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This week, we released new projections to 2030 for the global education goal, SDG 4, along with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). While not all projections can be drilled down to the country level, the completion rate projections can and shine a light on some countries that have been making faster progress relative to others. Ethiopia is one of these. What are the reasons for its success and how can others follow its example?

Ethiopia, like many countries in the region, has seen its education system expand quickly over recent years. It has gone from 10 million learners a decade ago to more than 25 million learners today. Despite this vast expansion, the completion rates at the primary school level projected to 2030 are the fastest in the region. It will have gone from only 3 in 10 children completing primary education in 2000 to 8 in 10 completing in 2030. Along with India, it will be topping the list of countries to have reduced their out of school numbers the most in relative terms.

Money is not always the answer to everything, but it has most definitely played a central role in this story. We learnt a lot about this from analyzing Ethiopia’s 2017 voluntary national review as part of our research for our new publication released this week: Beyond commitments: How countries are implementing SDG 4.

Ethiopia dedicates the second highest proportion of its entire budget to education of any country in the world – 27%. This is far more than the international suggested benchmark of 15-20% and the regional average of 16%. And a quarter of Ethiopia’s budget will not be insignificant given the economic boom we’ve seen in the country, which has witnessed the fastest growth of any in the region, growing by an average of 10% a year from 2006/7 to 2016/7, which is about double the average growth in the region.

GEM Report calculations also show Ethiopia to be the twelfth largest recipient of aid to education in 2017, even though the total it is receiving is decreasing on average over the years. The fact it is a popular aid recipient is to be expected given that, despite progress, there are still 2 million children of primary school age out of school today. And it is deserved, given the political commitment to tackle poverty in the country and shift it forward to lower-middle-income status by 2025 – something that would not be possible without a focus on education.

The way that Ethiopia is spending its money is making a difference too, though. The government has ambitiously devolved power to the regions and districts, while closely monitoring results in the delivery of education and other social services. An analysis of almost 200 urban and rural districts in the Oromiya region and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, for instance, showed that the introduction of formula-based funding helped reduce inequality between districts in terms of enrolment outcomes.

Much of the money it spends on education is matched to the education commitments it made in SDG 4: teacher recruitment and school infrastructure. This means that, as its school population has grown, it has not seen its class sizes grow (and its learning rates decline) as a result. Between 1999 and 2011, Congo, Ethiopia and Mali more than doubled primary school enrolment while reducing their pupil/teacher ratios by more than 10 pupils per teacher, for instance.

School infrastructure, meanwhile, is crucial for making education accessible in rural areas, something Afghanistan has also prioritized to encourage girls to go to school with strong improvements in enrolment as a result as well. Since 2009/10, Ethiopia has built almost 6500 elementary schools and seen enrolment rates increase from 82% to 98%.

Its focus on tackling inequalities is also visible in the range of policies it has introduced to encourage girls to enrol in school. One of its biggest targets was to reduce the number of children enrolling late. This increased the chances of girls completing primary education before they reached puberty, when issues of marriage and pregnancy can compete with schooling. And it had huge success doing this, going from 77% enrolment at the official age in 2000 to 87% in 2015. This, combined with strong community mobilization and advocacy campaigns, saw the prevalence of early marriage fall by over 20% between 2005 and 2011, for instance. It has declared it wants to end child marriage once and for all by 2025.

A combination of these policies has had an impact on gender parity rates in primary education. The ratio of girls to boys in school has improved from 0.82 in 2000 to 1.03 today.

There is no clean slate in the country, clearly, whose education system is challenged by drought, migration, displacement and has come from very low levels. There are still 2 million out of school at the primary level and 5 million at the lower secondary today.  And only 6% of schools have basic handwashing facilities. Yet the overall progress is promising, and particularly in a sea of trends that are flat-lining in other countries in the region. We should celebrate this. Countries should learn from it. And just maybe we’ll start seeing similar progress start to happen elsewhere.

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The High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York has begun – the core moment in the global follow up and review mechanism of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Five goals are on the agenda this year, including SDG 4 for the first time. This week, along with UIS, we released new projections showing how off track we are from achieving out education goal. This, we will be emphasizing this week in New York, is not just bad news for education, but also for all those working on the sustainable development agenda. If we do not achieve the education goal, the other goals will not be achieved either. This is a now-or-never moment.

Why education is key to sustainable development

Today we are launching a new six-part cartoon that highlights the links and synergies between education and many of the other sustainable development goals and calls for sectors to work together to achieve their aims.

We look at the links with those working to protect the planet, with those looking at building prosperity for all, at fostering equality between people, fighting for peace and building stronger communities in cities. We examine the importance of education for building professional capacity in other sectors, and we illustrate the importance of working together, in a multi-sectoral approach, to achieve all our goals.

