Working together for the betterment of education for all…

The Varkey Foundation has over the past many years worked in sub-saharan Africa and Latin America on designing, delivering and funding various capacity building programmes for teachers and school leaders. This is vital work if we are to strengthen public education systems and achieve the sustainable development goals.

Our increasing interests are in a number of thematic areas such as global citizenship education, technology for development and girls education.

We have built strong networks that we want to share along with our experiences and insights.

I am delighted to share with you that the UCL Institute of Education appointed me as a Honorary Lecturer recently. This is an opportunity to both contribute to the work of a world class institution, and give them key insights into ours.

We need more people working in these areas and I believe this is a way to achieve that.

Building capacity in these areas requires a focus on policy.

For this reason, I’m also pleased to share that the Centre for Science & Policy at Cambridge University have elected me to their Policy Leaders Fellowship, along with Permanent Secretaries and Directors-General from Whitehall and Brussels. If we are to move the needle on many issues connected with education, we stand a better chance of doing so by understanding the diverse range of issues from different perspectives. By bringing together academic researchers, senior civil servants, and leaders from the voluntary and private sector to share best practice and deep-dive on key policy areas, I am sure we will, all, gain immensely in our knowledge and understanding on key issues.

I am grateful to both universities for these opportunities, as well as Harvard Graduate School of Education for appointing me as a Visiting Practitioner last year.

I am confident that working with these great institutions, we stand a better chance of achieving our mission of ensuring each and every child has a more prosperous future.

‘We cannot expect nations on the edge of war zones to shoulder the responsibility of educating the world’s refugees alone’

Writing on World Refugee Day 2017, the chief executive of a global charity has a warning for our politicians: the youth vote is powerful and Generation Z are demanding action on the refugee crisis

The past year in Western politics has been one upheaval after another, from the EU referendum result and Donald Trump’s surprise presidential win to the latest UK election result. The unfortunate side effect of these events is that they have sucked up a great deal of media oxygen from the great long-term challenges of our time.

Everybody remembers the widely circulated photograph of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach two years ago. But what they may not remember is that, one year later, the boy’s father gave an interview in which he expressed disappointment with how little the tragic picture had actually gone towards solving the refugee crisis.

It looks no closer to being solved now than three years ago when people started crossing the Mediterranean in increasing numbers: 1.25 million people applied to claim asylum in Europe during 2015 and 1.2 million in 2016 – easily the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. This year, there have been another 1,300 deaths on the migration route up until May.

It is encouraging that German chancellor Angela Merkel has just hosted African leaders to discuss the refugee crisis ahead of the G20 summit taking place in Hamburg next month, but so far the EU has only managed to relocate 5 per cent of its target for refugees arriving in Greece and Italy. Meanwhile, numbers of refugees continue to multiply all over the world and there is now a total of more than 65 million displaced people globally, with more than 5 million of those from Syria alone.

‘Muddy, feverish and toxic’

It may come as no surprise, then, to learn that a major new report on global youth attitudes shows that the world’s young people want action. Earlier this year, the Varkey Foundation published the Generation Z: Global Citizenship Survey into the attitudes of young people aged 15-21 in 20 major countries. A key finding for the UK was that a large proportion of young people (48 per cent) think their government is doing too little to help solve the global refugee crisis, while only a tiny number (10 per cent) said it was doing too much.

This is doubly interesting when considered against the background of the recent general election. Although the refugee crisis and surrounding issues played seemingly no role in the UK elections, youth turnout was at a high. There is broad recognition that, given this development, the tone of political discourse may have to change and reflect the concerns and priorities of the young more.

Rightly or wrongly, politicians may have concluded that refugees were not a priority for the public – at least in comparison to the economy, housing, security and the usual list of supposedly paramount policy concerns. This has been bolstered by the tendency of some parts of the press and political spectrum to conflate the problems of refugees, economic migrants and terrorism; as a result, the debate around each of these issues has often become muddy, feverish and toxic. These new developments, however, may mean that when the current political crisis in the UK is resolved, there will be more room and more support for an efficient response to problems such as the refugee crisis.

