Seizing the opportunity to deliver education to the world’s refugee children

A teacher in her classroom at a community based school in the Central African Republic supported by the Global Partnership for Education.

A teacher in her classroom at a community based school in the Central African Republic supported by the Global Partnership for Education.

Almost two years ago, on September 19, 2016, at the height of the European refugee crisis, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The declaration was hailed as the foundation of a new approach by the international community to large movements of refugees and migrants, as well as to protracted refugee situations.

The declaration committed to ensuring that all refugee children would be in school and learning within a few months of crossing an international border.

Since that promise was made, the world’s 3.5 million child refugees that don’t have access to education have lost over 1 billion days of schooling. Shockingly, every day another 1.9 million school days are lost.

Many of the children who have fled their homes seeking protection in other countries have of course already lost years of schooling and many, coming from poor and conflict-affected states, have never enrolled in school in the first place.

For those child refugees who do have access to education, the quality is often very poor. The situation is especially bleak in countries where a third generation of children has been born into displacement, and where the prospects of a safe return to their countries of origin seems like a distant dream.

The case for education for refugees is abundantly clear. Education provides them with the building blocks they need to recover and forms a vital link from humanitarian response to resilience and long-term development. During displacement the need for education in safe, nurturing environments, which provides hope and a path for the future, is critical. 

This is urgent: refugee children cannot afford more prevarication

Delivering the promise of the New York Declaration

Consultations are underway to develop the Global Compact on Refugees Program of Action that sets out what national governments and others should do to deliver the promises made in the New York Declaration.

The Program of Action is a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a step change in the way the world deals with the needs of refugees, and supports the communities that host them, including how we can ensure that both refugee and host community children get access to quality schooling.

The latest draft of the Program of Action has some welcome language on improving access to quality education but should be strengthened in two key ways.

The inclusion of refugees in the national education system of the country in which they have sought protection, is the most practical and sustainable way to enable displaced children access to accredited learning opportunities.

The number of countries that are opening up their schools to refugee children is growing, but their already stretched education systems often struggle to accommodate large numbers of refugee children.

This includes Chad, where despite the fact that access to quality education remains a significant challenge, it was the first country to include an “emergency education” component targeting refugee children in its interim education plan. Chad has also accessed funding for the plan using the Global Partnership for Education’s accelerated funding window.

Last year, the First Regional Ministerial Conference on Refugee Education in IGAD Member States saw Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda adopt the Djibouti Declaration, which commits them all to provide refugee children with access to their national education systems without discrimination.

The generosity that these and other refugee hosting countries have demonstrated by opening up their national education systems to refugees must be matched by practical and technical support from the international community.

The Program of Action should include such a commitment, including the shared responsibility of donors, the Global Partnership for Education, Education Cannot Wait and the World Bank to rapidly increase technical and material support to hosting countries that are committed to including refugees in their national education systems.

86% of the world’s refugees live in low- and middle-income countries. These countries need additional financial support to scale up provision of educational services, both for refugee and host community children. Without that support the responsibility for large movements of refugees will not be properly shared.

The current draft Program of Action recognizes the need for additional resources to improve access to education for refugee and host communities but fails to articulate practical measures to close the financing gap.

A costed global plan for refugee education, focused on financing access for children currently not in school and improving the learning outcomes for refugee and host community learners, would be a useful starting point for mobilizing the necessary funding.

It would be based on national cost estimates in host countries and use common costs to achieve a degree of comparability.

Responsibility for the development of the education costings would be shared by a consortium of organizations with a mandate for education both of refugees and host communities, including UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education, Education Cannot Wait and UNESCO, with support and engagement from donor and host country governments and civil society organizations with relevant expertise.

Education costings produced in advance of the Supporting Syria and the Region London Conference in 2016 were critical to establishing a shared understanding of both the magnitude of the challenge and the funding required to effectively tackle it. The costings formed part of the Syria Crisis Education Strategic Paper, which in addition to identifying the required funding set out the methods that would be used to spend it.

Similarly, costings produced by civil society organizations for delivering universal education for South Sudanese refugees in advance of the Uganda Solidarity Summit in 2017 were instrumental in a decision by the Government of Uganda to produce official costings, which now form part of the country’s refugee and host community education response plan.

Costings aren’t a silver bullet. But without them and the working assumptions behind them, it’s difficult to begin harnessing the attention, let alone the funding required, by the task at hand.

  1. Support for host countries to include refugee learners in national education systems
  2. Practical action to begin closing the refugee education financing gap

Refugees and host communities deserve better

The purpose of the Global Compact on Refugees is to generate new momentum and energy in responding to the global refugee crisis.

