Can Children Teach Themselves? We Think So

The 60 million girls Foundation has designed a new and innovative learning tool to give children the chance to teach themselves the basic skills they aren’t learning in the classroom. Our Mobile Learning Lab puts learning directly in the hands of children. This has led to impressive results in academic subjects and also in non-cognitive skills like aspiration, participation and confidence. Our experiences in the field confirm this intuition.

Why, you may ask, would we want children to teach themselves? What about the teachers? The short answer is the global learning crisis. While barriers like poverty, early marriage, conflict and disability are keeping 262 million children out of school, even children who are in school are not learning. Data show that 617 million children globally do not meet minimum proficiency requirements for their grade level in reading and math.

New assessments confirm these findings and point out that the vast majority of children not learning live in developing countries. And there is a worrying asymmetry because while 20% of children in developed countries are not hitting basic learning benchmarks, in low-income countries only 20% of children are reaching these minimum standards. There is something fundamentally wrong and unfair with this picture.

When we talk about self-directed learning we’re not suggesting that teachers are unimportant. In fact, we think that quality teaching is the most important component of an effective learning environment.

But the problem is that there are just too many children for the number of trained teachers available. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa where population growth, combined with increased demand for schooling, means that classrooms are overcrowded.

The UNESCO Institute of Statistics estimates that we’ll need 69 million teachers globally by 2030 to achieve quality education. It will take years to develop this human capital and in the meantime, millions of children are out of luck.

Self-directed learning can bridge the gap

The evidence shows that self-directed learning can have a significant impact on a range of skills. Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall project in India was a first indication that vulnerable children could teach themselves. So based on this and other research ­– including our own intensive inquiries and pilot projects – the 60 million girls Foundation designed and launched the Mobile Learning Lab (MLL).

Technically, the MLL is made up of a RACHEL-Plus, which acts a server for up to 50 devices, like a tablet or large-screened mobile phone, and can be charged by solar panels if no electricity is available. The largest RACHEL model has 1 terabyte of storage so children can have access to multiple sources of content offline, with no need for Internet connectivity.

The MLL content includes KA Lite (Khan Academy) for math and science, Fantastic Phonics and Feed the Monster for literacy, e-books and many other sources of educational resources, all of which can be curated to fit any local context.

Making learning fun is important

Last year, we ran an after-school pilot project for students in grades 4, 5 and 6 in five rural communities in northern Sierra Leone. We gave tablets to 682 students and told them they could do whatever they wanted with them – putting the learning tools, literally, in their hands.

The first important take-away was that the children loved the MLL. With no adult direction, they were able to turn on the tablets, find the cameras and take pictures of each other. At first glance, this may not seem educational, yet, the children tended to work in groups, building self-confidence among their peers, and experimenting with each app over several sessions.

Over time, they focused on the learning tools they liked best, either to explore subjects of interest to them, or to get extra practice on topics already discussed in class but needed extra help to master. They had no (or little) instruction from the MLL coordinator. All learning was self-directed.

Based on testing before and after the introduction of the MLL, the students posted impressive academic gains and, for the children who had access to the MLL for 120 hours, test scores in math and literacy almost doubled. The increase in literacy was particularly significant. We attributed this not only to the use of literacy apps but the fact that students were not directed towards any particular subject and all apps and software are in English. And, even with only partial use of the MLL (32 hours), literacy results increased compared to the control group.

Our non-cognitive skills questionnaire – given to children before and after exposure to the MLL – asked about life goals, what they liked about school and whether they enjoyed working with their peer group. The answers either showed increases in skill acquisition or stayed at around the same level as the baseline.

An added bonus is that it is sustainable. Once the project ended the communities continued to use the MLL and, in fact, increased children’s access to it by as much as five additional hours per week, despite the end of the funding.

The global learning crisis clearly shows that the status quo is not an option. To get all children learning, and to reach the most vulnerable who have little access to school, trained teachers or even textbooks, we believe that an innovative solution is required. The MLL hits all the right buttons and, most importantly, it puts learning directly in the hands of children. That is a solution that we can get behind.  

