we know that even children who are in school are often not learning. They are not meeting basic proficiency standards in literacy and math and that, without interventions, even those who are in school are likely to finish without the skills to get ahead, despite the great investment in education made by their families.

But all of those children number in the millions, and that scares us.

The numbers look like this:

617 million Children who do not meet minimum proficiency standards in literacy and math.
 264 million Out-of-school children and adolescents of primary and secondary school age, globally.
 202 million Children in sub-Saharan Africa who are not learning – that’s nine out of ten children in the region.
 131 million Out-of-school girls of primary & secondary school age, globally.
 64 million Out-of-school children of primary school age, globally.
 32 million Out-of-school children of primary school age in sub-Saharan Africa.
 6.4 million Refugee children who have been displaced due to conflict & disaster.
 3.5 million Out-of-school refugee children.

source: UIS and UNHCR

In other words, we have all the information we need to make a difference. But the solutions require everyone to pitch in – regardless of how great the need, and because of it.

One of the most worrying aspects of our inability to feel empathy for large numbers of people is that even when the number of children in need rises from one to two, our desire to give falls.

Dr. Slovic explains this HERE.

Moving photographs of a young child, such as two-year old Aylan Kurdi, who perished on the shores of Greece trying to escape the conflict in Syria, swayed public sentiment for a few months. So, it’s not that we don’t care about individuals, Dr. Slovic says.

But when a photo of an individual child is accompanied by information explaining the wider scope of need, donations fall.

Plus, the more longstanding the problem, the less likely we are to want to engage with it. We give to one-time crises, such as hurricanes or earthquakes which are often accompanied by massive media exposure and which have a set timeline (we know that recovery is possible), but chronic problems such as millions of children out of school and not learning, seem insurmountable.

We seem to feel that such huge need can’t be overcome with a $20 donation, or $100 or $1000.

But if we put the numbers aside, each child impacted by a humanitarian emergency or chronic need is an individual with a deep humanity no less than yours or mine.

They each have dreams for the future, lives to live with family and friends. They could be teachers, doctors, lawyers, or poets but we’ll never know what their potential is unless they have a chance to go to school.

So, does it matter if that child is one of 264 million out-of-school children and youth? If our outreach can impact one life, isn’t it worth the effort?

The 60 million girls Foundation is deeply committed to reaching children in need, and the projects we have supported over the last decade have made a difference for those children. We may not able to solve the problem for all 264 million children and adolescents who are out of school, or the 617 million children who are not learning, but giving one child the confidence to learn and to excel will make an important difference in the life of that particular child.

To learn more about the work of the Foundation, please visit our website at

Please give generously. Though the need can be overwhelming, every gift counts.

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Quality Education For All

60 million girls’ Mobile Learning Lab is designed to get quality schooling to the rural poor where large class sizes, a lack of trained teachers and limited access to traditional educational materials, mean that many children who are in school just aren’t learning.

At first, it seemed like a lofty idea. How could a small, volunteer-run organization help to overcome the seemingly intractable problem of inferior educational outcomes for poor children in rural, isolated communities?

Yet after several years, and many hours of research and consultations with experts in both academia and software development, 60 million girls put together the first Mobile Learning Lab (MLL) to enable children to explore subjects of their own choosing, after school, through offline, interactive educational games, videos and tutorials, all charged by solar panels and designed specifically to improve learning outcomes.

Have a look at the video to learn about how the Mobile Learning Lab works.

 Why Focus on Quality?

Getting all children to learn is crucial. We know that education, especially for girls, is the key to development and leads to higher incomes for individuals, more economic growth nationally, better health, stronger gender equality, lower rates of child marriage, a better understanding of environmental issues and higher rates of participation of women in the political process.

It is an absolute travesty that, globally, over 264 million children and adolescents are not in school. Yet, equally troubling, is the fact that even children who are in school are often not learning the rudimentary skills they need to get ahead.