Of course, securing progress towards a sustainable future cannot take place over two weeks in New York. Perhaps the most important outcome for this year’s HLPF needs to be a strong statement by governments that every goal in the 2030 Agenda requires education to empower people with the knowledge, skills and values to live in dignity, build their lives and contribute to their societies.

Education gives us the key tools to take on the SDGs and achieve them.

Education can help with the shift to a more sustainable way of living.

Education shapes values and perspectives and is proven to be the best tool for climate change awareness. Schools can nurture a new generation of environmentally savvy citizens to support the transition to a prosperous and sustainable future.

Education also contributes to the development of skills that can reduce or stop unsustainable practices and has a key role to play in addressing environmental challenges. Education, especially of girls and women, is the most effective means of addressing population growth.

The way we educate people can determine whether our economy will be sustainable or not.

The skills we acquire throughout our lives can help us make the shift towards renewable energy, smart agriculture, forest rehabilitation, the design of resource-efficient cities and orienting higher education and research towards green innovation.

Education is a powerful enabler, and a key aspect, of social development.

What we learn can help us – and our children – live healthy lives. It can enhance gender equality by empowering vulnerable populations, a majority of whom are girls and women.

Some of the most explored cross-sectoral links are between education and health. These links work both ways. Children’s health determines their ability to learn, health infrastructure can be used to deliver education, and healthy teachers are indispensable to education sector functioning.

Education encourages political participation, inclusion, advocacy and democracy.

While education can contribute to conflict, it can also reduce or eliminate it. Education can play a vital role in peacebuilding and help address the alarming consequences of its neglect. Education initiatives, in particular driven by civil society organizations, can help marginalized populations gain access to justice.

City planners need to be educated to make sure fast urbanisation doesn’t penalise the poorest.

Urbanization is one of today’s defining demographic trends, and fast urbanisation is putting a strain on education systems. We calculated in our last report that 80 million more are expected to live in slums by 2030. But currently, the broad education sector is largely missing from key urban development discussions. It must be integrated into future urban planning so that the education needs and rights of all are met as urban populations change.  Inviting education planners to the table in discussions around urban policies would help address inequalities by improving skills, reducing numbers in informal employment and helping make cities greener.

We need strong professional capacity at the top of all sectors if we’re to shift the agenda

To achieve success in many of the development goals, including SDG 8 on decent work, SDG 10 on cities and sustainable urbanisation or SDG 16 on peaceful societies, we need to address the acute shortage of professionals who can help bring new solutions and new ideas for the future. Social workers, for instance, who are at the forefront of dealing with rights violations, urban planners faced with huge informal settlements in Africa and Asia, and law enforcements officers and the judiciary who need to meet the needs of the estimated 4 billion people globally who lack access to justice.

We will not achieve any of our goals unless we work together

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls on us to develop holistic and integrated responses to the many social, economic and environmental challenges we face.

This means reaching out beyond traditional boundaries and creating effective, cross-sectoral partnerships. However, the notion of integrated planning, though part of the post-2015 development discourse, still exists mostly on paper.

Without strong political incentives and adequate financial backing, planning and implementation in most contexts will remain in siloes.

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By Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Without a shift from ‘business as usual’, the world will miss its goal of a quality education for all by 2030, according to our first-ever projections on progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).

We are almost one-third of the way to 2030 and the generation that should finish secondary education by the deadline is making its way into the world’s primary classrooms. Yet if current trends continue, in 2030, when all children should be in school, one in six aged 6-17 will still be excluded. Many children are still dropping out too: by 2030, only six in ten young people will be completing secondary education. There is a real risk that the world will fail to deliver on its education promises without a rapid acceleration of progress.

Leaders at this week’s 2019 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) – the apex mechanism for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – will review progress on education for the first time. The meeting could not be more timely. Education is an accelerator for all the other goals in the SDG Agenda. If we do not achieve the education goal, SDG 4, the other global goals will not be achieved either. It is time for political leaders to #Commit2Education and put an end to complacency.

Not only is the goal of universal primary and secondary completion far off track, but, the call to focus on equity must be prioritised for targets to be met. Only 4% of children from the poorest families, but 36% of those from the richest families, complete upper secondary school in low-income countries at present.

The education goal, SDG 4, also included a strong focus on learning. If the world is to achieve these learning targets, the rates of progress seen in the best-performing countries must be replicated everywhere else. Today, however, a large share of students do not achieve minimum proficiency in reading. If these trends continue, learning rates are expected to stagnate in middle-income countries and drop by almost one-third in Francophone African countries by 2030.

Of particular concern is that the proportion of trained teachers has been falling in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, rather than rising, mostly because schools hire contract teachers – often unqualified – to responds to the growing demand for education. Greater investment is needed to train and recruit teachers, while developing new pedagogical approaches to support quality education.

Percentage of trained teachers by region, 2000–2017

Source: UIS database.

Lifelong learning also requires attention from policymakers: 750 million adults cannot read today, and while literacy rates are growing steadily, around 20% of youth and 30% of adults will still be unable to read in low-income countries by 2030 on current trends.

