Education Fights Poverty (Especially for Women and Girls)

We envision a world without poverty and hunger, and this starts with ensuring that all children attend school to gain the skills they need to get ahead. Progress over the last several decades has shown us that this is possible. Today, fewer people are living in poverty, and more children than ever (girls and boys) are in school. However, millions remain out of school and millions more are just not learning. Yet, new World Bank research shows that education – and the more the better – can boost incomes while a lack of education can cost trillions of dollars, globally.

Let’s look at a few feel-good facts

The absolute number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from over 2 billion in 1970 (the peak of red in the graph below), to 705 million today. This is true despite a burst in population growth.

Proportionally, poverty has declined from 44% of the population to around 10% in the same time period.

The number of out-of-school primary-aged children across the globe declined from 100 million to 63 million between 2000 and 2017.

The number of out-of-school youth of upper-secondary school age fell from 177 million to 139 million in the same period.

The fight for quality education for EVERY child is not over

While recognizing progress, the fact remains that millions of people continue to live in extreme poverty and one in five children and youth is out of school. Moreover, over the last five years, the decline in the out-of-school population has tapered off and remains staggeringly high at 263 million.

Further compounding this bad news is the fact that the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) estimates that six out of ten children are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in mathematics and literacy. That means that 617 million children, two-thirds of whom are in school, are just not learning the skills they need to increase wages, improve their income earning power and climb out of poverty.

In low-income countries, where people could benefit the most from poverty-busting tools, almost 90% of school-aged children and youth are not meeting minimum standards in these foundational skillsets.

So, not only are millions of children still losing out on getting an education, millions more who are in school just aren’t learning.

Poverty and education are linked through skill development

This learning crisis is more disconcerting when paired with the fact that study after study, as well as years of anecdotal experience, have shown that education is a crucial factor in lifting people out of poverty. We would even go so far as to say that education – quality education ­– is a silver bullet and the best poverty-busting tool available.

Research also shows that there is a complex interconnectedness between poverty, education and gender. In fact, the ability of education to improve the lives of women and girls is particularly compelling. Conversely, the cost of not educating girls is massive.

This is why at least half of the beneficiaries of the projects the 60 million girls Foundation supports must be girls.

Stunning new research shows that each additional year of schooling at the primary level can boost a woman’s income by up to 19%. Secondary education can double a woman’s income and tertiary education can triple it.

In addition to wage growth, education can help the poor find more stable employment opportunities in the formal sector. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the least educated tend to work almost exclusively in highly informal employment, though this falls to 88% for those with at least a primary-level education and 68% for those who have completed secondary school. And women in low-income countries work in the informal sector at a greater rate than men.

Even for some of the most marginalized groups like agricultural workers, education can make a difference. An educated farmer can increase agricultural output by making more informed decisions about adopting new techniques to increase efficiency and productivity, and better adapt to changes brought on by climate change.

On the other side of the scale, a new World Bank report reveals that the economic cost of not educating girls and women through secondary school runs from US$ 15-30 trillion based on lost earnings.

The intergenerational effect of education’s poverty-busting impact is crucial

Poverty, though, encompasses more than dollars and cents. It is multidimensional and includes other elements of well-being, such as education, a lack of nutrition, health, housing and a willingness to stand up for one’s rights. Poor access to education may be a consequence of poverty, but it also part of the solution.

Educated women are more likely to delay childbirth and, when they do start a family, they are able to make better decisions in regards to nutrition and are more likely to get their children vaccinated. Girls who are more educated are also less likely to get HIV/AIDS.

More education also gives women a greater say in when and whom they marry. Child marriage can trap girls in negative, unhealthy relationships and it perpetuates poverty as young brides, still children themselves, become young mothers.

Further, an educated woman is also more likely to ensure that her own children, girls and boys, go to school, thus breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

So, what is the solution to the large numbers of out-of-school children and poor learning outcomes?

Targeted policies are needed to increase the access and quality of education, and to ensure that schooling actually results in the skillsets needed for progress.  To do that, policy makers need access to information and answers to the following questions:

  • Who is out of school?
  • Where do out-of-school children and adolescents live?
  • What are the particular barriers facing children in that community? 
  • Is there a secondary school within reach of all children graduating from primary school? If not, why not?
  • What are the learning outcomes in different communities?

Without answers to these questions (and many more), it is difficult to design impactful policy that will reach those most in need.

We believe that together, by focusing on education, especially for the most marginalized groups, we can make the world a better place with more opportunities for everyone.

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We Should Invest in Education. Now!

Everyone can agree that giving all children the opportunity to go to school is the right thing to do. Global efforts to do just this have achieved great success: almost two decades ago world leaders decided to invest in education so that every child, regardless of gender, place of birth or family wealth could have access to school.

The results were amazing (if unsurprising): enrollment surged as more children than ever before began to attend school and the number of primary-aged out-of-school children dropped from 100 million in 2000 to 62 million in just eight years. The clickable map below shows where the out-of-school children live.

Gender equality in education improved as well; the number of girls out-of-school fell from 58 million to 32 million in the same period – though they remain more than half of the total.

However, progress on both fronts has tapered off, and the number of out-of-school children, along with the proportion of out-of-school girls, has remained largely unchanged since 2008. The bottom line is that more funding is needed to re-create the momentum and build on past successes.

But global aid to education is lagging. Aid actually fell between 2010 and 2012 and, despite recent increases, is still below the 2010 peak. Just as disconcerting is the fact that education aid to Africa (home to the majority of out-of-school children) has, overall, received a declining share of total contributions.

This has occurred despite the fact that education is one of the best investments we can make to end poverty, improve health and give people dignity.