Refugee parents and children consistently identify access to quality education as one of their highest-priority concerns. Despite the enduring hardships they face, the determination of refugee communities to provide their children with an education is genuinely inspiring.  If it is to have any value, the Program of Action that underpins the Global Compact must commit to meaningful actions that matches the determination and creativity of refugees, alongside the generosity of hosting states.

Supporting those states to ensure refugee children have access to quality learning opportunities and working out how much this will cost as part of a plan to deliver it, are the least we should expect.

Books are essential to solving the global learning crisis

A new coalition of governments, international agencies, NGOs and the private sector has launched this week with the aim of closing the children’s book gap.

In school but not learning

Last year, the UNESCO Institute for Statistic published alarming new estimates of the number of children that aren’t achieving the basics in reading and maths.

It showed that 387 million children of primary school age do not achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading. Disturbingly two-thirds of these children, some 262 million, are in school. There is now a broad consensus that this is a tragic waste of both human potential and financial resources.

Having identified the problem, we need to act and implement evidence-based measures that we know will improve learning.

Learning to read without books

Tens of millions of children are expected to learn to read without adequate access to books and print.

Tens of millions of children are expected to learn to read without adequate access to books and print.

There are undoubtedly numerous challenges to reversing the global learning crisis. A critical but neglected one, is the lack quality reading materials in a language that children understand.

For example, in Malawi, there are approximately 2.2 million native speakers of Tumbuka and another 2.2 million speakers of Yao. Yet, there are fewer than 20 reading book titles available in either language, leaving nearly 25 percent of Malawi’s population without the materials necessary to acquire and sustain basic literacy.

The situation is repeated across the world. And the relatively few speakers of minority languages, coupled with the low incomes of the regions where these languages are spoken, means that the market for books in these languages simply will not develop without support.

It is hard to imagine learning to read without access to books but that is in fact what we expect of millions of children around the world. This is despite a robust body of research, which has established that books in languages children use and understand are essential to literacy acquisition.

A new alliance dedicated to support the entire book chain from development to use

Thankfully, recognition of the challenge posed by a lack of books to early literacy is growing. UNESCO, the World Bank, and the International Commission for Financing Global Educational Opportunity have all recently called for the increased provision of books to improve learning.

And building on research and design work begun in 2015 a coalition of donors, multilateral agencies and non-government organisations have established the Global Book Alliance. Inspired by the work of organisations like GAVI, which has improved access to immunisation by transforming the vaccines supply chain, the Global Book Alliance will take a similar approach.

An effective supply of books requires high-quality title development, access to those titles by publishers and a functioning supply chain to deliver books to their potential readers. These books must be appealing, relevant, in the right language and at the right reading level. And teachers and parents must be able to use books effectively to support learning.

Sustaining a sufficient supply of books will also require spurring a healthy demand for books, including through public purchasing. The Alliance, unlike previous book projects, will support work across the entire book chain, building supply and demand for books simultaneously and reinforcing each link in the chain until it is strong enough to support itself.

This is an ambitious mission, but experience tells us that the challenge demands nothing less. The research, which informed the design of the Alliance, pointed to the potential of focused action on books to supercharge existing efforts and investments in education in general and reading in particular.

Closing the Children’s Book Gap’, the Alliance’s first strategic plan, which we launched at UNESCO headquarters this week, as part of an event to mark International Mother Language Day, sets out three priorities for our first operating period 2018-2020.

A global digital library

Anyone, anywhere, should have access to quality, local language reading materials. A new Global Digital Library, supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, will house at least 50,000 new titles in 100 languages. The books in the library will be aligned with each year of literacy development for children ages 3-11, prioritizing languages where there are few to no reading materials available. These resources will be open source via web, mobile and for print or translation — and at no cost to the user.

Supporting publishing

Books on a digital platform, however good they are, won’t make it in to the hands of children without additional effort. We recognise that the local publishing industry is key to increasing the volume of locally developed, high-quality titles for local distribution.

Support and training for authors, illustrators, editors and publishers is vital to improving the availability of good quality children's literature in developing countries.

Support and training for authors, illustrators, editors and publishers is vital to improving the availability of good quality children's literature in developing countries.

Our regional and national publishing collaboratives will support the utilisation of material available in the Global Digital Library as well as the training of writers, illustrators and editors and the development of a dynamic book sector, including book promotion and sales.

Supporting comprehensive action at the national level

The Alliance also aspires to implement country level programmes where these and other measures designed to close the children’s book gap are implemented at scale.

Ensuring that all children have access to high-quality, local language books at the right reading level, as well as the teaching and support they need to use them to develop and sustain their literacy skills is critical to reversing the crisis in learning.