Youth and adult literacy rate, 2000–2016 and projections to 2030

Source: UIS database and projections.

Our new projections, which are released in the publication Meeting Commitments: Are countries on track to achieve SDG 4?, make the case for a rallying call for countries to #Commit2Education to get back on track. We ask you to join us in asking countries to prioritise two solutions to turn these results around:

  • Make greater investments to achieve the goal: Aid to education has stagnated since 2010, and one in four countries still spend below the two minimum finance benchmarks to which they committed in 2015.
  • Produce more and better data: Currently, fewer than half of countries report the data needed to monitor progress towards SDG 4, including on key indicators, such as learning outcomes in primary and secondary education. Data are a necessity – not a luxury – for every country, which is why partners are making the call to #FundData.

The UIS and GEMR propose six steps to accelerate progress by looking beyond ‘business as usual’:

  1. Beyond averages: Sharpen the focus on equity to ensure that nobody is left behind
    • Governments should finance household surveys and improve collaboration between education ministries and statistical offices to target policies towards those in danger of being left behind.
    • International partners should coordinate funding for household surveys and pool resources to make good use of the information that is already available.
  1. Beyond access: Focus on learning and its monitoring, not just on the number of children in classrooms
    • Governments should finance national assessments to inform policy, curricula and teacher training, and fund participation in regional or international assessments.
    • International partners should coordinate funding for learning assessments to lower costs and support the development of national assessment capacity.
  1. Beyond basics: Expand the content of education beyond reading, writing and mathematics to embed the learning needed for healthy and prosperous societies
    • Governments should finance the analysis of national curricula and textbooks to identify areas for improvement and alignment with the SDGs, from gender equality and human rights to the skills needed for decent jobs.
    • International partners should coordinate research and policy dialogue to explore how learners can make better use of their knowledge as agents of change.
  1. Beyond schooling: Expand the focus to include adults
    • Governments should finance labour force surveys and direct assessments to understand how skills are distributed across populations and to inform the design of education and training programmes.
    • International partners should coordinate improvements in labour force survey questions on youth and adult education and training.
  1. Beyond education: Improve cross-sectoral cooperation
    • Governments and international partners should work together to develop key indicators, such as those related to early childhood development and other factors that have a major influence on education.
  1. Beyond countries: Enhance regional and international coordination
    • Governments and international partners should work together in regional and global fora, such as the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG), which discusses SDG 4 benchmarks, methodologies and the financing of data collection and helps broker between countries and donors to promote information sharing.

Many countries are already looking beyond business as usual and are incorporating the SDG targets not just in their data collection activities but also into their education plans, as shown in a companion publication from the GEM Report: Beyond Commitments: How countries implement SDG 4. Their commitments should provide a template for others to follow.

We hope that the world leaders at the HLPF will hear this warning, and use the opportunity to meet this challenge, and commit to this vital – and still achievable – goal.

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Feeding into the theme on inequality of this year’s G7 Presidency, we have carried out a breakdown of G7 donors’ aid to education to show that 55% goes to achieving gender equality. France, which holds the G7 presidency, allocates the second highest share (76%) after Canada (92%).

This analysis was a follow on from a broader analysis of donor aid to gender equality in education from our new Gender GEM Report released today at the G7 France – UNESCO International Conference. The Report, as we showed on this morning’s blog, gives five key steps to stamping out gender inequality in education.

Key for the G7 ministers of education and development lining up in Paris today is our emphasis on the need for donors to have up-to-date policy frameworks on gender equality in education and to follow champion countries such as Canada. But this is just a starting point. Programming needs to sharpen its focus on the key question of how interesting and innovative projects can graduate into national policies. Adherence to principles of aid effectiveness and donor coordination requires agencies to build in sustainability, capacity development and evaluation so that good practice is identified and rolled out.

As part of the preparation for today’s Conference, the GEM Report team and UNESCO sent a questionnaire to the aid agencies of the G7 countries, selected international organizations and NGOs, asking them to put forward their flagship projects for tackling 12 priorities in girls’ education. We wanted to look at the different types of responses to gender inequality key actors are taking. The full summary is in our new Report. The key policies we identified are here:

  1. Fight negative gender norms. Many focus on sports for development, mentorship schemes, engaging community level champions and encouraging girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects to build better gender norms.
  2. Increase equitable access to education: The key policies prioritized here are conditional cash transfers, food for education initiatives, second chance programmes and strong technical and vocational training for women in key industries.
  3. Strengthen teaching and learning resources: Donors support the revision of curriculum frameworks help develop gender-responsive toolkits for teachers, and encourage the provision of financial incentives for female teachers in remote locations.
  4. Improve the learning environment: Donors are supporting the roll-out of community schools and local learning centres, encouraging the development of legal frameworks and codes of conduct, and stand behind minimum standard packages on water and sanitation.

