THE GIFT OF EDUCATION
The images of young girls from developing countries staring fearlessly into the camera always evoke empathy, touch a chord. We stare in compassion, listen to tales of war, famine and devastation, ponder over it for few days and then move on with life.
An initiative from Qatar, Educate a child, reaches out to children around the world who do not have access to education. A Qatar Today report.
Living in Qatar, far removed from qualms of education, security and poverty, it is easier to forget the sights that flashed by at the Educate a Child press conference. But not for HH Shiekha Moza bint Nasser who, when notified about the drastic situation of the second of UN's Millennium Development Goals with 57 million children still without education, chose to reach out to the poorest of the nations in the world. That she used her position to make a difference is the ripple that will now effect change.
Launched in November 2012, Educate a Child is a global programme of the Education Above All Foundation, an initiative that aims to trigger significant breakthroughs in providing quality primary education to the 57 million children who currently have no access to schooling. EAC is an extension of Sheikha Moza's mandate as a UNESCO Special Envoy on Basic and Higher Education, a United Nations Millennium Development Goal Advocate and a Steering Committee member of UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon's Global Education First initiative.
In the second phase of its operation, EAC brought together another set of country delegates a few months ago. Ministers of Education and high-level representatives from 16 countries discussed this predicament and were asked to lend their support to expanding access to primary education programmes for millions of children who lack this fundamental right. In total, the countries participating in the meeting represent nearly one-third (31%) of the children who are not enrolled in primary education. The meeting was held at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Student Centre in Education City, and received financial support from ExxonMobil.
Countries in attendance included Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and Yemen. “We intentionally identified countries that are open to discussions and want to implement change in their countries. We need the help of the governments to make our work easier and it is important to do this with the right partnerships and with government support,” says Dr Mary Joy Pigozzi, Managing Director, EAC. “
This High-Level Meeting is a unique opportunity for highlighting innovative solutions available now that have been successful in reaching out-of-school children. It is our hope that through this meeting, EAC can help support, sustain and scale efforts in these countries as well as provide models and insights for those that are beginning their association with EAC. We want to inspire countries to take up the best ideas and implement them where needed, thereby ensuring that children everywhere have access to quality primary education.”
Qatar Today met two passionate minds who share HH Sheikha Moza's vision and help translate that into actions. Marcio Barbosa, Senior Advisor of the Office of HH Sheikha Moza's office, has passion writ large on his face as he says that the issue of reaching out to children with no access to primary education is at a critical juncture and one that no longer can be ignored.
EAC has aims that seem impossible to reach – 10 million children in schools by 2015/2016 – but according to Barbosa, the vision is to attain a definite target and a projection was put down because the situation was such that it needed a commitment for immediate action. From the date EAC started, it has supported more than two million out-of-school children and according to Dr Pigozzi “is on track to reach 10 million children by the end of 2015/2016”.
“After we had the target in place, we worked to get there through strategies and partnerships and a well-drawn out plan,” says
"More than poverty it is war that makes our work difficult. We can at least make an effort, even in poverty-ridden countries, but not so in a battle-weary situation"
MARCIO BARBOSA Senior Advisor of the Office of HH Sheikha Moza's office (L) with
DR MARY JOY PIGOZZI
Managing Director, EAC
Dr Pigozzi. “As long as the conditions are favourable we plan on finding the missing kids through partners,” she says, adding, “the 10 million-figure is a cumulative count and it has to be achieved by next year.”
All of EAC's success depends on partnership and how the host country supports their initiatives. Any programme that involves such cooperation on a global scale is faced by challenges through governmental or organsiational delays. But EAC has faced no such hitches.
“What is interesting is that we hit success due to the intent of the project,” she says. “The Prime Minister of Congo spoke about this programme in Oman recently and commended the initiative. We take partnerships very seriously, we give credit and we realise that we need all the stakeholders to achieve the best results.”
Barbosa continues, “We don't want to act in isolation. We are going to these countries for a positive change and however you look at it we are not doing anything wrong; we are not buying land nor are we establishing a colony. It is the partner who does our work in these countries.”
“We just bring all of the stakeholders together and keep the governments involved in all activities.”