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Education is Key to Success

It’s the third anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Global leaders launched the SDGs in September 2015 in a bid to end global poverty, hunger and gender inequality, while promoting free, universal education, health, respect for the environment, economic growth and stable political institutions – all by 2030. It’s an ambitious agenda, but one that if successful, will lead to a more equitable and just world order.

So, where do we stand now?

The short answer: it’s hard to tell. To solve these global issues we need information, and that means data. As a foundation focused on girls’ education, 60 million girls looks to the numbers (not just news reports) to ensure that we are targeting the most vulnerable children. And, just as we need numbers to support our projects, the SDGs require data to be successful.

The more data that policy makers and education stakeholders have, the better able they are to target policy. When data can be compared, we can see what works and who is benefiting (and who is not).

Education SDG the key to success

Let’s focus in on the SDG for education. The interrelated nature of these global goals means that success in education directly impacts success in other areas. This reflects the fact that we do not live in silos but are affected by a range of factors and circumstances.

Greater participation of women in public life, for example, requires more educated girls who know their rights and are empowered to act. The SDG for innovation requires a deeper focus on research and development, which is not possible without an educated population. And, it’s a fact that educated mothers are more likely to seek medical care for their children and have them vaccinated, leading to improved health outcomes, a key objective of SDG 3.

Consequently, the specific goal for education (SDG 4) is, in many ways, a lynchpin for the overall success of the Agenda 2030. Its objective is “to ensure equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” This means improving foundational literacy and numeracy while working on the skill sets needed for employment and making sure that both girls and boys of all ages have the same opportunities to go to school regardless of place of birth, wealth, ethnicity or disability.

In other words, the key talking points for SDG 4 are equity and quality – both of which must be measured and compared across the board.

Success means everyone is getting a quality education

And how do we measure success? The Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action states that “No education target should be considered met unless met by all.” To achieve this, governments must have the ability to implement effective and efficient evidence-based policies. They need to know where to invest scarce resources to target areas with the highest need.

They need to know which children are learning (or not), why primary-aged girls continue to be left behind in low-income countries, why secondary school remains out of reach for millions of adolescents and youth, and how to support children with specific barriers to education such as poor, rural girls, the disabled, indigenous children and those caught up in conflict.

Once targeted education policies have been put into place, data from learning assessments based on international standards can help governments and education practitioners to understand if they are working.

Foundations like 60 million girls can also jump in to fund education where it is most needed.

Building a stronger data network is vital if government and civil society are to be able to create effective policies and to monitor their impact.

Here is a brief visual overview of what we know about SDG 4 (and what we don’t)

These maps are a visual illustration of what we know. The grey areas point out the countries that are not producing the indicators we need to devise impactful solutions to the large number of children and adolescents out of school, to the learning crisis and skills development, and to the equity dimension of education so that even the most vulnerable children can get a quality schooling. New data by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics will be coming out soon. When that happens, we’ll give you an update.


  • Target 4.1: Ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes


  • Target 4.2: Ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education


  • Target 4.3: Ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university


  • Target 4.4: Substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship


  • Target 4.5: Eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations


  • Target 4.6: Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy


  • Target 4.7: Ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

No Data Available


  • Target 4a: Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all


  • Target 4b: Substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrollment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programs in developed countries and other developing countries


  • Target 4c: Substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states

Evidence-based policy making is the best way to generate real returns on the resources put into education. It is through improvements in the quality of education for every child, even the most marginalized, that we will see the connections between all of the global goals come together to create real change for everyone.

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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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Advocating for Girls’ Education: Why We Need Data

This blog was first published by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UIS Data Blog

International Women’s Day on March 8 is a time for reflection on the successes that women and girls around the world have made in pursuit of gender equality. But as the theme of the day, ‘Press for Progress’, suggests, we must also consider the challenges ahead.

Past progress does not in itself imply a better future – we have to guard against complacency and continue to press forward for change.

In global education, that means all children should be in school, learning, and developing the skills they need to boost incomes and contribute to their communities. 

