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  sustainable development goals to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Children work at the MLL 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.

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

 

2017 Projects Bring Education to Vulnerable Children

FOCUS ON COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION WILL ENSURE LONG TERM SUCCESS

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

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

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

SIERRA LEONE PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS USE OF TECHNOLOGY TO ENHANCE LEARNING

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

 

The Great Giving Challenge

It’s the end of the Canadian school year, and many of us will celebrate our children’s teachers to thank them for their dedication throughout the school year.

Why not help teachers in the developing world as well? It feels great to give, and your contribution to the 60 million girls Foundation will support students (and teachers) in Uganda and Nicaragua this year.

Even better, each dollar donated in June as part of the Giving Challenge can help us win $10,000 to put towards our projects.

Uganda_wb6

At the end of this school year we have been reflecting on a key fact: a quality education depends on trained teachers.

Yet, UNESCO estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa just half of teachers are trained. This can make learning difficult, especially when combined with large class sizes. In some countries, there are often as many as eighty children in a class.

Moreover, the need for teachers is increasing as population and school enrolment rise, and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics estimates that developing countries will need 3.4 million new teachers by 2030, in addition to the normal attrition rate, to see all children get a quality, primary education.

teachers_UPE

60 million girls tries to supplement classroom learning by offering schools offline learning materials like KA Lite, a math and science tutorial, to support children whose access to books (and trained teachers) is limited. Click here for more information on our pilot project in Sierra Leone or view this map and click on Sierra Leone in West Africa, to see what we are doing.

Your contribution to the 60 million girls Foundation will support students (and teachers).

Simply click here to give.

The students and their teachers will thank you!

Please Join us in Montreal on November 4th

On Tuesday, November 4th, we will host our 9th annual conference to raise funds and awareness for girls’ education in developing countries.

All funds raised will go directly to the projects we support as we are a completely volunteer run organization. This year, the Foundation is helping a secondary school for girls in Kenya, as a follow up to our support for a primary school in the region in 2007. We are also working to fund the creation of a safe learning environment for girls in Afghanistan.

Please feel free to visit our website for more details about both projects.

Our conferences are always fun as well as interesting. Starting with a wine and cheese reception, attendees are welcome to browse through the many items on offer for our silent auction (and perhaps place a bid, or two)! This year, the items on offer will include hockey and concert tickets as well as gift certificates to spas, restaurants and other things to do around Montreal.

We are also pleased to welcome Bev Carrick, co-founder of CAUSE Canada, as the keynote speaker. She has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on international development through her on the ground experience in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America.

Bev began working as a famine relief nurse in Ethiopia in 1974. She founded CAUSE Canada with her husband, Paul Carrick, in 1984 and has worked as its Executive Director for the past 10 years. She has sought to empower communities and individuals in disadvantaged regions to overcome poverty and improve their quality of life.

60 million girls partnered with CAUSE Canada in Sierra Leone in 2011. More recently, we have had the unique opportunity to work hand in hand with the organization on a pilot project, entitled “self-directed computer-based learning in a rural environment”. Using technology to reach children who live in remote rural areas will be an important tool to get all children in school and to give them the resources they need to learn.

Last but not least, Sheena Bell from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), will join Bev on the podium. This arm of UNESCO is based in Montreal and is the primary source for internationally comparable statistics on education, science and technology, as well as culture and communication.

Statistics are crucial. They enable us to target our investments in girls’ education and look at projections for the future to determine where we can best deploy our efforts in line with our R&D team’s mandate to look at innovation in education in the developing world.

We hope that you can join us on November 4th.

 Tickets are $100 (tax receipt for $75) and $25 for students.

The conference will take place at l’Ermitage on the Collège de Montréal campus, 3510 Côte-des-Neiges Road, Montreal.

Please visit www.60milliongirls.org for more details and to purchase tickets.

Save the Dates! Autumn Line-up at 60 million girls

It is beginning to feel like autumn in Montreal. The iconic maple leaves are turning red and the temperature is falling. Children across the country are back in school and settling into their routines for the new school year. This is always a poignant time for us as we think of the millions of children who have yet to take a step into a classroom. How can we best support access to school for all children, particularly girls? How can we ensure that the kids who do get to school are receiving a quality education? We have four activities planned this fall to help share our answers to these questions. Please click on the links for more information about each event.