A new report by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) reveals new data backing up the need for better quality learning in the classroom. They write:

“Two-thirds of the children who are not learning are in school. Of the 387 million primary school-age children unable to read proficiently, 262 million are in school. There are also about 137 million adolescents of lower secondary school age who are in classrooms but unable to meet minimum proficiency levels in reading.”

So while access is important, it is just not enough. Clearly, a new approach is needed to ensure not only a chance for children to go to school, but also to learn.

With this background in mind, we felt that harnessing educational technology was the most effective way to improve learning outcomes for vulnerable children. Training enough teachers to meet demand, even at the primary level, could never happen quickly enough. And, transporting heavy and bulky textbooks to isolated communities with a poor network of roads was too complicated, logistically.

We needed an inexpensive, small, lightweight solution packed with informative and engaging content – all of which is readily available to children in the global north where Internet access is ubiquitous. And so the Mobile Learning Lab was born.

The Mobile Learning Lab Solution

As you heard in our video, the MLL provides children access to offline learning materials. The MLL consists of a small suitcase filled with thirty 7’’ off-the-shelf tablets, a small solar charging system and a rechargeable server called a RACHEL-Plus (see photo below). The server, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, can hold up to 500 GB of open source high quality offline content.

Currently, the content includes a wide range of open source learning tools such as Wikipedia Academic, KA Lite (Khan Academy offline source for math and science tutorials), Fantastic Phonics and Feed the Monster for literacy, as well as thousands of e-books, encyclopedias, information on agriculture, geography, history, social sciences, and coding.

This content can be custom-loaded for each community’s particular needs and can be modified at a distance at any time by simply hooking up the RACHEL-Plus to an Internet connection where available in a larger city.

So, no Internet or electricity required. All learning materials are pre-loaded and the devices can be charged via solar panels. 

The total cost of an MLL, including 30 tablets, three solar panels and RACHEL-Plus is $5,000.

In other words, the MLL can be set up anywhere in the world at a relatively affordable cost.

Learning Without Teachers

In our project in Sierra Leone, the Mobile Learning Labs are set up to help children help themselves based on the concept of 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 fourth Global Goal to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It also makes sense where there are just not enough teachers to give each child what he or she needs.

Children work after school, and at their own pace, by connecting to whatever programs interest them, or to subject areas where they need help. In other words, those 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.

One of the main takeaways from our initial 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.

We are currently rolling out the MLL in remote communities in Sierra Leone’s Koinadugu district. To date, we have invested close to $100,000 since 2016 to further develop and test our concept and to conduct a full-year evaluation of 750 grade five students (boys and girls) in seven communities measuring math, literacy and non-cognitive skills before and after the intervention. Five communities have access to the MLL and two communities are serving as control groups in order to measure the overall impact. The final results will be available in the fall of 2018.

If the MLL 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.

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It’s a Fact: Education Reduces Poverty

Poverty is inversely and inextricably linked to education. The more education you have, the more likely it is that you will be able to increase your income earning capability to pull your family out of poverty. But here’s the catch: poor people are less likely to go to school. Plus, most of the out-of-school children and youth live in low income countries with and have fewer means at their disposal to access quality schooling. This has tragic consequences and perpetuates intergenerational poverty. In other words, the poor stay poor.

Clearly, policy responses and aid efforts have to focus on lowering barriers to break this negative cycle and to give the poor a chance to learn.

Let’s break it down. Who’s in school, and who isn’t

Let’s start with some numbers. According to a policy paper by UNESCO, 264 million children and youth are out of school, or 9% of the world’s young people, a figure that has remained constant over the last eight years. In other words, the previously downward trend has stabilized and there has been no recent improvement in the out-of-school rate, despite significant progress (especially at the primary level) in the in the early 2000s.

Looking at it from a regional perspective, 33 million primary-aged children and are out of school in sub-Saharan Africa  (more than half of the total out-of-school population for this age group), and 60 million youth at the lower and upper secondary levels. In Central Asia and Southern Asia, 11 million children and 70 million youth are out of school.