Even examined on a purely self-interested level, the failure to deal with the refugee crisis has high long-term costs for us all because the problem contributes to global instability, weak economic performance and eventually war, extremism and potential terrorism. At the same time, solving the crisis also needs real insight and political will. Throughout the world, people are now displaced on average for between 10 and 20 years.

A roundtable organised by the Varkey Foundation last year underlined that refugees need to be able to carry on with life – whether that means education or employment – and may also need help to negotiate the complexities of applications and regulations. As a worldwide community, we cannot expect a short list of nations situated on the borders of war zones to entirely shoulder the responsibility of caring for and educating the bulk of the world’s refugees.

We need to give financial support to countries such as Lebanon, which has seen its numbers of school-age children needing education almost triple. International pledges of funding have been forthcoming – the London conference on Syria in 2016 pledged a record-breaking $12 billion in overall aid for Syrian refugees – but sadly, as is so often the case, promised funds may be severely delayed or even never materialise. An independent survey by the global children’s charity Theirworld found that, as of January this year, less than a third of the money needed for education has been delivered from all pledges.

Today marks World Refugee Day 2017, and the UN High Commission for Refugees will use the date to launch its #WithRefugees petition, sending a message to governments that they must work together to do their fair share. A hung parliament means we don’t know who our political masters will be next week, let alone in a year.

But all players in contention should remember that the powerful block of new young voters are demanding action on refugees, and if politicians don’t listen, they could be punished at the ballot box. Today would be a good day to signal their intent.

Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the TES on 20th June 2017. Further Op-Ed pieces appeared here:

France: Nouvel Observateur; Italy: Corriere Della Sera; South Africa: Cape Times; Brazil: Novaescola

Emerging market youth embrace liberal globalism

What do young people in developing countries think? There is of course a wealth of anecdotal knowledge. It’s commonly said that they value education more than young people in the west and are more religious and more conservative. But there is surprisingly little hard data.

We decided to ask 15- to 21-year-olds in 20 developed and developing countries across the world the same questions about their lives, religious beliefs and views on international issues*. Above all, we wanted to know whether these so-called millennium babies (often known as Generation Z) have a common vision of the world. Or do geography, culture and nation matter more?

We first asked whether young people were happy with their lives. We found that in emerging economies young people tend to be far happier than in the west: 90 per cent of Indonesians and 78 per cent of Nigerians said they were happy compared with just 57 per cent in Britain and France.

They also tend to be more optimistic. The countries with the highest proportions of young people who think the world is getting better are China, India and Nigeria; those where the highest proportion think the world is getting worse are France and Italy. The emerging economy exceptions were Argentina and Brazil, where young people are as gloomy about the future as they are in Europe.

One question the survey throws up is why happiness and optimism levels tend to be so much higher in most emerging economies than in the west. Perhaps a country’s direction of travel is more important than its current economic position. In Europe and the US, living standards are higher than in much of the developing world, but Europeans and Americans have a sense of lost glories as their lifestyles are threatened by global competition.

Young people in emerging economies are emphatic supporters of liberal values — even when those values run contrary to the laws of their country. In India and China more than half of young people think that same-sex marriage should be legal. Around three-quarters of young people in India, Brazil and China support equal rights for transgender people — more than in France and Japan.

Overwhelmingly, young people believe that men and women should be treated equally — with the greatest support for such values in the very different societies of Canada and China. Even in India, more than nine out of 10 young people support the principle that men and women should be treated equally — marginally higher even than in the UK and the US. We can no longer generalise about conservative developing countries and more liberal developed countries.

For all the concern about religious conservatism and polarisation, it is heartening that two-thirds of young people have close friends from other religions, and less than a fifth say a person’s religion is an important factor when deciding whether or not to be friends with them. Even in countries where this figure is highest — for instance India (29 per cent) and Indonesia (31 per cent) — two-thirds do not think a person’s religion is an important consideration when forming friendships.