The Alliance has an exciting opportunity to forge lasting change that will transform the lives of the world’s children and we are hoping that others will join us. Find out how at

The founding members of the Global Book Alliance are UNESCO, UNICEF, the Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank, USAID, Norad, DfID, Australian Aid, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, World Vision and Save the Children.

This article was originally published on the World Education Blog on February 23, 2018.

Refugee education: Shining a light on promising practices

Migration and displacement dominate our news and media, and for good reason: the world is witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record.

An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes.

Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees: people who have fled their country seeking protection from violence or persecution.

And over half of the world’s refugees are children.

The single most important tool

After leaving their homes in search of protection, refugees often struggle to access basic services like healthcare and education, as well as important day-to-day needs like food and shelter.

While education is the single most important tool we can equip children with, it is often one of the first casualties in conflicts and emergencies.

Half of all refugee children of primary school age are out of school and fewer than one in four refugee children get to go to high school.

The situation is especially bleak in countries where a third generation of children has been born into displacement, and where the prospects of a safe return to their countries of origin seems like a distant dream.

But even in the face of enduring hardship, the drive to ensure refugee children get an education is combining with creativity and determination and giving birth to innovative solutions to the refugee education challenge.

A student at school at the Mae La Camp in Mae Sot, Thailand.

A student at school at the Mae La Camp in Mae Sot, Thailand.

Improving early reading skills

I saw this first-hand on the Thai/Myanmar border where, after more than 30 years, the situation for refugees from Myanmar in Thailand has become one of the world’s most protracted refugee crises.

Despite this, refugees in the nine camps along the border continue under extremely difficult conditions to provide education to children.

Save the Children is supporting their efforts. In response to an assessment of children’s reading ability – which showed poor reading attainment – we’ve been working in the camps to improve children’s early grade reading skills.

For the first time ever, we took Literacy Boost, our pioneering approach to helping children learn to read, into an emergency situation.

Implementing literacy boost

Implementing Literacy Boost in the camps has involved producing and distributing local language reading material and training the camps’ volunteer teachers to teach reading more effectively.

We’ve also been working with parents and children to encourage them to read more by implementing programmes such as ‘reading buddies’, which sees children team up, outside of school, to read to each other and discuss what they’ve been reading.

We’ve seen reading skills improve, and a real enthusiasm for and commitment to reading, take off.

Shining a light

I’ve had the privilege of seeing situations in the Middle East, Africa and in other parts of Asia where refugee communities are doing everything they can to provide their children with an education.

However, while pioneering examples of refugee education exist, they are often not well known or understood outside of their context.

So we’ve teamed up with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency and Pearson, the world’s largest learning company, to shine a light on efforts to provide education to the world’s refugees.

We want to identify the projects with the most promise of contributing to wider change, then document and promote them.

We want to show the world refugees’ determination and commitment to creating a better future for themselves. And we want to learn about what’s working in the field of education for refugees, so that ultimately every last refugee child has access to a quality education.

Find out more

You can find out more about the Promising Practices in Refugee Education initiative here. And if you know about an innovative project that you think might meet the selection criteria then please encourage them to submit their project.

Read more about our partnership with Pearson.

Action to ensure every last child can read

Fifty years ago today UNESCO proclaimed September 8, International Literacy Day.

International Literacy Day 2016 celebrates the past five decades of national and international efforts made to increase literacy rates around the world. But it’s also a critical moment for addressing the remaining and new challenges in order to further boost the number of readers around the world.

One of those new challenges is the number of children who can’t read or write, including millions who have access to education.

In school but not learning

The expansion in primary education that was spurred by the adoption in 2000 of the Millennium Development Goal on universal primary education has seen the number of out-of-school children decline, which is very good news.

However, we now know that access to school doesn’t necessarily guarantee learning.

In fact, around the world there are 130 million children, who despite attending school for four years cannot read. A further 61 million children have had access to school but have dropped out and there are still 59 million children who’ve never had the chance to go to school. That’s 250 million children who can’t read or write.

Reversing the global crisis in literacy

In response, Save the Children made an ambitious commitment to do everything possible to reverse the global crisis in early grade reading.

We chose reading because it’s a critical skill that provides the foundation for further learning.

Literacy is also essential to tackling a broad range of critical development issues. It’s been estimated that if all children in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, equivalent to a 12% reduction in poverty worldwide

So between 2012 and 2015 we tracked 35 of our literacy programmes in 22 countries in order to identify what works and what doesn’t. All with a view to making a contribution to the growing international effort of donors, developing countries and other organisations to address what has come to be described as ‘the learning crisis’.