As a further response to this year’s G7 focus, the GEM Report team carried out an analysis to feed into its call to strengthen gender-responsive education sector planning. We looked at the 20 countries with the largest gender gaps in education to see what policies on gender equality they prioritized in their plans.

Our analysis found that cash and in-kind transfers are the most popular policy, featuring in three out of four plans. Curriculum and textbook reform, girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes, and safe access to schools, were the least common, appearing in only a fifth of countries’ plans. The plans of Angola, the Central African Republic, Djibouti and Mauritania made scant references to gender inequalities in education, but those of Niger, Guinea and Somalia have strong roadmaps for change.

You can access all our key messages from today’s Gender GEM Report and join in the conversation with #DontIgnoreHer.

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The new Gender GEM Report released today at the G7 France – UNESCO International Conference shows that equal numbers of boys and girls are still not enrolled in a third of countries in primary, half in lower secondary, and three out of four in upper secondary education. You can access our key messages here.

The new Report, “Building bridges for gender equality” celebrates progress, which means that, on average, globally there is an equal number of boys to girls in school. But it also shows where we must focus our attention: sub-Saharan Africa is far below parity in all education levels, for instance, and the Arab States now sit in last place on gender parity in primary education, possibly as a result of conflict.

While there has been progress in gender parity in some education levels, the main message from this Report is that we need to look more broadly at gender inequalities affecting education. We recommend that countries start to view gender equality in education through the lens of a richer monitoring framework.  Selected statistics  elaborating on this framework appear in this year’s Gender Report for the first time. Below we outline a few key areas that can help stamp out challenges and achieve a fairer future for all.

Firstly, we will not achieve gender equality in education unless we challenge harmful social norms about women’s role in society.

Marta*, 16, with her one month old son Carlo at her mother in-law’s home in Sinaloa, Mexico. Marta* had to drop out of school during her pregnancy and is worried about returning due to the difficulty of child-care and her domestic responsibilities as a wife. Credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Over a quarter of people still think that it is more important for a boy to go to university than a girl. And girls are twice as likely to be involved in child domestic work than boys. We have to empower girls and women, educate boys and men and identify new role models if we are to successfully challenge the status quo.

In addition to social norms and values, institutions can include or exclude women as regards resources and activities, and can protect them from or expose them to discriminatory practices.  Such influences, present at work or in family, do impact on opportunities in education.  They mean that technical and vocational programmes remain a male bastion, for instance. Just a quarter of those enrolled in engineering and in information and communications technology programmes are women.

Secondly, as with anything, we will only get out of education what we put in. Why is it that the teaching profession is frequently female but men are in charge? In 28 mostly high-income countries, for instance, 70% of lower secondary school teachers, but only 53% of head teachers, are female.

Curricula and textbooks, but also teacher training have to be assessed to make sure they are not gender blind.  Countries must make sure they are building education systems with gender equality in mind. This includes addressing school-related gender-based violence in schools, providing comprehensive sexuality education – a key ingredient for fostering gender equal attitudes as our latest policy paper showed – and making sure sanitation facilities are adequate. Only half of schools in 2016 had access to handwashing facilities with soap and water.

Thirdly, like it or not, change has to also come from the top. Laws are needed to change the status quo: countries must ban child marriage and let pregnant girls go to school. 117 countries and territories still allow a girl to marry, for instance, and four countries in sub-Saharan Africa enforce a total ban against girls returning to school after pregnancy.

Fourthly, countries must make sure their plans match their commitments to tackling education inequality. Our analysis of the 20 countries with the largest gender gaps in education showed that the most popular policy being implemented to tackle gender inequality was cash and in-kind transfers, featuring in three out of four plans. Curriculum and textbook reform, girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes, and safe access to schools, were the least common, however, appearing in only a fifth of countries’ plans.

Countries with high levels of gender disparity should not view their education sector plans as a box-ticking exercise to satisfy donor demands so as to gain access to aid resources. They need to embrace gender-responsive education sector planning as an exercise that goes to the heart of their commitment to ensure inclusive, equitable, high-quality education for all by 2030.

Lastly, countries should monitor their progress to gender equality in education along the lines of the framework suggested in our Report. Disparity in attainment and achievement, especially when disaggregated further by characteristics such as poverty and location, gives a good first impression of current status and past trends but is not sufficient to direct action. Such improved monitoring should guide gender analyses in education plans and budgets.

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by Anna d’Addio, Senior Policy Analyst at the GEM Report

“We were blind, now our eyes have been opened … the educated children help us see. (Zahra, mother)” (Changezi and Biseth, 2011)

Syrian Refugees in Beka’a Valley, Lebanon.
Credit: Justine Redman

Family and community involvement is key to overcome disadvantage in education – and all the more so for migrant and refugee students. The world is full with such examples, for instance in the United States for Latin American or Vietnamese diasporas, in the Netherlands for second-generation Turks and Moroccans, in Pakistan for Hazara girls or in Canada among African and Caribbean-born immigrants.

