One Million Children Forced from School by Boko Haram

Nigerian Lives Matter / Garry Knight

Nigerian Lives Matter / Garry Knight

Attacks by Islamist military group Boko Haram have “forced more than 1 million children to abandon their studies and closed at least 2,000 schools in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries,” according to Bloomberg News. Neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger are also now experiencing violence as well.

In a story this week following a UNICEF report, Bloomberg News said, “Schools have been hit by attacks as Boko Haram, which means, ‘Western education is a sin’ in the Hausa language, pursues a six-year-old campaign to establish its version of Islamic law in the region.”

Boko Haram gained world attention last year following the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls—most of whom still have not been found—from their dormitories in the town of Chibok, which sparked the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign championed by Michelle Obama and thousands of others. Most of the girls haven’t been found. Associated Press reports that overall, “Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed about 20,000 people and displaced 2.3 million, according to Amnesty International and the United Nations.”

Since starting its war on the Nigerian government in 2009, “Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted schools, students and teachers,” reports The Guardian. Further, the New York Times adds that while “hundreds of schools in northeastern Nigeria have reopened in recent months…many classrooms are overcrowded or are used as shelter for those displaced.” Security continues to be a challenge; the instability has kept teachers from returning to class, given that as many as 600 teachers have been killed during the six-year insurgency.

“Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director in West and Central Africa, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups.” In fact, the Bloomberg story said, “In Nigeria, 10.5 million children are out of school,” making it the highest in the world.

And there are increasing fears lack of education will fuel further radicalism. Yan St-Pierre, terrorism analyst at Modern Security Consulting Group in Berlin, said, “There was already a problem with getting kids to school on a regular basis that simply became worse once Boko Haram emerged.”

Between bloody raids and incessant suicide bombings, Boko Haram has severely damaged what little infrastructure existed in Nigeria’s impoverished northeast at a time when the commodity-dependent country is facing a cash crunch thanks to plunging oil prices. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had given the military there a December deadline to beat back the group. But, according to the site Foreign Policy, “Even with some assistance from the United States, United Kingdom, and France, that goal looks increasingly unrealistic. A multi-regional military task force has dismantled some of the group’s strongholds, forcing the extremists to rely on asymmetric tactics. Those attacks, in turn, are increasingly involving children.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

Share

Nonprofits Championing Tech for Girls in Kenya

Kenya girls tech

Like many young women in Kenya, Miriam Wambui graduated high school without a job and without money to attend university. She hadn’t been greatly exposed to technology and had no idea she needed to learn about it. But while doing community-based volunteer work, she heard about Nairobits—a nonprofit that offers Kenyan youth ages 15 to 24 training in information computer technology, and she went from, as she describes it, “not knowing how to press a mouse,” to becoming an expert in information communications technology (ICT) and gaining skills like Web design and development. Ms. Wambui is now project coordinator for three Nairobits centers for girls in some of Nairobi’s poorest neighborhoods. Wambui, along with others in Kenya, including at the African Centre for Women, Information and Communications Technology (ACWICT), see ICT as “a potent force in transforming social, economic and political lives of women globally.”

At Nairobits, young women who were given the chance to get educated in technology often initially had trouble learning in co-ed classes, since technology has been traditionally viewed as a field for males and they felt uncomfortable competing. Families in Kenya, Wambui says, can be against girls getting an education, since “after primary school, boys’ education is given priority and the expectation is that girls will ‘take on roles that are much more maternal.’” Nairobits’ solution was to open girls’ centers to give women a chance to learn, share, and interact in a supportive environment. For Wambui, that included mentorship of students, teaching life skills, and working with parents who often don’t understand the value of computers as a part of everyday life.

According to ACWICT, the problem of girls in Kenya not having upper level education is coupled with those of “high unemployment, lack of skills relevant to the workplace by the young people, lack of information on available job opportunities, lack of networks and connections among youth,” and “lack of available jobs suited to entry-level skills,” among other things. These are global concerns. Kennedy Odede, founder & CEO of Kenya’s Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a nonprofit combating poverty and gender inequity, spotlighted how we’ve fallen short on education in the Huffington Post last week. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals set in 2000, “instituted that quality primary school education was a basic right for every child and it would happen by 2015,”

“It’s 2015,” and, as Odede says, “59 million children still cannot go to primary school and 62 million girls don’t get to go to secondary school.” Now, “the UN General Assembly [has] formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” which includes the goals of “ensuring access to quality education and promoting gender equality.”

