Education

  • Math identity is the key to girls’ math success

    Photo: Jessica Scranton/FHI 360

    Photo: Jessica Scranton/FHI 360

    Girls get the message — from the toys they play with, the TV shows they watch and the attitudes of their parents, teachers and peers — that math is NOT for them! From an early age, girls are taught that math success is about an innate ability that they lack and that being feminine and being good at math are mutually exclusive.

    As a result, girls do not develop a positive math identity — an identity that research tells us is key to their interest, participation and persistence in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers. Without a solid background in math, girls will not develop the critical STEM skills that will be required for 60 percent of the new jobs that will become available in the 21st century.

    There are two pillars of a positive math identity: the belief that you can do math and the belief that you belong. Identity is fluid and dynamic. It is developed through social practice, and it is through social practice that learners develop a sense of who they are. There is no such thing as a “math gene” or a “math brain,” but the myth is perpetuated, and it is particularly harmful to girls and students of color. Teachers and parents often unconsciously convey stereotyped messages that girls do not need to be good in math.

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  • A successful project keeps girls in school in Kenya

    In most primary and secondary schools in sub-Saharan Africa, girls and boys learn math, science, language, art and history along with other subjects. Seldom do they receive the critical information they need to keep them safe, healthy and able to withstand the challenges that threaten their well-being and basic right to education. Completing a full cycle of education can become little more than a dream.

    Turning the dream of education into a reality was the driving force behind the Four Pillars PLUS project. With funding from the GE Foundation, FHI 360 launched this robust girls’ education, mentoring and empowerment project in the counties of Kisumu and Siaya in Kenya.

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  • Taking a student-based approach to youth development

    How do we best meet the needs of adolescents, recognizing that the world they are entering is rapidly changing?

    Youth programming should focus on the successful transition from adolescence to adulthood, rather than on the reduction of behavioral problems, a past trend. Such programming ensures adolescents’ mental and physical health, as well as provides opportunities to develop positive social values, human and social capital, a sense of well-being and an ability to make sound choices.

    Unfortunately, donor-funded discourse on secondary education reform is still dominated by a dialogue on expanding access and improving quality in education. Youth development and large-scale secondary school reform usually operate on parallel tracks, with youth development approached through afterschool, extracurricular or nonformal programming.

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  • Research points to the power of educational equity in reducing civil conflict

    Unequal educational opportunity often lies at the heart of deep inequities in economic productivity, social well-being and participation in democratic institutions. Key livelihood statistics show that across the globe, individuals with lower levels of education are more likely to earn less, have poorer health outcomes and are less likely to enter leadership positions. For this reason, efforts to improve equity must start with education.

    A soon-to-be released study, completed by the FHI 360 Education Policy and Data Center (EPDC) and commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, indicates that ensuring equitable access to educational resources may be more than just a moral right: It may also contribute to reducing the likelihood of civil conflict.

    Using an innovative methodology that captures disparities in educational attainment among ethnic and religious groups, as well as among subnational regions within countries, we found that violent civil conflict is more likely in countries with high levels of disparity among groups. Preliminary results showed that the difference in the odds of conflict between highly unequal and more equal countries was large in magnitude and held true even after accounting for the countries’ differences in economic development, political systems, populations and income inequalities.

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  • A warm welcome in Mumbai

    It was 100 degrees outside when we pulled up in front a school in Mumbai last month. We were greeted by the sounds of booming drums, singing voices and ringing tambourines. The children were assembled outside of the school to welcome us. Before arriving, I was curious about how these children would receive us, but all doubts slipped away as they met us with open arms. The memory of that welcome continues to humble and inspire me in my travels to similar schools around the globe. Fifty students from two Mumbai schools were selected to participate in the three-year Johnson & Johnson Bridge to Employment (BTE) program designed to provide academic support, encourage lifelong learning and build awareness of careers in health care. BTE also works with parents, teachers and employees to support and guide students to new opportunities.

    According to 2012 data, only 58 percent of students from municipal areas graduate, leaving 42 out of every 100 young people without a high school diploma. For more than 20 years, BTE has been focusing on impacting communities all around the world with similar statistics.

    We’ve trained over 20 Johnson & Johnson employees, who serve as volunteers to mentor these 50 children, ages 13–16. BTE volunteers here in India and in all programs around the globe talk to their mentees about life and what it took to reach their own career goals and why civic engagement matters. Mentors teach students time management as well as resume writing, interviewing, teamwork and communication skills.

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  • Making strides in college and career readiness in North Dakota

    The goal of Succeed 2020, an education and workforce development project in North Dakota, is to help the state’s students become better prepared for college and 21st century careers.

    Achieving this goal is no small task. North Dakota’s eight Regional Education Associations (REAs), our primary partners, are leading implementation of Succeed 2020. With management and technical assistance from FHI 360, the REAs work with school districts to improve their educational programs and services through professional development, direct services and data analyses. The REAs are bringing together institutions of higher education, community-based organizations, business associations and employers, state and local government agencies, and Native American groups to ensure that all students have access to rigorous curricula, ongoing college and career planning, and the supports they need to succeed in school.