The old complaint that countries on the rise are too preoccupied with raising living standards to worry about climate change is not backed up by the data. Emerging economies are more concerned about climate change than many western countries. Nearly three-quarters of young Indians and two-thirds of Brazilians, Argentines and Nigerians list climate change as one of the factors that makes them most fearful for the future. As China has the largest carbon emissions of any country, it could matter that its young people are alone in regarding climate change as a greater global threat than extremism.

Equally, emerging economies showed the greatest support for legal migration. Indian and Chinese young people were the most likely to say that their government should make it easier for immigrants to live and work legally in their country. (Turkey is an exception. Under huge pressure from the Syrian refugee flows, it is the most negative country on legal migration). When we asked young people whether governments were doing enough to solve the global refugee crisis, those in Brazil and Argentina were the most likely across 20 countries to say they were doing too little.

As befits this first generation of digital natives, Generation Z places huge faith in technology to solve our future problems. In China, India and Indonesia more than 90 per cent of young people named technology as the factor that made them most hopeful for the future — more than in any western country. They are also more likely than young people in the developed world to worry about the consequences of children not receiving a good education.

Members of Generation Z born in emerging economies are more likely to travel and forge friendships in other countries — on and offline — than any previous generation. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that they broadly agree with their contemporaries in the west on a host of personal and political issues, with some notable exceptions (Nigeria is a category of its own for religious conservatism) and, if anything, are greater supporters of the international order. With the growth of nativism around the world, it’s reassuring to know that the generation who will inherit the earth are, in most part, liberal globalists.

*The poll was conducted by Populus, a UK-based research and strategy consultancy, between September 19 and October 26, 2016. Populus undertook 20,088 online surveys with young people aged 15 to 21 in 20 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US.

 

Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation.

This article appeared in the Financial Times Beyond Brics Blog on 8th February 2017. Further Op-Ed pieces appeared in Italy’s Corriere Della Sera; The Japan Times; and France’s Le Monde

Stop worrying about grammar schools, teacher recruitment is the real problem

Those countries with the best education outcomes – from Finland to the Asian education powerhouses of China, South Korea and Singapore – have a deeply ingrained culture of respect for teaching.

Rarely have debates on education electrified party conferences, but yesterday Theresa May won the loudest applause for her promise to “bring back the first grammar schools in fifty years.” Jeremy Corbyn won an equally giddy reception last when he told Labour conference that he would oppose it.

Though this is retro political comfort food for left and right, it is a distraction from the overwhelming education issue that has barely featured in the conference speeches: a crisis in the recruitment and retention of teachers. In the UK, half of schools think that the teacher shortage is affecting GCSE performance; according to a poll last month by the Association of School and College Leaders 80 per cent say the recruitment situation is “worse or significantly worse” than a year ago.

While shortages are damaging in the West, their impact in the developing world is catastrophic. Across Africa, the only region of the world with a growing school-aged population, 70 per cent of countries face critical teacher shortages at primary level, and 90 per cent at secondary. In Pakistan, Cambodia and Ethiopia – where class sizes already average 64 – attrition rates are so high that the total number of teachers is shrinking year on year.

The causes of the crisis are not hard to understand. Throughout the developing world teachers are underpaid, undertrained and under-appreciated. In Kenya, teachers have been in dispute with the government over pay so low that they live a hand-to-mouth existence. Teachers’ wages across Africa are thought to be lower in real terms now than they were several decades ago.

In India the World Bank estimates that up to 40 per cent of teachers are regularly absent from class. One case emerged of a teacher who has been absent for 23 years of her 24 year teaching career. But teacher idleness is not generally the cause of absenteeism. More often, teachers are out of the classroom working in a second job because they can’t rely on their government salary being paid on time.

At the same time, the population explosion in much of the developing world – combined with the (vital) efforts to get every child enrolled in school – is creating a huge additional demand for teachers. Many of those teachers already in the classroom are so badly trained that they cannot teach effectively. Too often they rely on rote learning and dictation from the front of the class, techniques that fail to inspire curiosity or critical thinking. In most countries, a teacher is never tested again or given further training once they have been recruited. In some cases, the problem is not just training but the education levels of the teacher at the front of the class. Just one in five teachers in Uganda meet the minimum proficiency standards in numeracy and literacy.

