The Evening Standard Progress 1000 list

This post is a mirror entry from my work site:

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“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.