During this four-year period our own internal focus on literacy programing enabled Save the Children to:

  • make progress in literacy outcomes by developing impactful and cost-effective programme and delivery models
  • successfully develop Literacy Boost as a simple, and replicable model that can be used to improve the teaching of reading
  • develop effective approaches to pre-school literacy, which can be delivered affordably by parents and communities as well as through early childhood development centres
  • test more sustainable approaches to increasing book supply, working with publishers and other book industry stakeholders
  • adapt programmes for multiple languages, assessing the linguistic nuances of each new context and adjusting our approach accordingly
  • develop effective approaches to reading assessment that can be implemented by teachers and governments
  • work closely with governments from local to national levels to look at how best practices could be scaled up.

Our experience also allowed us to identify that, across multiple countries and contexts, a range of critical factors emerged time and again as critical for ensuring that children learn to read.

8 principles to ensure every last child can read

We cross referenced our experience with the available evidence and established 8 principles that we believe provide the foundation for effective literacy action. In summary, they are:

  1. Start early: Invest in the scale-up of cost-effective and good-quality models for improving children’s emergent literacy skills in the early years.
  2. More & better books: Address the scarcity of good-quality, age- and language-appropriate children’s books.
  3. Engaging parents & communities: Implement effective community and parent-based literacy activities.
  4. Ensure teachers can teach reading: Teacher training should include instruction on the five core reading skills (letter knowledge, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) to improve teachers’ teaching of reading.
  5. Language matters: Additional support and resources are needed by children who are learning in a language that is not the language they speak at home.
  6. Practice, practice, practice: Remove barriers to reading practice; ensure that time is scheduled in the school day and support reading outside of school.
  7. Assess & track: Invest in improved assessment to inform teaching practice and national policy.
  8. Policy: Ensure literacy is prioritized for government investment and that policies underpin action on each of the principles.

Our report Lessons in Literacy: 8 principles to ensure every last child can read details how our programming and the available evidence influenced the identification of the principles. It also sets out what each principle looks like in practice, often in different contexts and in response to different challenges.

National Literacy Action Plans

The 8 principles can be used as a framework to help countries design national action plans to improve children’s literacy – something we’re urging them to do.

Without a dedicated focus on improving children’s reading, the evidence supports our view that education systems aren’t able to secure the learning gains required to turn around the literacy crisis.

National Literacy Action Plans are the vehicle for developing and delivering that focus. They should be supported by dedicated, equitable and fair financing and include targeted policies to remove any discrimination toward excluded groups.

Plans should include pre-primary and early grade reading and learning targets to ensure that all children learn to read with comprehension by the time they leave primary school. And plans should set out how the children furthest behind will make progress to meet the targets in order to reduce equity gaps.

Developing country governments shouldbe supported in adopting this focus by international organisations, donors and NGOs who should all ensure that they assess their own interventions and support for its impact on literacy acquisition at the same time as committing to supporting National Literacy Action Plans.

The time to invest in literacy is now. The education related Sustainable Development Goals provide us with an unprecedented mandate to increase quality and prioritize the needs of the most disadvantaged children. On International Literacy Day the world must re-affirm its commitment to ensure every last child can read.

No normal election

This is no normal election: don't let your voice be taken away

Thinking of not voting?Watch this.

Posted by The Guardian on Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Indeed it was no normal election with a very surprising result. This video from the Guardian, essentially extolling people to vote, captured many of my sentiments about the choices inherent in the election itself. It turned out that the vast majority of voters chose a different set of values than the video promotes and that I was campaigning for which has left a lot of my friends feeling very despondent.

But the video also reminds me that the long arc of history bends towards justice, that we’re part of a long history of activists working for a better world and that the question right now is, what do we have to do to shape history’s arc, moving it just that little further towards a more just and sustainable world.

Advancing children’s right to read in Rwanda

Although many more children are now going to school, it’s estimated that 250 million children across the developing world are struggling to read even basic words – even after four years of school

Children who fail to read in the early years of school fall further behind every school year and are at higher risk of dropping out than children who master how to read and write early.

But not all is lost. Evidence shows that targeted attention to two key priorities, namely, early childhood development and a focus on literacy acquisition in lower-primary school, could make a decisive difference in reversing the global learning crisis so that all children in school are able to learn.

Providing children with the skills, support and materials they need

Using the latest evidence of what works best when trying to help children learn to read and write, together with innovative approaches to family learning, community action and the literate environment, Save the Children is implementing an exciting program in Rwanda designed to ensure that children there have the skills, support and materials required to exercise their right to read.