However, there are many reasons why parents of migrant or refugee children may be reluctant to become involved in their education. One of these reasons is because segregation by origin often overlaps with socio-economic segregation. They may feel marginalized and lack confidence because they don’t speak the language of instruction or because they have a lower level of education. This can prevent parents from becoming fully involved in their children’s schooling. In France, for example, only 5% of parents of immigrant students from Sahel, Latin America and the Caribbean have a university degree compared to 19% of French parents. Moreover, more than twice as many children with Turkish or Malian parents repeat as least one grade in high school in France compared to children with French parents.

Immigrant parents may also not feel as welcome to engage with schools as native-born parents and can feel they have little influence on how their children are treated or taught in schools as a result. Such discrimination can be intentional or unintentional and stem from factors including lack of connection with immigrant communities, inadequate teacher education or a testing culture focused on narrow learning metrics.

Many programmes encourage the links between schools and the community

Credit: Arete / Victor Jules Raison / GEM Report Parent teacher meeting in Venezuela to discuss the possible difficulties encountered by their children.

The importance of parental and community involvement has led to many initiatives often started by NGOs and civil society providing mentoring or guidance to parents and/or their children.  In some cases programmes are started by governments too. In France, for example, the programme ‘Ouvrir l’école aux parents pour la réussite des enfants’ is co-funded by the Ministries of the Interior and National Education to foster parents’ knowledge of the French education system. Ten times the number of schools benefit from the programme today than ten years ago. In 2017-2018, almost 8,000 parents of foreign students took these courses in France, with women in the majority. Most of them had come from Africa and the Maghreb, but also from Asia, Eastern Europe or South America.

Local governments also play a major role helping engage migrant parents in their children’s education. In Zurich, Switzerland, the Quality in Multi-Ethnic Schools project focuses on language, attainment and integration support. It aims to foster parental involvement using intercultural mediators between parents and teachers and establishing parent councils. In Lithuania, the Your Diary program, is a digital platform allowing teachers, pupils, parents and school administrators to share information about education activities and events. Other examples that fulfil similar aims include the programmes Escolhas (Portugal), SPICE (Spain and Iceland), and Flex-id (Norway). In Argentina, Spain, Italy and Mexico, Scholas Occurrentes provides instruction and recreational activities to build bridges among children and youth of different origins.

Cultural facilitators or brokers (teachers, instructional aides, school counsellors, community members) with backgrounds similar to immigrant students can also bridge language and culture differences between immigrant and host communities. They can offer translation services, help navigate the education system, educate school personnel about cultural practices and beliefs, help parents advocate for their children’s needs, and provide other practical assistance, such as locating language classes or employment opportunities. In Sweden, for instance, the municipality of Linköping trains tutors with knowledge of Somali or Arabic to act as ‘link people’ for the Learning Together programme. Sharing common language and culture, they act as role models, helping foreign-born parents stay motivated and avoid misunderstandings.

Initiatives to reach the most vulnerable parents outside traditional structures are particularly important for the most vulnerable families, such as the undocumented. For example, the Education without Borders network in France offers sessions to advise undocumented families on their rights and to help them complete official document.

Including the local community in decisions about curricular content can also influence the implementation of intercultural education policies. In Lisbon, an alternative inclusive curriculum, developed with parents and students, bridged home and school cultures and led to more positive, trusting views of schools among fifth- and sixth-graders. A resource on the Arab community in the city introduces Arab culture and discusses myths and misconceptions about Arabs and Muslims. The series offers suggestions to teachers on how to connect with immigrant and refugee parents and communities and get to know students in an open way.

Our latest Report was about building bridges, not walls, to foster an inclusive education for migrants and those forcibly displaced. These bridges also refer to those that must be built between schools and the family, creating the inclusive society that an inclusive education needs to thrive.

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I consider myself a migrant. I have lived abroad for 29 years. I now teach in “welcome classes” in Germany, which are set up to teach newly arrived students. At my school we have two welcome classes of 12 students aged 12 and 18. It varies from school to school, but a lot of schools have been obliged to have a welcome class – and at least in my school, it feels like being on an island within the school: our classes are quite isolated.

Some of my pupils are traumatized. Some pupils started telling me in the second lesson about the beatings they used to suffer in their classrooms when in Iraq or Syria. Some have experienced hunger, torture, detention. Some crossed the Mediterranean in small boats. Before coming here, they lived in camps in Greece, Italy or Spain.

In December 2016, a boy threatened to kill us all. This was on the morning of the terrorist attack in Berlin. He had been tortured when in Iraq and his anger was triggered whenever anyone spoke loudly. He said he would kill us all, starting with me. The police ended up taking him to different psychiatric services and charges were pressed against him. He insisted it had all been a joke and I begged our headmaster to let him stay. Nothing ever happened again, and he got top marks. He blossomed. I’m still in touch with him. He wants to be a mechanic.