So how do we recruit and retain the army of well-trained, well-motivated teachers the world desperately needs? Firstly – whether in the UK or in Uganda – we need to raise the status of teachers. Those countries with the best education outcomes – from Finland to the Asian education powerhouses of China, South Korea and Singapore – have a deeply ingrained culture of respect for teaching.

In China, the public likens the status of teachers to that of doctors. According to the Varkey Foundation’s Teacher Status Index, three quarters of Chinese people would encourage their children to become teachers – far higher than elsewhere in the world. On China’s Teachers’ Day pupils send flowers and write them letters to tell them how they are appreciated. The authorities even had to intervene to prevent parents proffering gifts of iPads and expensive perfumes.

Teacher pay has an obvious correlation with teacher status and recruitment rates. Higher salaries attract the best candidates into the profession and give them an incentive to stay. Research by the economist Peter Dolton shows that a 10 per cent increase in teachers’ pay tends to result in a five to 10 per cent improvement in a country’s educational outcomes.

Improving teacher quality has a far greater impact on educational success than other expensive investments such as changing the curriculum or even cutting class sizes. Given the stretched finances of developing world governments, the international community should prioritise helping funding good teachers’ salaries because it simply makes social and financial sense.

Yet international education aid has been falling since 2010 – even as spending on global health has continued to grow. Education once again has fallen down the political agenda. Shamefully, the number of children who are out of school is rising again in the developing world. Of those in school, half the children in South Asia and a third of children in Africa lack basic reading skills after four years of education. At current rates of progress, we will be 50 years late in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal commitment of a good education for every child – when today’s children will be long past retirement age.

But before despair sets in, we should remember that South Korea was, 50 years ago, in the same situation as many developing countries today, with similarly high levels of illiteracy. Now it is among the best education systems in the world. How? It recruited the best young people into teaching, trained them well and then showed them respect. As Education Secretary Justine Greening rightly said in her conference speech: “no other profession has the power to transform futures so much.” Empowering teachers is the most important measure that ministers around the world can take to improve education – even if it isn’t a message that gets standing ovations in the conference hall.

Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the Independent newspaper on 6th October 2016

UN says 69 million teachers needed for global school pledge

I was interviewed for this piece on the BBC on 5th October 2016

Almost 69 million teachers need to be recruited around the world by 2030 if international pledges on education are to be kept, warns Unesco.

The United Nations agency’s estimate is for the number of teachers required to meet the promise of primary and secondary places for all children.

The biggest gaps in staffing are in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.

The Unesco report says there needs to be a “seismic shift” in recruitment to overcome “massive shortages”.

At present, the report from the Unesco Institute for Statistic says there are about 263 million children without a primary or secondary school to attend.

This includes about 25 million children who will never set foot inside a school of any kind.

World leaders last year agreed a set of global targets for access to education, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

But the report says that keeping this promise for primary and secondary school for all by 2030 will require a huge increase in teachers.

The most acute pressure is in sub-Saharan Africa, where countries would need to train another 17 million teachers to meet the demand.

The Unesco study warns that there are already shortages of teachers in these countries, as they struggle with rising populations.

“Without urgent and sustained action, the situation will deteriorate in the face of rising demand for education,” says the report.

The report identifies countries where staffing numbers are “getting worse, rather than better”, including Burundi, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique.

But there are a number of countries in the region on track to have enough staff to meet the targets, including Ethiopia, Rwanda and Swaziland.

The study highlights the importance of the quality as well as the quantity of teachers.

In countries such as Niger, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia, fewer than 60% of teachers in primary school have been trained.

Pauline Rose, professor of international education at Cambridge University, says the lack of teachers also affects class sizes, particularly when the population is rising.

“So in countries like Malawi, it is common to find over 100 children in classes in the early grades of primary school. This has been a persistent problem for many years.”