 The programme has four aims:

 1.     Improving children’s emergent literacy skills and school readiness by supporting family learning for parents and children aged 0–3 and aged 4 – 6.

 2.     Improving the teaching of reading by providing teachers with training in effective reading instruction.

 3.     Developing a popular culture of reading and learning in which communities understand the value of literacy and create and sustain opportunities to practice and enjoy reading together.

4.     Creating a rich literate environment that guarantees children access to high quality, local language reading materials.

 These four aims form the four ‘pillars’ of the programme.

We want to prove that by supporting children’s early learning, and their literacy in particular, both before and in school with measures to radically improve the literate environment, we can have a definitive impact on children’s ability to read and write.

Julia Gillard’s visit to Rwanda

The program recently received a huge boost from a visit by Julia Gillard,  Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Australian Prime Minister. Save the Children is a close partner of the Global Partnership and was recently approved a s potential managing entity of GPE funds. Along with Action Aid, Save the Children also represents Northern civil society constituency on the Board of the Global Partnership.

The visit took Ms. Gillard to a school in Gicumbi where she saw the difference that our Literacy Boost teacher training, book provision and community based reading promotion is making to children’s reading skills. . She spoke with teachers, parents and children who explained the different elements of our work in their community.

“Save the Children’s work to support early literacy at home, better teaching of reading at school, increased access to books in communities and its work with publishers to produce better children’s books is very exciting,” said Ms Gillard.

“These interventions respond directly to the evidence of what works that were detailed in ‘A Global Compact on Learning’, published by The Brookings Institution where I am a Distinguished Fellow, and I look forward to seeing the results of the program in time,” she said.

“Reading is the gateway to future learning and success at school. Given the global crisis in learning we urgently need to scale up effective, evidence based methods to improve the acquisition of early grade reading skills. I am confident that Save the Children’s work in Rwanda will make an important contribution to doing exactly that,” Ms Gillard concluded.

Save the Children is part of the local education group in Rwanda which works with the government to develop comprehensive education sector plans that are then funded by the government and external donors, including the Global Partnership for Education.

The development story of the next generation will be written by the children sitting in the classrooms of low-income countries today. Whether they become the catalyst for a nation’s social and economic renaissance will depend on whether or not they learn to read.

Save the Children is committed to helping them do so and we’re very excited about our programme in Rwanda, which we hope will help show the world what’s possible. It was a real honour to be able to share it with the Chair of the Global Partnership for Education as part of that process.

 Our ‘Advancing the right to read’ programme baselines and studies report is available here.

This post was first published by the Global Partnership for Education.

The art of saving a life

Around the world one in five children do not have access to the life-saving vaccines they need. And when you see, as I have and alas still do, children dying of preventable illnesses, it's just maddening.

An amazing exhibition 'The Art of Saving a Life' from the Gates Foundation tells some of the stories behind the success of vaccines and the future promise of immunization. They are stories of risk and bravery, the passion and dedication of scientists, the love of parents, and the determination of health workers.

These stories in the exhibition are told by  more than 30 world-renowned photographers, painters, sculptors, writers, filmmakers, and musicians.

It features the work of illustrator Sophie Blackall which I've reproduced below. Sophie has been working with me for the last year, illustrating the work of the International Children's Book Initiative including our latest guide for teachers in Rwanda called 'Enjoying books together'.

I love what she’s done for ‘The Art of Saving a Life’.

In her four illustrations Sophie takes us on an adventure, in a quest to find every child. Currently, more than 20 million children are not receiving the vaccines they need. Sophie brings these children to life, illustrating corners of the world where children can be missed – whether in remote mountain valleys, desert villages, refugee camps or dense urban slums. We are invited to search for these children, and once we find them, to think about their similarities and the challenge of reaching each of them, seemingly buried like the proverbial needle in a haystack. The illustrations also celebrate the fact that in many places, these children are indeed being found and vaccinated.

There's a lot of fantastic art and story telling at 'The Art of Saving a Life' and I encourage you to check it out. 

Ikea advertises adoptable dogs

Around the world the number of pets in cat and dog homes that need adopting far exceeds the number of prospective adopters. With limited funds many animal shelters can only afford to promote their available animals on social media where most of their fans are already pet owners. 

So cat and dog homes are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to raise public awareness of the pets they have available for adoption.

Inspired by the principle that nothing quite makes a house a home like a furry best friend some Ikea stores are now featuring cardboard cut-outs of adoptable dogs in their showrooms amid the furniture.

The idea to display the pets inside the store started in Singapore as a collaboration between Ikea and two animal shelters. Together they formed the project Home for Hope.