Policy-makers need to understand much more therapy is needed – through sports, music and arts. Many children are blocked, they cannot speak, there are high levels of fear and aggression. Some miss school a lot because they are in physical or psychological pain which doctors cannot heal.

Early on, I let them draw. They just need to relax. This is something that has always worked at moments of tension in the classroom. Quite a lot comes out there.

Later on I let them write a little text about themselves, which we hang up in the classroom with a picture of themselves. These have been some of the most incredible experiences. I let them know I see them all as individuals with a really important story to tell. I allow them to write in their mother tongue, in English, and in their very basic German. We use Google Translate. Beautiful texts have arisen. It doesn’t always work, but it can. A boy from Somalia once gave me eight pages of written text about his life story. It made me realize these kids all want to be listened to, all of them. Even if not all of them show it.

We’re going to work with the Academy of Film. The students will make a film called ‘My Berlin’. Last year, the students wanted to recreate their flight from Turkey to Greece, so we filmed it on a lake. This year we will be working with the well-known pianist Aeham Ahmad from Yarmouk in Syria who is going to do musical trauma workshops with our students. We are very fortunate to have this opportunity and I think it will be a real healing experience for the kids.

In regular classrooms, teachers need to be detached to get results, a little cold with the students. That doesn’t work at all with these pupils. They need a lot of encouragement to be told they have something to say. And they bring so many gifts to the country. I think most will make a really positive contribution to society if only allowed to do so.

Rituals are also very important during the day. We say good morning in all the languages in the classroom – and then we move on to only speaking in German. We are very clear about the school rules. We’ve translated them into many different languages.

As soon as I see that there’s a conflict that has racial, religious or gender triggers, I go right in – and tell them these views are against the rules. Mutual respect is the most important thing in my classroom, and I make sure that everybody likes coming to school, to a place where they don´t have to experience fear or discrimination and where we live in peace.

I have had no formal training in trauma therapy. And yes, I’ve felt overwhelmed. Students don´t know where their family members are, whether they are dead or alive. Some get involved in prostitution, people trafficking, forced marriage. Once it was six at a time in my classroom. And there are also students with learning difficulties or only very limited formal schooling. Some students have years of work experience but have only started learning our alphabet.

We also need to take care of ourselves. Mutual support among teachers is very important. Often teachers don’t realise that traumatized children cannot learn like other children. These children have often become the head of the household – they quickly speak better German than their parents. They don’t have a comfort zone in which to heal from their trauma. We have one music teacher who has no sensitivity for these kids – he doesn’t understand why they can’t clap a rhythm, he shouts at them, and says they’re not learning. There is one boy who was held in detention in Iraq. If you shout at him, he runs out of the room and doesn’t come back.

The biggest problem is when they’re old, above 16, not only traumatized but have also missed a lot of schooling. There’s not a good infrastructure in place for these children. Some go on to do their A-Levels and there are vocational training schools, but the places are limited.  There are not enough alternatives for these pupils, and some end up on the street dealing drugs. We’ve had such cases. I don’t think the politicians have realized this yet. Gifted young people who just need to be given a chance. The younger they are, and the more previous schooling they’ve had, the better chances they have.

Refugee youngsters are seen as a burden, especially young men, but they can be such a contribution to the country. Language is important but inclusion is really key. And we would really need more music, art and sports therapy, ideally imparted by people who really understand what trauma means.

I encourage these brave youngsters to keep dreaming and fighting because they experience a lot of racism and discrimination here, especially Arab boys. These students want to be listened to. This is their healing process – that their story exists. We, as teachers, can help validate their story, but we need support to do so. Because these kids are great, and I do love my job despite everything. It always amazes me how sometimes we have the world’s problems in our classroom but also the world’s talents and beauty. Every day is intense and it is never boring.

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Image: UNESCO/Seivan M.Salim

The number of migrant and refugee school-age children around the world has grown by 26% since 2000. Eight years on from the beginning of the Syrian conflict, a new paper released today at an event in the Netherlands looks at the importance of making sure that education systems are set up to address the trauma that many of these children face before, and during their journeys to new countries. In particular, teachers need better training to provide psychosocial support to these children, including through social and emotional learning.

In Germany, about one-third of refugee children suffer from mental illness, and one-fifth suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable. One third of 160 unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Norway from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Somalia suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Among 166 unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents in Belgium, 37-47% had ‘severe or very severe’ symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.

Rates of trauma among the displaced in low and middle income countries are also high. For instance, 75% of 331 internally displaced children in camps in southern Darfur in Sudan met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 38% had depression.

Image: Anthony Upton/ARETE/GEM Report

In the absence of health centres, schools can play a key role in restoring a sense of stability. Teachers are not and should never be leant on as mental health specialists, but they can be a crucial source of support for children suffering from trauma if they’re given the right training. But they need basic knowledge about trauma symptoms and providing help to students, which many do not have. NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee, iACT, and Plan International, are training teachers to face this challenge through their programmes, but their reach is not enough.