The other critical components following education are job opportunities and the fostering of entrepreneurship. The ACWICT cites statistics that in Kenya, “while an estimated 750,000 young people enter the workforce annually, only 15 percent get absorbed into formal employment, leaving the rest…to take up informal work and/or face the brunt of poverty.” Kenyan girls are at a particular disadvantage, according to data from the United Nations, because “only 41 percent of young women continue their education after high school.”

But entrepreneurship is providing new avenues to supplement the educational initiatives. When President Obama spoke this July at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, he said, “This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth and Kenya is setting an important example—Kenya is leading the way.” Pledging $1 billion to support entrepreneurship projects worldwide, with half earmarked for women and youth, President Obama called women “powerhouse entrepreneurs” and said, “research shows that when women entrepreneurs succeed, they drive economic growth and invest more back into their families and communities.”

So, the pieces are in place. With continued support, young women in Kenya and elsewhere may be able to follow in the footsteps of Wambui and Odede in the continuing fight for women’s education and equality.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

Share

Changing the Landscape of Theater Education: Pig Iron Theater and UArts

©Pig Iron Theatre

©Pig Iron Theatre

Breaking the fourth wall in theater education, the University of the Arts’ Ira Brind School of Theater Arts will bring avant-garde theater inside the ivory tower. Beginning this fall, the university’s faculty will work side-by-side with company members of Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre to challenge and train graduate students to push traditional boundaries in performance to hone a new generation of “theatrical innovators.”

The partnership will create two new degrees at the University of the Arts: a Master of Fine Arts and a Certificate in “Pig Iron School’s Devised Performance program.” Poised to “change the landscape of theater education,” according to Broadway World, the MFA and Certificate programs will be under the direction of Pig Iron’s cofounder Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel, within the UArts Ira Brind School of Theater Arts led by Joanna Settle.

“This partnership breaks down the traditional boundaries of a theater education to create a program that is adept at serving the current landscape of performance,” said Settle, director of the Ira Brind School. Students will train alongside award-winning faculty, who are artistic practitioners and educators.

Settle believes devised performance represents the future of theater. Devised theater has been gaining momentum globally. It draws “from the collective inspiration of the group, not from a script written by a singular playwright, and performances are not confined by the boundaries of the stage, but often occur in found or public spaces.”

“If you’re a theater student or professional theater practitioner, this is pretty big news,” reported PhiladelphiaMagazine. “From an artistic standpoint, the new program is a win-win: Pig Iron’s current program will be accentuated by professors and additional coursework at UArts.” As Bauriedel told Philadelphia:

“We are thrilled about this partnership because the curriculum as we’ve designed it and as we’ve taught it will remain intact. The core of the program is the same and the faculty will not change. Now, students who want to earn an MFA will spend 2 years in the studio with the certificate students, training to become theatre practitioners. MFA students will take additional courses at UArts: they’ll study visual art practice and music theory; they’ll learn an instrument and will study theatre pedagogy. MFA students will also stay for an additional semester (making the MFA a 2.5 year or 5 semester program), during which time they’ll stretch their learning toward full-length original works, site-specific pieces, [and] collaborations with visual artists, composers and choreographers. They will also have the opportunity to partner with a community organization to test the meaning of devised performance beyond the conventional spectator/performer relationship.”

Founded in 1995, Pig Iron Theatre Company has been lauded internationally. The New York Times called them “one of the few groups successfully taking theater in new directions.” In 2011, the ensemble created their diploma program, Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. The program trains artists in physical theater rooted in Lecoq pedagogy and ensemble theater practice.

Established in 1876, the University of the Arts is one of the only U.S. universities dedicated solely to educating students in the visual and performing arts, design and writing. In January 2014, noted director Joanna Settle was brought in to lead the Brind School, and the program has evolved quickly under her leadership.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

Share

Innovation in Education? Bridge International’s Academy-in-a-Box

For six years, an innovator in charter school education has moved quickly to educate some of the world’s poorest children – for less per month than it costs to buy a Venti Frappuccino. Bridge International, a Silicon Valley startup with aggressive goals, has just had its founders named Social Entrepreneurs of the Year by The World Economic Forum for its innovation and success in educating children in Kenya. The company, which now boasts the “largest chain of private schools in Africa,” according to Izzy Best reporting for CNBC,” is poised to enter three more African countries this year.

http://www.cnbc.com/id/102361103#

“The first Bridge International Academy opened in 2009 using a “school-in-a-box” franchise model. The objective, says Best, was to give “children a quality education for roughly $5 a month, beginning with early childhood development classes through 8th grade.” Now, founders Jay Kimmelman and his wife, Dr. May Shannon Kimmelman, have established more than 350 locations with more than 100,000 pupils in Kenya and have received significant recognition for Bridge International, which was named one of the 25 Most Audatious Companies by Inc. Magazine in 2014.