The lack of pupils completing secondary school in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa further compounds the shortage of teachers.

Prof Rose says that in “some countries around half of secondary school graduates would need to go into teaching to fill the teacher gap, which is clearly not viable”.

There is also a problem with low pay which makes teaching less attractive, particularly to the most able graduates.

Prof Rose says that in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa teachers are “paid below the poverty line, and so not surprisingly they take second jobs to compensate. This has an impact on the quality of their teaching”.

And she says there might be enough teachers trained on a national level, but there could still be local shortages in regions where schools cannot get teachers to apply.

The Unesco report highlights the importance of retaining staff and says this will require teaching to have a competitive salary and contracts which will give them job security.

Vikas Pota, chief executive of an education charity, the Varkey Foundation, said: “We already know that better pay will attract the best graduates into the profession and give them an incentive to stay.

“A 10% increase in teachers’ pay tends to result in a 5% to 10% increase in pupil performance. Given the stretched finances of developing world governments, the international community has a responsibility to help fund this.”

The Varkey Foundation has been experimenting in Ghana with interactive distance learning to try to offer training on a wider scale than would be possible with in-person classes. It is training up to 5,000 teachers over two years.

The UN report says the success of global targets for education will depend on tackling the teacher shortage.

“Such efforts could falter if they fail to prioritise those on the front line: the world’s teachers, who are tasked with the actual delivery of a good quality education for all.”

Last month, there was another warning from Unesco about the delays in creating enough primary school places by the 2030 target.

A report warned that at current rates of progress it would be 2042 before all primary-age children would be able to attend school.

The most limited access to schools was found in countries which were the poorest or most troubled by conflict.

Niger, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan, Mali and Chad were among the nations whose children were likely to spend the least time in education.

The Evening Standard Progress 1000 list

This post is a mirror entry from my work site:

slack-for-ios-upload

“We are delighted to announce that the London Evening Standard newspaper have listed Colin Hegarty, top 10 finalist of the Global Teacher Prize 2016, and our Chief Executive, Vikas Pota in the Progress 1000 list of most influential people in London.  The list includes figures who have shaped our lives across so many different fields – ranging from HRH The Prince of Wales and Mayor Sadiq Khan, who came top of the list, to Mo Farah and Adele.

At the tenth anniversary of the awards, held at the Science Museum, Sarah Sands, Editor of the Evening Standard said: “We chose the word ‘progress’ carefully. That is what London’s influential people and businesses are achieving. And of course it is right we should celebrate progress at the Science Museum, for we are addressing the wonder of possibilities.”

Vikas Pota said:

“I am honoured to have been chosen for the Progress 1000 list of London’s most influential people. It includes so many amazing talents who have contributed so much to this great city that continues to lead the world, and  am  humbled to have been included among them.

“This recognition is valuable to our mission at the Varkey Foundation, where from our base in the capital we work to give every teacher around the world the status they deserve and every child, wherever they are, the chance of a good education.

“My family moved to London from East Africa and it has provided many opportunities to immigrants like us, which we, in the age of Brexit, would be well placed to remember when considering what the new arrangements will be.  London is an incredible city, and I am thankful for the words of encouragement and celebration that my family and I have received.”

You can see the full list here

Sustainable development goals are failing because we don’t care enough about education

Last autumn, the world’s governments came together to agree 17 ambitious sustainable development goals, which promised to overcome a vast array of problems – from poverty and hunger to health and gender equality – by 2030.

The UNESCO report published today ‘Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All’ charts the progress in meeting these targets.

It demonstrates an obvious truth: education is the rock on which sustainable development is built. In parts of Africa, mothers who have a secondary education are three times more likely to have children that survive beyond the age of five.

If Nigerian girls spend four extra years in school they have, on average, one fewer children. In Sierra Leone, young people without an education were nine times as likely to join rebel groups.

But, as UNESCO Secretary General Irina Bokova notes in the introduction, today’s report should “set off alarm bells around the world”. The fourth SDG – ‘an inclusive and equitable quality education for all’ – will not, on current trends, be fulfilled for several more decades, when today’s children will already be approaching retirement.