Overall, more children than ever are in school – including more girls – but new data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) also reveal that the number of out-of-school children aged 6-17 has plateaued at a staggering 263 million. This means that the world continues to lose the potential contributions of millions of children held back by barriers to education such as poverty and gender discrimination.

Context is crucial when implementing education projects

The volunteer-run 60 million girls Foundation, based in Montreal, supports education projects in high-needs communities in developing countries. Understanding the dynamic between gender, education and poverty is crucial to our work. Data helps to confirm anecdotal evidence, and it guides our thinking in directing funds to where they are needed most.

As a result, we have focused our efforts on girls living in rural areas or refugee camps where traditional schooling is either non-existent, is replete with risks such as sexual and gender-based violence, or fails to provide children with the skills they need to pull themselves out of poverty.


Credit: Change for Children

Data have proved extremely useful in contextualizing the school environment for indigenous children in Nicaragua’s Bosawas region, for example, where we funded a project in 2015, and in rural Guatemala where we are working this year.

While regional statistics show high enrollment rates overall, the specific situation in these communities reveals that the indigenous people we are serving, especially the girls, have fallen under the radar with much less access to education than the general population.

As education advocates, understanding the context that children face in their communities is crucial to understanding what type of project will truly meet their needs. It is also useful in explaining the need to our supporters and donors. Posted on social media and in our blogs, data mapping tools, such as the UNESCO eAtlas, are helpful in illustrating the overall need for support and why it matters.

Data tell us that girls remain at a disadvantage in low-income countries

Globally, the out-of-school numbers for girls and boys have slowly converged, and by 2016 there were 131.3 million out-of-school boys and 131.7 million out-of-school girls across all ages groups. However, disaggregated regional and national numbers show ongoing disadvantages for girls in low-income countries.

Explore the data in the eAtlas

The UIS’s adjusted gender parity index fell steadily in the decade to 2011 but has crept up in the last four years. Moreover, the index shows that primary-aged girls face the strongest disadvantage in Central Asia, Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, three of the world’s poorest regions.

Interestingly, with the exception of children in sub-Saharan Africa, once in school, girls tend to do better than boys, which makes the impact of declining opportunities for girls at the primary school level particularly galling.

Quality education has an important impact on poverty

We know that educating a girl has important consequences for global poverty reduction. Each additional year of schooling can raise a girl’s future earning power by up to 20%. There is also a strong intergenerational impact because an educated woman is more likely to send her own children to school, thus helping to break down the poverty trap that keeps so many families destitute from one generation to the next.

Research shows that the quality of education is the crucial element in skill development and creating better wage growth opportunities for households. Yet, data tell us that even children who are in school are not learning. According to the UIS, 617 million – 6 out of 10 – children and adolescents do not meet minimum proficiency levels in literacy and mathematics.

When 60 million girls’ president and founder Wanda Bedard visited a project we are funding in the Koinadugu region of northern Sierra Leone, her anecdotal experience confirmed the trends seen in global data: the poor quality of education was having a negative impact on learning.

Hoping to strike up “pen pal” relationships, an enterprising group of Montreal-based students had given Wanda letters to deliver to the local school children. Sadly, the children from the remote rural villages were barely able to read the correspondence or craft cogent responses. We decided to design a mobile, after-school learning system for girls and boys, to help bridge this gap.

Let’s ‘Press for Progress’ for girls’ education

So, on this International Women’s Day, let’s remember that while there has been a global reduction of gender bias in education with equal numbers of boys and girls out of school, the data show that in low income regions and poor communities, girls continue to face higher barriers to education than boys, and many children who are in school just aren’t learning.

We know that poor girls in low-income countries and in rural communities, continue to face high barriers to education, despite the fact that their performance on learning assessments show a dogged determination to get ahead.

Let’s all ‘Press for Progress’ and do our best to get all children – girls and boys – in school and learning by making the best possible use of data.

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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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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.

Please follow us of Facebook and Twitter @60milliongirls.

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.


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.