Taking an example of the Sudan programme, Dr Pigozzi says that EAC, through its partners in Sudan, helps find the children while the Sudanese government gets the school facility in place. “Part of our funds goes into getting the materials to support the programme like textbooks while the majority of the fund is for finding the children and making sure that they continue with the programme, making this a sustainable effort,” she says. There is no single solution, as each of the countries has a specific issue, like famine, or war conditions. “We learn from existing solutions and help instigate other countries to join in.”
Barbosa talks about the challenge that the small country has taken on and is tackling. He says, “Imagine organising a delegation from all these countries here, to work on something that the UN has not been able to manage in its years of existence. We could do it because the results seen among our first batch of countries.”
“Another factor is that we take on those countries where this issue is most prevalent and hence get the results faster as the need is much higher,” says Dr Pigozzi. “We also work with people who know the children and come up with innovative solutions to scale up and push up the project to reach the 10 million mark that is set as the goal.”
One of the initial countries that signed up the EAC programme was India. But even without a history of success, EAC managed
to triumph and the reason for this, according to Barbosa, is the trust that HH Sheikha Moza's name evokes. Dr Pigozzi emphasises, “She was associated to education and created an opportunity for us in all these countries. She has immense credibility in the world. She has a vision that is very clean and clear. She has a reputation of focusing on action not on talks.”
The partners were identified through surveys, and another layer of scrutiny to finalise them. “We have never paid the money directly to any governments, we identify the members or partners and these are either certified through our process or are recommended partners by the UN and the amount is passed to them,” says Dr Pigozzi.
Bharti Foundation is one such programme that has been identified by the EAC. Bharti Foundation is the development arm of one of the corporate houses in India, Bharti Group of Companies. Talking to Vijay Chadda, CEO Bharti Foundation, we found out that over the years, the Foundation has established 254 Satya Bharti Schools which currently provide free education to approximately 40,000 children across villages in six states of India.
“Under the EAC partnership, the Foundation has put in place, on equal cost sharing basis, a two-pronged strategy to bring 48,000 out-of-school children back to school by March 2016. It aims to achieve this not only through its existing Satya Bharti Schools but also by specially establishing the Satya Bharti Learning Centres, ”says Chadda. Chadda goes deeper into the evil that is dire in Indian states, the lack of proper education, which is now being taken up quite strongly by the government.
“Rajasthan is one of the backward states of India, especially on school education indicators. The state continues to contribute a large share of out-of-school children in the overall country level tally with more than 280,000 out of school children (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan 2012). Under the EAC partnership, Bharti Foundation has initiated a new programme in 2013, the Satya Bharti Learning Centres. These centres are established inside government schools and work with them to identify outof-school children, enroll them back into schools and provide them with age-appropriate educational support to address their learning gaps through condensed subject specific modules.”
Currently 237 such centres are operational in two districts of Rajasthan, which have identified and enrolled back more than 5,500 out-of-school children, of whom 50% are girls, he reports.
In the Indian context, addressing the problem of out of school children directly relates to the delivery of quality education to marginalised sections. These children are continuously at risk of dropping out due to the reasons like lack of physical access to schools (infrastructure and transport, socio-economic condition of the families), poverty leading to a preference for earning opportunities from child work/ labour, lack of quality education and care in school, acting as a barrier to age-appropriate education poverty and the early marriage of girls.
“Hence, the single most important point to be addressed today in India for ensuring education to out-of-school children is improving the quality of education in schools, aided with by teacher motivation and
“Through our partnership with Educate A Child we aim to reduce the number of out-of-school children in two districts in Ethiopia's southern Bale Zone by 21,945 by 2016"
SAPNA DAYAL Executive Director Imagine1day
accountability,” says Chadda.