In Germany, the majority of teachers and day-care workers said that they did not feel properly prepared to address the needs of refugee children. In the Netherlands, 20% of teachers with more than 18 years of experience working in mainstream schools reported that they experienced a high degree of difficulty dealing with students with trauma. The vast majority of these teachers (89%) encountered at least one student with trauma in their work. A review of early childhood care and education facilities for refugee children in Europe and North America found that, although many programmes recognized the importance of providing trauma-informed care, appropriate training and resources were ‘almost universally lacking’.

The paper shows the importance of social and emotional learning, as an approach to psychosocial support which targets skills, such as resilience, to manage stress, and is often rolled out through interactive, group-based discussions or role play. It shows the importance of this approach for less acute situations but emphasizes that for more challenging cases trained specialists are needed.

#EducationOnTheMove: Voices from Turkey - YouTube

It is also important to involve parents in social and emotional learning so that activities can continue at home. One programme in Chicago looked at addressing symptoms of depression among Mexican immigrant women and primary school children with in- and after- school programmes and home visits, for instance, and improved school work, child mental health and family communication.

Key recommendations:

  1. Learning environments must be safe, nurturing and responsive.
  2. Teachers working with migrant and refugee students who have suffered trauma face particular hardships and need training to cope with challenges in the classroom.
  3. Psychosocial interventions require cooperation between education, health and social protection services.
  4. Social and emotional learning interventions need to be culturally sensitive and adapted to context. They should be delivered through extra-curricular activities as well.
  5. Community and parental involvement should not be neglected.
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By Aisha Ijaz, Aahung, Pakistan

I work on reproductive health for an organization called Aahung in Pakistan. For over 20 years now, we have been developing and advocating around comprehensive sexuality education, or, as it is called here, Life Skills Based Education (LSBE).

In 2018, the Sindh province in Pakistan became the first to introduce LSBE content. And Balochistan is working on doing the same soon. This blog discusses the work it entailed over the past decade to get to this point in what is a conservative society. I describe the barriers we have come across along the way – some of which still remain for other provinces yet to be convinced on the issue.

Back in 1995, we were the first organization that not only worked exclusively on sexual and reproductive health in the country, but also with young people on the issue. We developed jargon round it in the local language – making sure there was accurate and appropriate terminology. We built teaching tools on LSBE, and we now work to build the capacity of teachers in schools, training them on our content.

We make sure to create an enabling environment in the schools, involving school management as well as teachers and parents in the change. And finally, we carry out ongoing monitoring and evaluation of how the content is being received, and then after a couple of years, if all has been well, we believe the programme to be sustainable and the school runs it themselves.

We are only 25 people based in Karachi so scaling up requires a change of the system from the inside. This has led us to work with the education departments within provincial governments.

Press conference with local celebrities and Aahung activists right after the Zainab rape case in January 2018. This was a call for action for the provincial government to take some action around integration of LSBE. Following this press conference, the Sindh Education Department formally committed to integrating the content

It took almost ten years from the first moment we formally started working with the Sindh department for it to come to the point when it was willing to integrate some of the content into their textbooks for grades 6-8. The change in will was prompted by the prominent rape case of a six year-old girl, Zainab Ansari in January 2018. It shook the country and left the government wanting to do something meaningful. We’d already been working with the department for almost a decade and were well placed to accelerate the process.

Then, in May 2018, Balochistan approached us to do the same. If Sindh can do it, so can we, I think was the thought. But there is not much movement in the other provinces. At least not yet.

Provincially the concerns can be different. Sindh is the most progressive of the provinces in the country and has the least religious backlash. It’s more of a bureaucratic holdup – a lot of red tape, which can hold things up.

Press conference held by the leader of the ruling political party in Sindh (PPP) formally committing to integrating LSBE. The chief minister of Sindh is also present and Aahung staff

In the Punjab, however, progress is the slowest in terms of approaching LSBE, and yet it is far ahead other states on other issues.  It has the most amount of money and the best infrastructure, for instance, but the religious party has the most authority in that province who are very cautious of the right way.

In Balochistan, we expected the religious and cultural hurdles to be the same as Punjab, but their desire to actually do something good has won over. The bureaucrats and different officials we connect with are very committed. They approached us rather than the other way around, as they were keen for change. There is a bit of a cultural hurdle there, and it’s mostly a tribal culture, but because they’re so dedicated their interest and accountability is a lot more than might otherwise be expected.

We don’t look at addressing religious organisations directly. We work with the provincial departments as a secular organization, approaching the issue from a rights-based approach.