The number of children who never set foot in a classroom, after years of falling, is rising again.

In Uganda, only one in five elementary schoolteachers meets the minimum standard of proficiency in maths, while in Kenya, state schools teachers are absent almost half the time. Such failure if it continues will, in turn, prevent us from meeting the other sustainable development goals.

Post-financial crisis, international political will towards solving the global education crisis has dissipated. Education aid including from the EU and World Bank, has been in decline since 2010 – falling by $600 million between 2013 and 2014. Meanwhile aid spending on health continues to grow – a sign that education is falling down the list of donor priorities.

Irina Bokova
Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO delivers a keynote lecture Credit: M.A.PUSHPA KUMARA

Yet there has never been a greater need. Nearly half a billion children live in countries affected by war, famine and deadly epidemics. Syria had achieved universal primary education by 2000 but now 2.8 million Syrian children are out of school.

In many other unstable countries – from Somalia to Afghanistan – there isn’t even any official count on how many children are out of school. Yet we devote less than two per cent of humanitarian aid to education.

This is the moment for a massive increase in investment. The Millennium Development Goals already picked the low hanging fruit – increasing the number of school places across the developing world. Providing education to that hard to reach final ten per cent – and increasing its quality – will be tougher still.

If we get education right, we are half way to solving the rest of the world’s problems

The developing world is about to be hit by an economic shock. The “fourth industrial revolution” – that will replace many jobs by automation – threatens 85 per cent of jobs in Ethiopia, far more than in the West.

The rote learning culture within classrooms in much of the developing world – particularly in Africa – will not produce the curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking that the jobs of the future will require.

Achieving quality will be expensive. Teachers have to be retrained and better remunerated. Curriculums must be revised. Assuming that developing world governments do manage to devote the target of four per cent of their GDP to education, that would still leave an annual finance gap of $39 billion to provide every child with a good school place.

The Italian G7 Presidency next year is an opportunity to showcase its commitment to global citizenship through the Sustainable development goals. It can make this flesh through a commitment from the G7 countries to enshrine in law their commitment to education aid – just as the UK has done in its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on international development.

We can’t, however, rely on aid alone to plug the gap. NGOs and the private sector must share the strain. Low-cost private schools are delivering quality education, in some cases for as little as 40p a day, in developing countries.

Parents are voting with their feet where they see gaps in government provision. In India one in three children in rural areas attend private schools – an increase of 40 per cent in the last 10 years. This is providing a stream of investment in building schools and improving teacher quality that is not at the mercy of hard-pressed government budgets.

As they stand outside the state system, schools run by charities and the private sector are more likely to be the kind of ‘disruptors’ that can raise standards and pioneer new teaching practices. But too often private education in the developing world is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Insensitive operators have, on occasion, failed to deliver. On the other side of the debate, some oppose private involvement on principal, despite evidence that it can achieve improved outcomes.

Public, private and voluntary sectors are here to stay so should be collaborating – just as in the UK’s academy programme, that hugely improved London’s state education system.

There are examples elsewhere; in Uganda, one of the organisations we have worked with, the NGO Building Tomorrow, constructs and is given the freedom to operate schools – but the Ugandan Government pays the teachers’ salaries. In India, the Akanksha Foundation has opened schools in low-income parts of Mumbai, partially funded by the state, with the aim of impacting the mainstream education system.

We need a serious commitment now by governments to meet the Sustainable Development Goals on education, unclouded by ideology, while they can still be salvaged. The evidence shows what we instinctively know: if we get education right, we are half way to solving the rest of the world’s problems.

Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the Telegraph newspaper on 6th September 2016

Despite the efforts of Malala and many others, there are still too many women denied a decent education

This week marks the 19th birthday of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist shot by the Taliban for championing the right for girls to have an education.

 

Despite her huge efforts and progress across the globe, there are still too many women denied a decent education. Across South Asia, the Middle East and large parts of Africa, men are still much more likely to be literate than women.  Sixty-five million girls are out of school globally. And for every 100 boys in secondary school in Africa, there are only 82 girls.

