Education Key to Prosperous Lives

By Kathryn McConnell
Staff Writer

Data on student learning gathered by aid workers in partner countries is helping the United States develop effective local strategies to teach reading to 100 million children by 2015, says the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Instead of measuring our success by number of kids in school or the number of teachers we trained, we’re measuring the number of children who can read by the time they leave school,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah told 700 education specialists and development partners August 1, the first day of the two-day USAID Global Education Summit in Washington.

Shah said that with less than 1,000 days until the target date set for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), USAID wants to get the best evidence it can to help it define its approach to education for each partner country. The second of eight MDGs, or MDG2, is to achieve universal education, while MDG3 is to promote gender equality. The MDGs were agreed to by leaders of 189 heads of government at the United Nations in 2000.

USAID laid out its overall approach to education in a strategy published in 2011 that includes a focus on increased access to education for 15 million learners living in crisis and conflict areas, Shah said.

Based on the strategy, USAID so far has completed reviews of its education programs in Nigeria, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The reviews have helped the agency develop customized strategies for each country, Shah said.

For instance, the education review in the Democratic Republic of the Congo pointed out that one of the greatest barriers to education in the country is school fees. Because the government can’t afford to pay teachers, Shah said, parents are expected “to shoulder the burden,” which keeps many children out of school every year.

From the review, Shad said, USAID began to work with the government to find a new model, “so primary education becomes a right, not a privilege, for every child.”

Students in Kenya play mobile games that teach them the importance of making good life choices.

In another example, Shah noted that USAID staff in South Sudan devised an education plan to reach 500,000 children. “Getting kids, girls in particular, in school quickly is a sign that peace and stability can quickly lead to changes,” he said.

Since the overall strategy came out, more than 30 USAID country offices have designed new projects to improve learning, Shah said.

At the summit, Arne Duncan, America’s top education official, stressed the value of education to societies. “Education is the new currency by which nations keep competitive and grow,” Duncan said.

He noted that every grade of school completed boosts lifetime income 10 percent to 20 percent for girls and 5 percent to 15 percent for boys.

In addition, he said, a mother who can read can better protect her children from chronic illness, and a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past age 5.

Duncan pointed to technology as an important tool for increasing access to and equity in education. Worldwide, he said, “the fast-evolving field of education technology, from cloud computing to personal learning devices to open education resources … has a huge potential to transform education.”

“A better-educated world is a more prosperous world,” Duncan said.

USAID’s education strategy (PDF, 600KB) is available on the agency’s website.

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