The long-term payoff that comes from investing in education can take years, and outcomes can be more difficult to quantify, than, say, health interventions which lead to a more immediate reduction in the number of cases of a particular disease. And, perhaps this dissuades politicians, who operate on a four-year cycle, from making the hard choices – when they may not be there to reap the rewards.

For the children and their families, though, the payoff, when it comes, is worth every penny.  Education has been proven to be one of the main drivers in reducing global poverty, improving health outcomes, and empowering women. It can also lead to more peaceful societies.

Here are a few hard facts:

Education lowers poverty. An individual can earn around 10% more for each additional year of secondary school education. This powerful income-generating potential can lift families out of poverty. The impact of education for women is even greater with an approximately 20% jump in earning potential for each additional year of schooling.

Education leads to better health. An educated mother is much more likely to have her children vaccinated and to ensure her family sleeps under mosquito nets. This leads to better health outcomes and can reduce child mortality. Plus, out-of-school girls are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than girls who remain in school.

A more educated society can promote greater peace and security. The probability of civil war can be cut by almost two-thirds when secondary school enrollment rises from 30% to 81% and if it is distributed equally across the population.

Education improves gender equality. When educated, a woman’s higher earning power can elevate her standing within her family and community, which can give her more of a say in important decisions. It can also lead to lower levels of child marriage – a tradition which is often the result of poverty but which also exacerbates it by limiting women’s and girls’ potential and exposing them to abuse.

Source: Global Partnership for Education

Current development objectives, called the Sustainable Development Goals, expand on earlier successes. The goal for education (SDG4)  aims for free schooling for all children and adolescents through to upper secondary school. Primary education alone is just not enough.

Despite the massive and obvious benefits of investing in education, insufficient funding means that large numbers of young people remain without an education or the prospect of getting one. Putting together primary and secondary-aged children and youth, the total number out of school comes to 264 million. That’s 264 million individuals who will never have the opportunity to explore their own potential.

Just as worrying, even some children who are in school are just not getting the basic skills they need as large class sizes, and a paucity of trained teachers, have limited the quality of classroom learning. A recent study by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics found that 617 million children (three quarters of whom are in school) did not meet minimum proficiency standards in literacy and math.

The case for investing more in education has never been stronger.

On 1-2 February, global leaders have a chance to address this shortfall when they meet in Dakar, Senegal, to replenish the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a fund whose core mission is to provide grants to low and lower-middle income countries and which accounts for 12% of total funding for education in these countries.

The Education Commission estimates that the GPE will need US$2 billion annually by 2020, rising to US$4 billion a year by 2030 to ensure that countries can invest in solid, evidence-based, national educational plans.

Recipient countries must also pay up and are incentivized the do so under the GPE funding structure. In fact, to qualify for a GPE grant, a recipient must agree to a target of 20% of total budgetary spending on education. Additional funds are released based on agreed upon performance indicators such as learning outcomes and equity in education.

Investing in global education benefits everyone as it supports greater global economic growth and promotes peace worldwide. We know, without a doubt, that a quality education is one of the most important investments we can make to achieve long-term, sustainable development. Education is crucial if individuals, communities and nations are to prosper.

Let’s hope that world leaders can agree to this important funding initiative to give the world’s children the education that they need to get ahead – and that the world needs to achieve peace and hope for the future.

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Top 5 Reasons Why Girls’ Education Can Make the World a Better Place

Almost two decades ago world leaders decided to invest in girls’ education. The results were amazing (if unsurprising): more families put their children – daughters and sons – into primary school. Enrollment surged as more children than ever before began to attend school.

Yet, the number of out-of-school children is slowly creeping up. And, worryingly, while schooling for girls and boys is a crucial part of development goals, girls remain at a disadvantage, often in not-so-obvious ways.

Globally, girls of primary school age remain out of school in higher numbers with 32 million out of school, compared to 28 million boys.

More disconcerting, though, is the fact that, for girls, the likelihood of ever returning to school once they drop out is significantly lower than it is for boys. In fact, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics:

“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 graph below shows that, in Africa in particular, girls continue to get less school, overall, than boys.

This has long-term consequences. We know without a doubt that while it is important to educate all children – girls and boys – putting a girl in the classroom and giving her a quality education leads to better, more sustainable and lasting results. It’s just a fact.

Education – especially girls’ education – is crucial for development.

Here are five of the most important reasons why girls’ education is the best way to achieve lasting change:

Girls’ Education …

1. Lowers poverty. Girls and women can earn up to 20% more for each additional year of education. This powerful income-generating potential can help to lift women (and their families) out of poverty. A woman tends to reinvest her earnings into her family and her children – so everyone benefits when a girl is educated.

2. Improves health. Educated women tend to make better decisions regarding health and nutrition, leading to better health outcomes overall for themselves and their families. An educated mother is more likely to have her children vaccinated, her children are less likely to suffer from malnutrition and stunting and infants are more likely to survive beyond their fifth birthday.

3. Increases gender equality. When educated, a woman’s higher earning power can elevate her standing within her family and community, which can give her more of a say in important decisions. It also gives her more confidence to stand up for herself and to do what is best for herself and for her children.

4. Lowers rates of child marriage. While child marriage is a complicated, multifaceted issue, keeping girls in school longer reduces the chances that she will marry as a child. In fact, each year of secondary education reduces the likelihood of child marriage by 5 percentage points or more.

5. Creates a positive cycle. An educated mother is more likely to put her own children into school – girls and boys – thus creating a positive cycle for change and hope for the future.

Your support for the 60 million girls Foundation can help get us there.

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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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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.

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.

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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.

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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.


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.


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