Overall, the chart below shows that while there are out-of-school children of all ages, upper secondary school-aged youth are clearly the worst off. In poor regions, this tendency is even more pronounced: 62% of youth in low-income countries are out of school. That rate falls to 47% for lower-middle income countries, 22% for upper-middle income countries, and 7% for high income countries.

Addressing Poverty is the key to getting all children in school

There are multiple causes for the high out-of-school numbers, including conflict and the growth in the refugee population, gender, disability and ethnicity. In addition, a lack of quality education means that, sometimes, children are finishing primary school without the basic skills which would allow them to continue their education at the secondary level.

Poverty, though, transcends all other barriers. In lower-middle income countries, children from the poorest 20% of families are eight times more likely to be out of school than children from the wealthiest 20%.

Education is expensive and direct costs like school fees, and indirect costs like books and uniforms, remain out of reach for many poor families. And because going to secondary school is often not compulsory, it makes more economic sense for poor families to send their children to work and for the girls to get married, reducing the cost of their upkeep on family finances.

This further reinforces the intergenerational poverty cycle. Millions of children and youth are not going to school because their families just can’t afford it; yet, at the same time, education is the main avenue for getting out of poverty.

Education is a crucial step in poverty alleviation

Research shows that each additional year of schooling can increase income by at least 10%. In fact, the UIS paper shows that just two more years of secondary schooling could help lift 60 million people out of poverty. If all adults had a secondary education, 420 million could be lifted out of poverty. That’s impressive!

An educated person has more skills and knowledge which together increase productivity, and individuals with more education will look for ways to diversify their sources of income. Educated people are also more resilient to change – economic, environmental and personal.

Education is especially empowering for girls and women. Mothers who can make better decisions for their families can deeply impact the push out of poverty. They may choose to have fewer children and to provide the children they do have with access to vaccines, medical care, better nutrition and schooling.

FACT: an educated mother is more likely to send her own children to school. This can break down the persistent intergenerational effects of poverty and inequality.

So what is being done?

Globally, the Sustainable Development Goal for education (SDG4) builds upon the successes of prior initiatives but with a broader focus, expanding the push for universal education to include secondary school. In fact, the stated objective is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

This involves targets that, for example, move toward free, universal education for primary and secondary school by 2030, the provision of pre-primary school, teacher training, gender equality in access to school, and better quality of education so that children who are in school can actually learn.

On our end, several of our projects in the last few years have focused on secondary school-age students – providing a place for the children we supported at the primary level to continue their education. This year, we are working with MWEDO, through the Stephen Lewis Foundation, to educate 100 girls in Tanzania’s Maasai Mara. This poor, rural population is generally under-educated, particularly girls who are often married by the time they are 15. You can read about our project HERE.

At the 60 million girls Foundation, we truly believe that educating all children and youth, especially girls, is crucial to reducing poverty and increasing individual wellbeing. Let’s work together to find ways to get all children in school and learning.

After-school use of mobile technologies in Sierra Leone makes learning fun

This post first appeared on the Global Partnership for Education’s Education for all blog site.

Mobile learning labs give children access to troves of educational material to strengthen classroom learning, even in places with no connectivity

We know that a quality education is crucial to economic development. It also has a lifelong impact on individuals’ health, women’s empowerment, the environment and peace building. In short, investments in quality education reap massive dividends.

On a personal level, families want to know that the investments they are making in their children’s education are worth the sacrifices. They want to know that their children are learning and that they will be able to get ahead in life.

Quality education requires many more teachers

But the impediments to getting a quality education are significant. On the one hand, large class sizes and lagging teacher training in many countries mean that, while more children than ever are in school, they are not necessarily getting the attention they need.

In Sierra Leone, for example, while almost all primary-school aged boys and girls enroll in primary school, the gross enrollment ratio for secondary school is just 43%. Given the dearth of qualified teachers, it will be difficult to meet the demand for more and better schooling.