  1. Talk at Concordia University. On October 15th, 60 million girls President & Founder, Wanda Bedard, will present the results of the two phases of our pilot project on self-directed learning in a rural community in Sierra Leone.
  1. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts photo exhibition, October 23-November 23. This is a unique occasion to see portraits of some of the girls from the programs your donations have supported. Admission is free.
  1. Montreal annual conference on Tuesday, November 4th. Our guest speaker is Bev Carrick, co-founder of CAUSE Canada, our partner in Sierra Leone. A representative of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) will also join us to talk about the impact and importance of their research and data compilation.

 

  1. Vancouver conference on Sunday, November 9th. Our guest speaker is Stephanie Nolen of The Globe and Mail. It would be difficult to find a more experienced and insightful journalist with such a deep interest in women’s issues and girls’ education.

We appreciate your support and hope to count on you to come to our events. Follow us! 60 million girls is committed to investing every dollar donated by you towards education projects that will have the greatest possible long-term and sustainable impact. However, we are always looking for ways to improve our visibility and to attract more followers. You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and connect with us on LinkedIn to show your support.

Getting Girls to School & Keeping Them There

It’s the middle of September, and children across Canada are back at their desks, learning skills and gaining friendships. They are maneuvering through the social dynamic formed between peers and teachers that will serve them for a lifetime.

Yet, how is it that almost 58 million primary aged children around the world do not have this opportunity? Getting kids in developing countries in school, especially girls, has pretty high stakes: just completing primary school can make a significant difference in all aspects of their lives. A literate mother, for example, is 23% more likely to seek a trained birth attendant. Educated women are also able to earn more and to gain more respect as wage earners in the home and it their communities.

This UNESCO infographic below illustrates the many facets of life impacted by education and literacy. Better health outcomes for mothers and children, better job opportunities, lower rates of child marriage, faster economic growth, tolerance, and respect for the environment, are all benefits of education. More intangibly, as we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, education also gives women and girls the ability and confidence to speak out for themselves. Please click here if you are unable to see the infographic).

 

On our Facebook page, we have been talking about factors such as conflict and child marriage that prevent children from going to school. UNESCO also examines “intention” to better understand who these out of school kids are.

To this end, UNESCO divvied up out of school kids into three categories: those who have dropped out (around 23%), those who plan to go in the future (34%) and those kids who will never get an opportunity to go to school (43%).

 “While access to education has been improving globally, there has been little progress in reducing the rate at which children leave school before reaching the last grade of primary education. About 135 million children began primary school in 2012, but if current trends continue 34 million children (some older than the official school age) will leave school before reaching the last grade of primary.” (Policy paper 14/Fact sheet 28, June 2014)

In previous posts we’ve discussed the social norms that can lead to girls dropping out of school but the cost of tuition, uniform and books is also an important factor. But sometimes it is just a matter of dollars and cents. In Burundi, for example, the government eliminated school fees in 2005 and primary enrolment rose from 54% of kids to 74% in 2006. By 2010, 94% of primary school aged kids saw the inside of a classroom.

Clearly, better rates of enrollment are just the first step in getting more kids school. There is a long way to go, but our efforts to strive towards a more equitable world will pay off in the long run.

The MMFA Puts Young Heroines in the Spotlight

All are invited to the photography exhibition 60 million girls – Education for a more just and balanced world, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition opens on October 23rd and runs through November 23rd. Admission is free of charge.

Chagni Kumari Chadana, 7 years old Kamoda Community, India © Dominique and Maria Cabrelli, 2012

This original and unique exhibition is the initiative of Manuela Clément-Frencia, a founding member of the 60 million girls Foundation. Manuela wanted to see for herself how education can change the lives of girls and transform the communities in which they live. She organized a trip and brought photographers, Dominique and Maria Cabrelli, Arvind Eyunni and Jean-François Lemire, to document the experience. Together, they visited the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, the community of Kamoda in India and the village of Wuchale in Ethiopia. Manuela and the photographers met 120 young girls who attend schools supported by the Foundation, as well as parents, teachers, school directors and members of local organizations. You will see the portraits and learn about the stories of the girls’ determination to go to school, despite the difficult circumstances of their lives.