We rely upon evidence – we create models through our own programmes that could then be taken on by governments, showing that they have worked in urban, semi-urban and rural areas. In the Sindh province, for instance, we started a pilot in 24 schools, to reassure them that it wouldn’t start any form of backlash – to build that evidence base for them to roll it out into their textbooks. And it worked. Parents received it very positively. And teachers. And this convinced Sindh to roll it out across the province.

People don’t have a concept of human rights, which is very eye-opening. In the context as we’ve seen it, it legitimizes our work. Our training, for instance, looks at focusing on the individual self.  The family and the community are so important here in Pakistan, but we need to take it back to the individual, which could be anyone and how they want freedom and tolerance and knowledge. And this is how a rights-based approach works.

It often comes down to what people’s perception of LSBE is. And once you break that down and really walk them through it, as the new paper by the GEM Report and UNESCO out this week does, over time people do understand its value.

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Image: Luciana Ianiri

Comprehensive sexuality education is an essential part of a good quality education that improves sexual and reproductive health, argues Facing the Facts, our newest policy paper out today jointly with UNESCO. Released at the Women Deliver Conference during an event with Helen Clark, the First Lady of Namibia and Vivian Onano, the paper explores the resistance to sexuality education in many countries and the obstacles to its implementation, seeking ways to overcome them.

Globally, each year, 15 million girls marry before the age of 18. Some 16 million girls age 15 to 19 and 1 million girls under 15 give birth. This not only spells the end of their education, but is often fatal; pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among young women.

Young people also account for a third of new HIV infections among adults and across 37 low- and middle-income countries, yet only approximately one third of 15 to 24 year olds have comprehensive knowledge of HIV prevention and transmission.

In the face of these facts, our new paper calls for children and young people to receive comprehensive sexuality education before they become sexually active. This helps them protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and promotes values of tolerance, mutual respect and non-violence in relationships.

Even children at the age of five need to understand basic facts about their body, think about family and social relationships and recognize inappropriate behaviour and identify abuse. Otherwise, many will grow up with inaccurate beliefs, like roughly half the girls in the Islamic Republic of Iran, who believe menstruation to be a disease and 51% of girls in Afghanistan, 82% in Malawi, who know nothing about menstruation before experiencing it themselves.

Nevertheless, vocal resistance to comprehensive sexuality education by some groups in a number of countries has been rising. In Uganda, a public backlash led the Ministry of Education to withdraw the national sexuality education curriculum, for example, which was subsequently revised.

Image: Astrid Westvang

In England, the 2018 decision to make relationship and sex education mandatory met with opposition for some of the issues in the curriculum? and an online petition against it gathered over 100,000 signatures. In the United States, strong opposition has impacted policy: between 2006–2010 and 2011–2013 the percentage of adolescents who received formal instruction about birth control fell from 70% to 60% among girls and from 61% to 55% among boys. Only about half of all school districts require any sexuality education at all and, of those that do, most mandate or stress abstinence-only instruction. In fact, 18 states require teachers to tell students that sex is acceptable only within the context of marriage.

But, as the paper shows, abstinence-only programmes are ineffective and potentially harmful as the gap between the age of initial sexual activity and marriage is growing. A review of abstinence-only programmes in the United States, for instance, showed that such teaching included medically inaccurate information, promoted negative gender stereotypes, and stigmatized sexually active young people and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

Detractors’ argument that comprehensive sexuality education promotes sexual activity among adolescents is also unfounded as evidence demonstrates that education delays the age of sexual initiation, which abstinence-only programmes do not.

Aside from the social challenges to introducing comprehensive sexuality education, there are some operational challenges too. Introducing comprehensive sexuality education in the curriculum is insufficient without adequate teacher training, to take one obvious example. Teachers may not have the confidence to teach the subject, and may end up simply omitting the relevant content from the lesson plans. There are ways to tackle this. Namibia and Chile have tackled it by creating scripted lesson plans for teachers, for instance, while Tanzania and some countries in Latin America have created online resources that teachers can turn to when in doubt.

In addition, comprehensive sexuality education suffers from often not being taught as a standalone lesson, but rather as part of multiple other subjects. This means it can be diminished in importance as a result, and it also opens more opportunities for the subject matter to be side-lined by teachers not willing to teach it.

The importance of the issue in our global education goal is recognized in a standardised indicator on comprehensive quality education, which is included in the SDG 4 monitoring framework under target 4.7. However, monitoring implementation is fraught with challenges, partly because of the piece-meal way that the subject is often presented in curricula, and because of the diversity in the way it is delivered. Collecting relevant data to fit the indicator remains a challenge: school heads may not understand how to collect data on the issue, and summarising information in a way that it can be compared across countries still requires some thinking.

The paper urges countries to:

  1. Invest in teacher education and support to deliver comprehensive sexuality education.
  2. Make curricula relevant and evidence based.
  3. Develop monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and ensure implementation,
  4. Promote cross-sector collaboration to bring about real change. notably linking schools with health services, and leverage funds..
  5. Engage with community and parent organizations to overcome resistance that is not based on facts.

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