The cut-outs have tags on them with QR codes that shoppers can scan to learn more about the individual dogs. 

A range of other retails outlets in Singapore joined Ikea and now other Ikea stores around the world are working with their local animal shelters to promote their animals. You can see some of the dogs on display in Ikea Singapore below.

home for hope_3.jpg

Supporting families learn together

First Read aims to close both the book and the early years services gap in developing countries in order to lay the foundation for school readiness and improved literacy acquisition.

Across the developing world fewer than 20 per cent of children have access to early childhood care and education services.

This flies in the face of the overwhelming evidence thatearly life experiences have a significant impact that persists well into adulthood and that investing in quality early childhood care and education can play a vital part in improving children’s life chances.

We know that early childhood education programmes result in easier transitions to primary, better retention and completion rates, increased social equality and higher economic returns.

Whilst some countries are looking to expand the provision of centre based early years programmes, centres are unlikely to be the primary way of closing the early years services gap in the near term.

In recognition of the fact that parents and families are the first and principal educators of their children, there is a growing recognition of the potential of community based parenting education as a key approach to improving the quality of children’s learning and development opportunities before they start school.

In Rwanda, the Philippines and Cambodia Save the Children is implementing one such programme: First Read which aims to provide parents and carers with the skills, confidence and materials to support the development of their children’s vital pre-reading skills.

Laying the foundations for literacy

From the earliest moments of their lives children develop concepts, behaviours and attitudes that are the developmental foundation for later skilled reading and writing. These varied roots of reading development are often described as emergent literacy skills and include talking and listening, understanding words and sounds, alphabet knowledge, concepts of print and knowing what books are.

Through four pillars, namely book development,  book gifting, family learning and community action First Read offers a systematic way to help parents learn about and apply that knowledge to support their children develop these crucial skills.

Pillar One: Developing books for young readers and their families

Access to high quality, local language children’s books is essential if young children are to develop their vital pre-reading skills. But in developing countries books for very young children are rare.

First Read is working to support a vibrant children’s book industry by providing training and capacity building to local illustrators, authors and publishers.

The programme subsequently purchases the books that participants in our training and capacity building go on to publish.

These books are available in the local market and First Read also works to support publishers identify additional ways to sell their titles for very young children.

Pillar Two: Giving books to children and their families

Despite the importance of books in developing children’s awareness of print and knowledge many children in developing countries have never seen a book before they start school let alone owned one.

First Read gifts families with young children the high quality, local language children’s books that the programme supports publishers to develop.

We want children to benefit from easy access at home to books.

Pillar Three: Supporting families to learn together

Books on their own are insufficient to guarantee learning because in many low literate contexts parents won’t have the skills and confidence to share a book with the their children.

 First Read consequently provides the parents and carers of young children with the opportunity to come together to learn new skills that they can use to support their children’s learning.

Using evidence about what works to support children’s emergent literacy skills we help parents and carers to incorporate talking, singing, counting and sharing books into their day to day interactions with their children.

Pillar Four: Supporting communities act to close the early years services gap

Parents and carers that participate in parenting education programmes like First Read report seeing first hand, significant differences in their children as a result of applying the new techniques that they have learnt. This is often the start of a virtues circle in which parents are keen to expand the learning opportunities available to their children.

Whilst parent-child interactions are crucial, children particularly after the age of 2, also benefit from interacting with each other in small groups.

Harnessing the increased demand for early learningand recognising the benefits of children learning together First Read subsequently works with parents and the communities from which they come to design and implement new care and educational services for their children before they start school,. These include play groups, story sessions and where demand exists and resources are available even formal centre based early childhood programmes.

The case for expanding and improving early childhood care and education programmes in the developing world is unambiguous, supporting the development of a vibrant local children’s book sector and providing families with books, along with support to use them effectively, offers in our experience a simple and scalable way of doing so.

This blog post was originally published on the Global Partnership for Education website.

Funding the future

In the lead up the Global Partnership’s replenishment conference global civil society has published an action plan aimed at helping to close the global education funding gap and delivering new resources to the Global Partnership for Education.

The case for increased investment in basic education is unassailable.

Education reduces poverty, creates more sustainable livelihoods, improves long-term health benefits and makes men and women more equal.

A lack of funding holds educational progress back

In spite of this, there are huge shortfalls in financing for education, which is leading to a crisis in education in low- and middle-income countries.

Across the developing world, 57 million children are still out of primary school,  and an estimated 130 million children in school fail to acquire basic reading and numeracy skills, while another 120 million drop out within three years of starting.

Insufficient funding is one of the main obstacles to solving these problems.