The statistics are well rehearsed. Mothers with six or more years of education have fewer children and higher childbirth survival rates.

A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 per cent more as an adult.  And an educated mother is more than twice as likely to send her children to school.

Last week, International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, convened governments, business and aid agencies at the Girls Education Forum in London. Importantly, it didn’t just focus on getting girls into school, but giving them, in Ms Greening’s words, the “decent education that can give them the skills they need to live happy, productive lives”.

It was encouraging that in all the discussions there was recognition that girls education is not simply a matter of providing the school places – but about addressing the forces that keep girls out the classroom.

Poverty is usually to blame. If a family have to make a choice between financially supporting a boy or girl in school, they will tend to choose the boy, as they think an educated boy offers the greatest chance of future prosperity.

When the harvest is meagre and family income falls, it is girls that are taken out of school to work.  In Uganda, a fifteen per cent decline in rainfall caused a five per cent drop in attendance by girls in seventh grade, but had no significant impact on boys.

The curriculum too often reinforces images of girls as housewives and mothers rather than doctors or lawyers.   At home girls will often have to spend more time doing household chores before they can get down to her homework.   And cultural expectations of early marriage – and the prevalence of youth pregnancy – result in girls dropping out altogether.

So what is to be done? The ‘Making Ghanaian Girls Great’ (MGCubed) project, funded by DfID’s Girl’s Education Challenge (GEC) fund, has increased girls’ enrolment and retention in 72 primary schools in areas of rural Ghana where girls have historically dropped out of education in large numbers.

Justin Greening
Justine Greening, convened governments, business and aid agencies at the Girls Education Forum in London

Five thousand girls who are at risk of not completing their education take part in ‘virtual’ interactive lessons taught from a studio in the capital Accra, which are then broadcast into their classrooms.  This ‘virtual learning’ is a better guarantee of the quality of education: unlike in many African classrooms, there’s always trained teacher available even if they are not physically in the room.

The project also widens the girls’ horizons beyond the traditional domestic roles. Through after school classes they are given the chance to talk to Ghanaian female role models – from pilots to actresses to government ministers.

Other issues are broached – from early pregnancy and early marriage – and combined with practical advice in areas such as malaria prevention and personal finance.  Average attendance for girls in MGCubed classes has increased from 54 per cent to nearly 80 per cent and there has been a significant effect in raising maths scores.

So what wider lessons can be applied to girls programmes elsewhere?   Firstly, if quality teaching can be guaranteed every day then it will result in better attainment, which, in turn, will encourage parents to allow girls to stay in schools.

Second, families need to believe that the financial sacrifices associated with allowing a girl to attend school are worthwhile if they are to be supportive.   Girls must be taught useful life skills  – such as financial literacy – that help them support their family’s livelihood – and malaria prevention lessons, which they can share with their community

Third, if we are changing attitudes to girls we need buy-in from boys.  After they said they felt left out we set up boys after school clubs, in which gender is one of the issues that is addressed. We saw this as an opportunity for engaging them in supporting the girls in their education.

The programme did encounter real difficulties.  In Africa, children often learn at school in a different language than they speak at home, which creates an additional barrier when they are learning to read.  It makes far more sense to teach them literacy in their own language, at least when they start school.

Technology needs to be robust and simple enough to use that school staff can be trained to fix it when it goes wrong.  (In case of MGCubed, due to dust from the Sahara covering the solar panels that the schools were relying on to power their internet connection).

If we are going to keep girls in schools we must support smart, scalable and sustainable projects. Above, all we must raise expectations among their community, and, most importantly, among girls themselves, about what they can achieve.

Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the Telegraph newspaper on 12th July 2016 to mark the Girls Education Forum organised by the UK Government’s aid agency, DFID.

Educating Asian children in ‘exam factories’ won’t equip them for the world of work

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This article appeared on CNBC and the Forum Blog on 31st May 2016 in advance of the World Economic Forum’s ASEAN Summit in Malaysia

Educationalists and journalists have long beaten a path to Singapore to discover its educational secrets. Children within its school system perform better than any of their international peers apart from Shanghai, according to the PISA rankings, and a whole industry has grown up attempting to decode its formula.