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates that, globally, schools will need another 69 million teachers by 2030 to make up for attrition and higher school enrollment.

Using mobile technology to give children more learning tools

For the 60 million girls Foundation, technology is the way forward, not to replace the local curriculum or compete with local teachers, but to supplement their efforts.

The after-school Mobile Learning Lab is designed to do just that.

The Mobile Learning Lab is based on self-directed learning, which personalizes education and mimics the way learning occurs outside of the classroom in the real world, and throughout life.

This method not only makes sense, it is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals’ education objective 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. Those who want to advance their learning on a particular topic will be able to do so as well.

Easy access to technology is key

The technology used in the Mobile Learning Lab is simple, inexpensive, easily transportable and does not require the Internet, a crucial feature in remote villages where online connectivity is not always readily available.

Our project, based in Sierra Leone’s Koinadugu district, offers students in grades 4, 5 and 6, in five different communities, hours of learning per year at an annual operating cost of less than $0.08/student hour (including a solar charging system).

A RACHEL-Plus (Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning), a small device that can fit in the palm of your hand, can store up to a maximum of 500 GB of content and acts as a Wi-Fi server to connect up to 50 tablets simultaneously. This enables the children to access pre-downloaded educational software, such as math and science tutorials on KA Lite (the offline version of Khan Academy), interactive literacy software Fantastic Phonics, story books, and much more.

Tailoring content to context

More generally, the content is totally customizable based on local needs, and can be updated by bringing the device to a location where Internet connectivity is available. As the RACHEL-Plus is a “plug and play” device and the components are all open source software, there is no need for IT specialists.

When setting up the Mobile Learning Lab, we paid significant attention to the quality of the content available to the children – it had to be interesting, fun, relatable and available offline.

To this end, we worked with a Montreal-based technology company to translate Fantastic Phonics into an offline format so it could be downloaded on the RACHEL-Plus. We also found reference materials with content of local interest and electronic books written by local authors – as we all know, the power of reading stories comes from the lessons we can take away from them.

Ensuring the community is involved

Local community involvement is crucial to the success of the program. Our partner in Koinadugu works closely with the communities and families to ensure parental support so that the children can stay after school to participate in the Mobile Learning Lab learning activities.

The local community is also a key component in the security and functionality of the Mobile Learning Lab: a coordinator has to hook up the tablets to the solar power charging stations in the evenings and store them away in their secure box when not in use, to maintain their usability and to prevent theft and damage.

It is our hope that the program will not only improve learning outcomes but will also work with children’s natural intrinsic motivation to learn. Results from an early pilot project suggest it will.

One of the main takeaways is that the children enjoy the new learning tools: 86% of them kept returning to our initial learning center and math scores improved (though it should be noted that children in the initial pilot project only had access to KA Lite).

Additional measurement of the children’s math, literacy and non-cognitive skills will take place at the end of the current cycle to further evaluate the impact of the program on learning outcomes.

Supplementing classroom learning even in crisis situations

We know that the barriers to education for children in poor, rural communities are very high, yet we feel that this self-directed, after-school concept can supplement traditional classroom learning, particularly where textbooks and fully trained teachers are in short supply.

And in times of crisis, the Mobile Learning Lab 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.

Ultimately, the Mobile Learning Lab is designed to improve the quality of education to achieve higher learning outcomes and to foster children’s intrinsic motivation for learning.


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


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.”


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 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, a $400 device smaller than a dinner plate, weighing only 600 g and easily fitting into my backpack, 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 .


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  even when it’s possible, the Mobile Learning Lab’s value is immediately apparent. For $5,000 we can fully equip a Mobile Learning Lab (MLL), 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:


It’s a small sturdy hand-luggage sized suitcase with foam inserts to store the tablets and the RACHEL-Plus. 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. However, we promised 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 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
CODE Canada
Bureau en Gros (Staples)