Urgent need to reduce declining donor funding for education

In 2000, the global community committed to ensure that no country seriously dedicated to achieving education for all should be held back due to a lack of resources. This promise has not been kept, and is in danger of slipping further away as more and more donors reduce their aid to education.

Worryingly, aid to “basic” education in low-income countries – which was already far too low – is reducing faster than in other areas. Between 2010 and 2011, aid to basic education fell 6.3 %, from $6.2 billion to $5.8 billion, considerably more than the 3% reduction in total aid over the same period.

Furthermore, only a tiny fraction of this aid is being spent in low-income countries ($1.9 billion). In total, cuts made over the 2010 to 2011 period to the lowest income countries could have sent 1.1 million more children to school.

A critical opportunity

But this year the global community has a critical opportunity to reverse overall trends in financing for basic education, and to reaffirm commitments to financing education in the world’s poorest countries.

On June 26, 2014, developing country governments, donor governments, civil society, the teaching profession, foundations and the private sector will come together at the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) Replenishment Conference in Brussels. This offers a unique moment for the global community to reaffirm their collective commitments to education, and publicly affirm pledges to fund the Global Partnership for Education’s work between 2015 and 2018.

Last week, the Global Campaign for Education along with other civil society partners launched ‘Fund the Future: An action plan for funding the Global Partnership for Education’ (PDF).

The action plan sets argues for increases in education funding in general and for additional financing for the Global Partnership during its next operating period (2015 – 2018), including the importance of setting an ambitious replenishment target.

Moving beyond business as usual

The Global Partnership for Education has estimated that a minimum of US$3.2 billion is necessary from the international community during the replenishment period 2015 to 2018, just to maintain the status quo (i.e. to maintain the existing financing levels, which are below existing developing country demand). Given the increasing demand from developing countries, it is clear that a higher target will be necessary to meet future needs.
This will require donors to raise their ambition levels above ‘business-as-usual’. The Global Partnership estimates that raising funding above current levels to a more “ambitious” level could support a rise to 92% global student enrolment by 2018.

This would mean that 18.4 million children have a chance to get a quality basic education.

Civil society urges partners to adopt a target of at least US$4 billion

Given current demand and the pre-existing financing gaps, a civil society partnership which includes all of the Global Campaign for Education’s members along with the Global Poverty Project and the Open Society Foundation has calculated that donors need to collectively commit to at least $4 billion over 4 years. This is just $1 billion per year, and far below the overall finance gaps.

Without it, millions of children will never see the inside of a classroom, or will drop out before they even learn the basics.

Time to tackle the crisis in education financing

The current gaps in education financing have a direct and devastating impact on lives, depriving millions of girls and boys of quality education. This is not the time for donors and others to shy away from making bold financial commitments in support of education in the coming years.

The members of the Global Campaign for Education, and our civil society allies, call on all GPE partners to seize the opportunity of the June 2014 GPE Replenishment Conference to tackle the crisis in education financing, and make concrete pledges and commitments.

The first step in that process is for the board of the Global Partnership for Education to commit to a minimum of $4 billion in funds for the next operating period of the Global Partnership.

Find out more about civil society’s efforts in support of education funding and the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education at Fund the Future.

This article was originally published on the Global Partnership for Education blog

The bookmobile project

I’ve just come across the impressive BOOKMOBILE project on Kictstarter. The project was an exhibition of artist books, zines and independent publications that traveled across the US and Canada from 2001-2005. Along the way, the BOOKMOBILE gave a lot of workshops and talks, and collaborated with many amazing groups and individuals.

The voluntary, self-described scrappy nature of the project is a real inspiration as are the radical values and commitment to increasing media literacy that the project embodies.

They now have plans to share the project with a larger group of people, in a way that feels in keeping with the BOOKMOBILE: an actual, printed book which I’ve backed on Kickstarter!

Community participation key to reversing the global learning crisis

A grandmother and her grandchildren in Bushenyi District Uganda read an Uwezo report on learning outcomes. April 2012

A grandmother and her grandchildren in Bushenyi District Uganda read an Uwezo report on learning outcomes. April 2012

As we approach the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)and the Education for All (EFA) targets, there is much to celebrate. Since 2000, when the MDGs and the EFA goals were set, around 45 million children who previously did not have access to education have enrolled in primary school, and gender parity in primary education has improved significantly.

Yet the work ahead is urgent and formidable.

250 million children – or around 40 % of all primary school age children in the world – either, never enrol in school, fail to make it to the fourth year of their education or, if they do manage this, are not learning to read even basic sentences.

It comes as no surprise that the parents of these children are frustrated. Parents want their children to learn and acquire vital new skills that will assist them in education and future employment, but, in far too many places around the world, the education system is failing them.