Among them is 18-year-old Leyla, who fled to Kenya with her mother and two young brothers from war-torn Somalia. Leyla takes remedial primary school courses in the Kakuma refugee camp. Her day begins at 4:30 am and ends at 11:30 pm. It is filled with school, domestic chores and looking after her younger siblings. Showing and incredible determination, Leyla wants to complete primary and then secondary school in the camp. She dreams of one day returning to Somalia to help other girls in need. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has generously agreed to show part of the collection of photographs. Please come to the museum to get to know Leyla and others like her. Their stories will captivate you and their portraits will inspire you with their dignity and quiet determination. They are the real heroines of the day.

Global Push for Education is Needed to Get All Children in School

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is meeting in Brussels this week to make a push for funding the education of all of the world’s children. Despite progress made in the early years of the Millennium Development Goals, almost 58 million children remain out of school while many others have not progressed beyond the primary level. For those kids who are in school, the quality of education is key to getting the requisite literacy and numeracy skills needed to get ahead.

In his June 22 article in the Washington Post, Jeffrey Sachs says that while the world met the myriad challenges in delivering better health outcomes, education did not receive its fair due. He speculates that perhaps this is a result of the high stakes life a death scenarios with health care, or the fact that the private sector has more say in the provision of health care and drugs. Or perhaps, Prof Sachs muses, the lack of focus on education has more to do with effort.

Yet, effort on the part of global leaders is crucial. While the stakes with educating children are not, at first glance, as black and white as health care, the impact of an education on a child’s life is enormous. We know that an education improves economic prospects, and, as Prof Sachs points out, it could keep youth from associating with extremist groups. And we know that an education helps girls to speak up for what matters to them.

“Indeed, our efforts should go especially toward educating girls, to ensure they have every chance to complete a secondary education and gain skills that will allow them to enter the labor force rather than being forced into marriage as teenagers. Educating girls transforms communities, and the benefits are passed to the next generation, from mother to children.”

The GPE is asking for $3.5 billion for the next four years, which is, Prof Sachs says, equivalent to just $1 per year from each citizen in the developed world. However, as of June 22, the US government had not committed to its two year $250 million contribution.  As of May 31, the United States has contributed a total of $43.5 million to the GPE. Canada’s contribution is over $100 million while the UK tops the list at $773 million paid so far, with another $89 million promised. Please click this link (GPE-Donor-contributions) for a list of country contributions.

The effective use of educational dollars will be vital to reaching all the children who are currently out of school and to help them all advance beyond the primary level.

To this end, through the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Prof Sachs teamed up with Ericsson to create Connect to Learn (LINK) to bring education to children, particularly those in remote areas where books, and even trained teachers, can be difficult to come by. The program gives kids access to online learning materials; it provides scholarships; and it “connects” youth on a more personal level by creating an online program to link up kids in developing countries with their developed country peers for group learning opportunities.

Watch this video of a Ugandan girl to hear a child’s dream:

 

The trick, says Prof Sachs, will be to scale up the program “to reach hundreds of millions of kids, not just hundreds or a few thousands.” Now, this is something that we can all strive towards.

In fact, the 60 million girls Foundation believes strongly in the importance of using technology to bring education to girls in remote areas. We also believe that children have an innate ability to learn and that even in the absence of trained teachers, access to educational materials greatly enhances their ability to learn.

Sex and Rural Uganda

This week, I am re-posting a blog from one of our volunteers, Nathalie Karneef, who is currently working in Uganda at the Nyaka Aids Orphans School.  The school recieved funding from the 6o million girls Foundation in 2012.

Sex and Rural Uganda

A few hours after the elephant-spotting incident, we pull into what will be my home for the next 2 months. It’s past midnight, and I assume everyone will crawl into the house and fall into bed.

It’s pitch black out, so all I can hear is the sound of a million strange birds, including one that sounds like a ray gun from a 1980s arcade game. I drag my bags to my room, which is a dorm for four, but it’s only me in there for now – and, as I discover, Rocky. Rocky scared me at first, when I saw him out of the corner of my eye, but it turns out he’s a pretty friendly dude, and most importantly, he doesn’t snore.

In fact, he’s generally pretty introverted.

I wake up the next morning, walk out onto the front porch, and see this.

Talk about Dr. Who. Or maybe Star Trek.