    Our numbers show that Succeed 2020 is making significant progress. In the 2013–2014 school year, 2,000 teachers, 300 administrators, and 150 counselors and careers advisors participated in professional learning opportunities that ranged from workshops on how to improve students’ literacy and numeracy skills to one-on-one guidance to understand classroom data. Professional learning communities bring together teachers from similar grades and content areas to solve common challenges.

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  • Study tours address school violence prevention in El Salvador

    Violence is one of the greatest challenges facing youth in El Salvador today. By 2011, gang activity and organized crime had entered more than 300 schools across the country, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). To prevent school violence, FHI 360 has conducted a series of week-long study tours as part of the USAID Education for Children and Youth Program, which has been working in El Salvador since 2013.

    To date, three tours have brought approximately 50 principals, Ministry of Education officials and other education stakeholders to Washington, DC, to explore best practices for improving the educational opportunities for Salvadoran youth living in areas with high rates of violence. The tours promote positive relations between the U.S. and El Salvador and specifically aim to strengthen Salvadoran society through secondary education reform. Participants have explored models for combating high education dropout rates, preventing school violence and creating safe spaces for youth.

    The large Salvadoran population in Washington, DC, provides a unique opportunity for the participants to learn how youth from El Salvador and of Salvadoran descent are faring in U.S. schools.

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  • Preparing students for health careers in Kenya

    Dominic-220x415If you were to ask 100 students in Kenya what their career ambitions are, there is a significant chance that at least 50 of them would say doctor or pharmacist. However, few understand what is really involved in achieving a health care career.

    Even if students gain admission to university, they are often unable to afford it. And, should they overcome those challenges, they often make ill-informed decisions about what to study, because they are not given adequate guidance and exposure to their desired profession. The few who successfully complete appropriate coursework may still struggle to get hired. In Kenya, there are far more college graduates than can be absorbed into the job market. Without meaningful work experience, recent graduates lack any competitive advantage.

    As co-founder and country director for the Kenya Education Fund, a scholarship organization that helps students living in poverty attend high school, I have learned firsthand the value of mentorship programs. Mentorships expose students to real-world professionals who provide the support necessary to help students realize their educational and professional aspirations.

    Today, the Kenya Education Fund coordinates with Johnson & Johnson’s Bridge to Employment (BTE) program to provide a mentoring program and regional workshops focused on problem solving and life skills. This program brings together Phillips Healthcare Services, a distribution partner of Johnson & Johnson, FHI 360, three institutions of higher education and two secondary schools. Fifty young men and women participate in BTE, and it has been an overwhelming success.

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  • An interconnected approach to improving handwashing behaviors

    Each year on Global Handwashing Day, hundreds of millions of people around the world gather to celebrate the power of handwashing with soap to save lives. This day also provides an opportunity to consider the current status of the hygiene sector and catalyze further action. As we look toward the future of hygiene behavior change, we need to ensure that we are maximizing the broader topic of integrated development and fully considering its relationship to hygiene.

    Integrated development, which can be defined in many different ways, is increasingly being discussed within the international development community, and FHI 360 plays an active role in convening this conversation. I recently had the opportunity, on behalf of the Global Public–Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW), to attend an event hosted by FHI 360 titled Does 1+1=3? Proving the Integration Hypothesis, which brought together expert panelists from academia, government, donors and nongovernmental organizations.

    I took away many key learnings from this event, but the one that stuck with me most is this: If we hope to move the needle on the most entrenched development challenges, we need to consider the benefits that could be offered by combining services or sectors.

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  • What challenges do girls in Kenya face in receiving a quality education?

    First, there is the barrier of poverty. The high cost of school fees often does not allow girls to enroll in school, because they cannot afford the books, supplies and uniforms. Even if they can pay their fees, they often cannot afford menstrual hygiene products, and without them, their learning is interrupted due to school absence. Next, discrimination in society and school makes it difficult for girls. Girls are only seen as future mothers, wives and caretakers. They are not seen as capable of tackling difficult subjects such as math and science. Because of this, girls often have low self-esteem and lose interest in school. They also fear sexual harassment and violence, which can make traveling to and from school dangerous. Finally, girls are expected to take on many more household duties than boys and often cannot devote adequate time to their studies, causing them to fall behind.

    How has the Four Pillars PLUS project made a difference to you?

    Four Pillars PLUS paid for my school fees at a boarding school, where I was able to get a quality of education that many girls could not. At boarding school, I had more time to study because I no longer had to do chores until late in the evening. I did not have to fear for my safety as I did when I walked long distances between school and my home each day. As a result, I studied hard and finished secondary school with a B+ average.

    Receiving mentoring helped me to deal with discrimination. It allowed me to see myself as a person with the same opportunities as boys.

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