Unmet aspirations and frustration with unresponsive systems

In ‘Right to learn: community participation in improving learning’ a ground breaking new report, Save the Children, gives voice to the aspirations and frustrations of parents from Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nepal, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Despite the diversity of the countries in which they live they all share an expectation that their children learn basic reading, writing and math skills at school. However, they also have a shared experience of how difficult it is  to hold schools, service providers and governments accountable when their children are not learning.

Parental engagement improves learning outcomes

But it’s not all bad news.

‘Right to learn’ also illustrates how, in all of these places innovative civil society organizations, with deep roots in communities are driving system wide change in education and in turn, improving learning outcomes for children.

The report includes case studies from ASER in India and Pakistan and Uwezo in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda who are all using a common model to promote improvements in educational quality and learning outcomes, based on three pillars:

  • measure to understand
  • understand to communicate, and
  • communicate to change.
Children looking at an Uwezo Poster, Kumi District, Uganda, April 2012

Children looking at an Uwezo Poster, Kumi District, Uganda, April 2012

Information, understanding and change in East Africa

Using this approach, Uwezo by way of example, conducts annual household assessments of basic literacy and numeracy levels in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Every year, Uwezo partners with over 350 local organizations to mobilize and train over 22,000 citizens to conduct the survey.  In 2012, the Uwezo army of citizen volunteers assessed a total of 343,104 children in 124,627 households from 362 districts across East Africa.

The annual assessments collect data that, once analyzed and shared, is used to promote countrywide conversations and debates about learning, using radio and television for wide reach.

Uwezo believes that the drive for more accountability will ultimately come if parents, as the largest constituency of concerned citizens, are able to be involved and participate in the success of their children’s school. The report also highlights the work of Equal Education in South Africa and Ação Educativa in Brazil, who are also using data to catalyse parental and wider community action to improve educational quality.

The power and potential of increased accountability

All of the examples in ‘Right to learn’ illustrate the power and potential of accountability relationships between citizen and service provider to strengthen the quality of publicly funded education and, in doing so, improve the learning outcomes of millions of children currently being failed by state education.

Though each country context is different, the case studies point to a number of themes that emerge as central to the effectiveness of local level accountability irrespective of context.

  1. Fostering the engagement and participation of ordinary citizens, including the most marginalized
  2. Agreeing on minimum standards
  3. Collecting and communicating local data to genuinely inform and empower
  4. Empowering communities to create their own solutions to local issues and acknowledging their roles in improving learning
  5. Linking local accountability to national system reform

Accountability: a key to local, national and international action on education

Increasing the accountability of schools to parents has the potential to transform education provision and learning outcomes for all children by raising the quality of publically funded schools.

If we are serious about reversing the crisis in learning, as we continue to debate a post-2015 agenda for education we need to ensure that the frameworks for international and national action will both respond to and harness the voice of children’s parents and carers and the communities from which they come.

This article was first published on December 23, 2013 on the Global Partnership for Education, Education for All blog.

Good news

A little bit of perspective from Lizz Lunney, a comic illustrator from Birmingham, UK.

A little bit of perspective from Lizz Lunney, a comic illustrator from Birmingham, UK.

Let every child have a name

In some parts of Africa, families don’t name their children until the threat of measles has past. That threat disappears entirely when children are vaccinated, and a child can be vaccinated for a single dollar. I was so inspired by the dedication and passion of health workers and families in the Congo, and I hope their illustrated stories will inspire others to get involved. Together we can support their efforts and work to end measles, and let every child have a name.
— Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall is a Brooklyn based Australian artist who has illustrated over twenty books for children. ‘Ruby’s Wish’ which tells the story of a young girl’s fight to get an education in China, is a long standing favorite in our house.

However, I really only came to know the extent of Sophie’s work after discovering her illustrations for the Measles and Rubella Initiative.

Her exhibit “Let Every Child Have a Name: The Road to a World Without Measles” was inspired by her journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she spent time with the families and health workers affected by measles.

Her illustrations really capture the work of the Initiative and have been greeted with enthusiastic responses wherever they've been displayed. They have also raised awareness and funding for the fight against measles.

I was so impressed I asked her is she’d like to do something similar for the International Children’s Book Initiative in Rwanda and I’m delighted to say that she said yes.

So I won’t reveal a whole lot more just yet except to say I’m very excited about working with Sophie in support of the work of the Children’s Book Initiative in Rwanda.

You can read and watch more about Sophie’s work with the Measles and Rubella Initiative here and view all of the pieces from 'Let every child have a name' below.