Supported by big name investors, including Bill Gates and Pierre Omidyar, the company looks to provide quality schooling to children living in extreme poverty. According to The World Bank, Best reports, “one billion people will live in extreme poverty in 2015, while 2.2 billion people live on less than $2 a day…For many who live in developing economies, this means that access to good schools remains elusive, as the effects of poor education limits employment opportunities and increases inequality for women. Bridge International seeks to remedy this problem with a low-cost educational model.”

Bridge International has achieved this by using technology, including tablets and smartphones to run curricula and administration packaged in their program. They have standardized the lesson plans and put them on a timed system where their teachers are delivering proscribed lesson plans at exactly the same time using the tablets. Administrative tasks, including tracking teacher scheduling and subsequent evaluation is included, so they can be sure their “Academic Masters,” as teachers are called are delivering the program as expected.

“What we’ve done is taken a systems approach and looking at all the parts of the educational process and say, ‘What parts do you need to deliver world-class quality education, but at a price point that a customer is getting an experience that you’d get at any great school anywhere in the world?’ ” Best quotes  Kimmelman as saying.

Today, Best reports, “more than 100,000 students are enrolled at nearly 350 Bridge schools, all in Kenya. They are staffed with approximately 4,500 teachers who leverage technology and use digital devices to deliver class lessons created by education specialists. Student evaluations are electronically tracked and monitored by school administrators.” The Kimmelman’s intend to expand the program soon into India, Uganda and Nigeria.

According to the company’s website, they “invested large sums of capital in research, development, technology, and curriculum before even the first pupil was admitted,” to achieve “efficiencies both in terms of the overhead costs required to run an academy and in terms of increasing the….The vast majority of non-instructional activities that an Academy Manager would normally have to deal with are all automated and centralized through a combination of our Academy Manager’s smartphone application and our Teachers’ tablet application.  This frees our Academy Manager to focus on the critical work that must be executed locally – overseeing classroom instruction and building and managing relationships with parents and the local community.”

Their scripted curriculum delivered via tablet has “step-by-step instructions explaining what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class.”

Terrance Ross, reporting in October in The Atlantic on what the Kimmelmans had achieved with Bridge International said, a report by the World Bank indicated in contrast that only “35 percent of Kenya’s public school teachers showed “mastery of the curriculum they teach….Previous attempts to solve this problem have been expensive, and ineffective.”  According to the same report, he said: “The government spends more than any of its neighbors. There’s a disconnect between Kenya’s spending on education and learning outcomes. More of the same is not enough….This is where Bridge has found its niche: somewhere between the exorbitantly expensive private schools and the absentee-ridden public ones.”

According to Ross, “So far, it’s been working: Bridge’s students score an average of 35 percent higher on core reading skills and 19 percent higher in math than their peers in neighboring schools. But not everyone is on board. Kate Redman, a communications and advocacy specialist for UNESCO’s Education For All initiative, isn’t convinced by Bridge’s long-term prospects.

“Redman also warns against Bridge and other private schools for potentially “imposing external cultural values” on the country. While private schools can help, it can be a slippery slope as well—the onus should remain on public schools to keep improving.”

Others have questioned Bridge International’s formulaic approach. Jason Beaubien, NPR’s Global Health and Development Correspondent for “Marketplace,” described this way, “Their business model takes the franchise model of Mcdonalds; merges it with a tablet computer’s efficiency at delivering information; automates daily operations through a smartphone and then plunks the final product down in a third world slum for $5 a month.”

His segment included comment from  Ed Gragert, the U.S. director of the Global Campaign for Education, who said, “If somebody suggested that kind of an educational model, in this country they would be laughed out of the educational community,” which advocates for increased access to education in the developing world. “That’s not how kids learn best,” he says. “Kids learn by interacting with each other. It seems like we are going back for the sake of somebody making a profit to where a robot could teach that class.”

Bridge International’s May Kimmelman disagreed saying the company had a different view of their teachers. She emphasized the company is working to “solve one of the biggest problems facing the poorest of the poor — the lack of access to decent education.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

Share