I’ve been asked to photograph and write about the Reach a Hand camp, which I’m happy to do. I’m even happier when they invite me to get involved in the activities. There are few things I love more than frank, open talk about sexuality and sexual health, and the kids are amazingly enthusiastic – some of them probably know more than I did at their age. I’m normally not so outspoken in group situations, but every time I’m about to bite my tongue, I think about how this particular piece of information could save a life, or a future – literally or spiritually. And so I speak out, explaining the difference between being transsexual, homosexual and a drag queen, discussing how condoms don’t prevent all STIs, telling one boy that no, having sex while a woman is menstruating will not damage her uterus. By the end of the day, I’m high off the positive energy.

Please click HERE to read her full post and to see some pictures of Nyaka.

Education Gives Girls a Voice

The World Bank has released a report detailing the importance of empowering women and girls and giving them the tools to become equal members of society. As Hillary Clinton puts it, focusing development through a “gender lens” leads to meaningful results in communities and across countries.

As the Millennium Development Goals come to an end in 2015 and transition into a new set of development criteria, women will be put at the forefront. Investing in girls is shown to be effective and, data show that the opportunity cost of under-utilizing the skills of half of a country’s population does not make for a effective poverty reduction strategy: it weakens everyone’s opportunities and leaves individuals and countries less well off. Of course, we also believe that giving women and girls a voice is just the right thing to do.

Education will comprise a crucial aspect of the new development agenda. As stated in the World Bank report ‘Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity’:

“Educated mothers are more likely to take preventative actions, such as purifying water and vaccinating their children; to recognize common illnesses and to treat them; to seek help at the right time; and to use health care services effectively.”

 

“The impact that education has on women’s agency [empowerment] is illustrated by this example from rural Bangladesh, where, when girls were asked how education has made their lives different from their mothers’, they typically replied that it had helped them ‘find a voice,’ allowed them to ‘have a say,’ to ‘speak,’ and ‘to be listened to’.”  (pages 43-46)

We all, as individuals, want our voices to be heard in our homes and communities. However, lack of empowerment leaves many women vulnerable to decisions made for them and to social norms which condone practices that have a negative affect on women and girls. In surveys of women across 54 countries, 43% say they have experienced domestic violence, 42% lack control over household resources, and 51% were married as children. Around 13% of women experience all three of these deprivations together, and this number rises along with poverty.

The poorer the woman the more likely it is that more than one of these deprivations affect her. The same study shows that in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, almost half of all women experience all three of these deprivations while virtually all women in Niger felt that they suffered from at least one of domestic violence, lack of control over household resources or child marriage. The numbers speak for themselves: women in poor countries, especially uneducated women, have little say over their lives.

We invite you to watch the full video of the panel discussion with Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, Phumzile Miambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, and Jeni Klugman, Director of Gender & Development at the World Bank Group. They reflect on the main issues relating to empowerment, cultural norms and what we can do to break the cycle of excluding women from full participation in their household and in their communities. You can also watch a shorter version here:

In discussing the report, the high level panelists focus on the importance of legislating changes to social norms to de-legitimizing negative behaviours. A new legal framework can also bring old practices into modern public consciousness. Just because something “has always been done” does not mean that it is right. Secretary Clinton notes that regressive norms often “cannot bear the light of day” and are carried on behind closed doors.

Engaging men and boys in the process of changing social norms is a key step to de-legitimizing the practices. To this end, UN Women has created the “He for She” campaign, to involve men to generate discussion on what can be done.

Reaching out to government leaders will be an important part of tackling inequalities. As Secretary Clinton points out, many leaders of poor nations have broken social norms within their own families and are proud of their daughters’ accomplishments and University studies abroad. The trick will be to get them to translate that feeling to all the daughters in their country.

In each section of the report, the overriding consensus is that education is the most critical aspect to reducing domestic violence, child marriage and women’s lack of economic independence. Data show that 90% women with just a primary education or less suffer from at least one of these three. That sinks to 18% of women who have completed high school.

It’s also important to remember that, as Phumizile Miambo-Ngcuka states, the quality of education is just as important as access. To this end, teacher training, curriculum and the minister of education are all crucial aspects of providing quality education. Education should help to make a girl feel that she has the ability to go out there and compete with the boys for the jobs; it is the teachers role to help instill that ethos into the students.

There is a lot of work to be done to improve the conditions for women and girls around the world. All the panelists, however, see the glass as half full, and while we have made progress already, they have the confidence that future will be brighter and that women will be given a stronger voice.