The Ethiopian epidemic
Imagine1day is an Ethiopian partnership of EAC and the spokesperson, Executive Director, Sapna Dayal says, “Through our partnership with EAC we aim to reduce the number of out-of-school children in two districts in Ethiopia's southern Bale Zone by 21,945 by 2016.” Imagine1day is a vertically integrated organisation with satellite offices and regional expertise located in all geographical regions of focus. It has strong relationships with government and community partners. “Our team directly informs, resources and implements each element of our programme, and we've developed proven strategies to help children and their families overcome barriers to education. We are working within Ethiopia's public education system and curriculum to help the country achieve its goals of creating lasting, systemic advancements to ensure universal access to education for all of its children. To this end, our partnership with EAC is allowing us to take a giant leap towards our goal to ensure Ethiopians access to quality education funded free of foreign aid by 2030,” says Dayal.
Though Ethiopia has made great strides in advancing their education system, there remain over 2.4 million out-of-school children in Ethiopia, the highest in Sub- Saharan Africa. “This is a complex issue that demands creative leadership at both the government and community level,” says Dayal. “We believe that solving the issue of out-of-school children starts with tackling the barriers that prevent children from enrolling in school, or that cause them to drop out prematurely, including negative attitudes towards education/exclusionary beliefs and behaviours and economic bottlenecks that rural families face. Once children are enrolled in school, it is imperative that the education delivery be of high quality and that children have access to schools within close proximity in order to continue their education beyond early grades.”
Dayal is very optimistic about the EAC programme, with the results in the time that it has been implemented and also because of the community support it is generating.
She says, “As a new partner of Educate A Child, imagine1day is already observing incredible progress in the districts where we've starting to implement our EAC-funded project. Community leaders who once doubted the value of education are taking responsibility for ensuring that all the children in their village access education. Women leaders are mobilising their communities to collect materials and build new schools with their own hands. Community influencers are traveling door-to-door to convince parents to send their children to school. Working with the EAC team and other partners of the programme, we've learned new approaches and strategies that we're applying to our projects. With regard to the EAC programme on the whole,
we believe there is nothing more powerful than declaring big goals. We wholeheartedly believe that EAC's widespread efforts and high level of commitment will cause them to achieve their goals.”
Building the plan
While EAC depends largely on such organisations that are deeply embedded in the fabric of the country, It also goes a step further to keep monitoring and have due diligence on the organisation. “There is a mechanism in place to monitor the progress. The organisation reports twice a year, with technical and financial reports and reports on statistics to ensure that the checks are in balance. We have to be sure that the money that is allocated is being put to use rightly,” says Dr Pigozzi.
Dr Pigozzi takes the example of a South Sudan programme in an area that was affected by the war and had to be terminated. “We had a partnership with a partner in South Sudan. Unfortunately hostility broke out in some of the region that the programme was based in. The partner came to us and asked that we reprogramme the fund since it could not be used in these areas.”
EAC is funding around 35% of the cost of the whole programme while the rest is sourced by the governments of each country. The budget is aligned according to the expenditure in each phase, points out Barbosa. Ask for one special story that has touched the hearts, and Dr Pigozzi takes us through not one but many stories that have touched a chord and evoked a response. “We partner through Al Fakhoora to educate Palestine refugees, support UNICEF with the Syrian situation, support urban schools in Bangladesh, we support girls' education in India; all of them are stories of dedication, commitment and innovation. They are all special.”
Poverty is one of the biggest drivers of keeping children away from school and with a growing population the figures are not looking rosy.
“When we started our work the Syrian war had not broken and we had targeted to erase out-of-school children from Syria in our first phase. But with the war we had to reduce the scale there. More than poverty it is war that makes our work difficult. We can make an effort in poverty-ridden countries, but not so in a battle-weary situation,” says Barbosa.
But Dr Pigozzi is inspired every moment. She says, “When you hear Sheikha Moza speak with such dedication and see her commitment you feel motivated. She is very inspiring as a leader. Then the work of the partners, their tireless dedication; the faces of the children in the classroom; every moment is inspiring. When you see the smiling kids, learning in the conditions they live in, you believe that anything is possible.”
Barbosa talks about one incident that is special. “Once when we were visiting the Amazon, a small tribal boy greeted HH Sheikha Moza and asked her, “From where you come, do you have children there? ”
"The single most important point to be addressed today in India for ensuring education to out-of-school children is improving the quality of education in schools, aided with by teacher motivation" VIJAY CHADDA CEO Bharti Foundation