The city state is perhaps the world’s most astonishing story of educational improvement. Its transformation from a low skill, low paid nation with high levels of illiteracy 50 years ago to a first world economy today, with a 1% unemployment rate provides inspiration and hope for policy-makers everywhere.

But the story of education in the ASEAN region goes beyond Singapore. The legions of educational tourists would do well to extend their trip to the region’s other education systems, which have also taken giant leaps forward.

In the Philippines, basic public education has recently been extended by two years to grade 11 and 12 – finally giving the poorest students the chance to study at senior high school and go on to the best universities. Since 2010, the education budget has more than doubled, 30,000 new classrooms have been built and 43,000 new teachers hired to prepare for the effort. A bold new government voucher scheme has been introduced to allow students (where state provision isn’t available) to enroll in private schools.

Vietnam caused astonishment when in 2012 it entered the PISA tests for the first time, and returned stunning results – scoring higher in maths than the UK and the US with a ranking of 17th out of 65 countries. This from a country with a per capita GDP of only $1,600. It has invested heavily in education – making up a fifth of government spending, and shifted its curriculum away from rote learning.

But, for all the impressive progress in the region, international education rankings alone will not protect workers from the brutal forces of economic change that will sweep through the world economy over the next two decades – destroying entire job sectors, creating new ones, and demanding a constantly changing mixture of skills.

The recent Future of Jobs report published last year by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council of the same name, based on a survey of executives in 15 of the world’s largest economies, argues we are entering a Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which over 7 million white-collar and administrative jobs could disappear due to technological change in the next five years alone. New sectors – from nanotechnology to robotics to data analysis – will replace some (but not all) of these jobs.

The future economy will need strong vocational skills – which are often still treated as the poor relation to academic routes – as well as soft skills. Laszlo Bock, who is in charge of hiring at Google, says that “while good grades don’t hurt”, the company is looking for softer skills too: “leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn”.

Employers throughout the world report that the education system is not delivering the skills that they need. In 2015, more than a third of global companies reported difficulties filling open positions owing to shortages of people with key skills. Even in education poster-child Singapore, a 30% increase in skills shortages was reported last year: a reminder that there is more to a world-class education system than outstanding PISA scores.

We can only speculate about the skills mix that will be required in 50 year’s time – when today’s school children will still be at the height of their working lives – but the ability to adapt and learn new skills throughout their career will be as important as their core knowledge of physics and chemistry. As the Forum’s New Vision for Education report argues: “To thrive in a rapidly evolving, technology-mediated world, students must not only possess strong skills in areas such as language arts, mathematics and science, but they must also be adept at skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, persistence, collaboration and curiosity.”

There are already signs that governments in the region are beginning to realize that academic skills will not be enough. Malaysia’s deputy education minister recently called for an end to spoonfeeding. While, earlier this year, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, returned from a trip to Europe and called for closer co-ordination between the economics and education ministers to ensure Indonesia has a “work-ready labour force”.

Malaysia launched the vocational education scheme 1Youth 1Skill in 2010 to provide “what industry wants”. Young people who choose this route have a higher success rate at securing jobs than graduates. Singapore radically overhauled its Institute of Technical Education (ITE) a decade ago. Previously a joke circulated that its acronym stood for “it’s the end” – the last resort for the academically weak. Today its university-inspired set-up offers award-winning programmes that attract students from around the world.

Education ministers throughout the world are rightly beating a path to Singapore’s door to find out the secrets of its spectacular success in science and maths. But, in learning these lessons, they should remember that, as far as we can tell, the jobs of the future will require flexibility, creativity, independence of thought, and teamwork – whether they are in Kenya or Kuala Lumpur. We will pay a price if we turn our schools into exam factories where these qualities have been squeezed out of the curriculum. In conversations at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2016 summit next week, we should remember that education doesn’t begin and end with PISA scores.