Why I Believe a Global Fund for Education Is So Important

November 30, 2009
by Lin Carlson, RESULTS Partner, Seattle Chapter

I am encouraged to see that on December 10 we will call on President Obama and others to create a Global Fund for Education. I am finishing up a 2-½ month visit to Kenya and Uganda and want to share why I believe this is so important.

I recently observed a crowded primary school classroom in Nairobi and tried to get an accurate count on the number of students. Was it 82 or 84? I may have missed a few. The students were attentive and well behaved. However, the teacher’s instructional strategies were limited due to the large number of students. It was too much “stand and deliver.” Unfortunately, I have frequently seen classrooms with 50 to 90 students.

As a semi-retired school district administrator, I had the privilege of meeting many dedicated educators during my travels in Kenya. Principals and teachers are concerned about overcrowded classrooms and limited resources. The student teacher ratio, lack of supplemental materials, and absence of classroom technology would appall my U.S. colleagues. Independent reading is a key strategy for student achievement, yet few schools have libraries. In drought-affected areas, schools have difficulty providing clean water and proper sanitation.

I am inspired by the efforts of teachers to help students overcome adversity in their lives. One educator I met teaches at a primary school located in the Kibera slum. Leah has taught for 30 years and offered the following examples. (I have changed the names of the students.)

James is 16 years old and currently in standard 7. He started school at the age of 10. James is a bright student and wants to become a neurosurgeon. Tragically, his mother died of AIDS when he was 13. The father abandoned the family. His sister quit school and married an older man when she was 14. James dropped out of school and turned to drugs. His teacher, seeing the potential in him, went after him. James and his two younger siblings are now attending school regularly. School is their main source of support.

Both parents of Ruth, a standard 7 student, have died. Her older sister dropped out of school and has a child. Ruth’s goal is to complete school so she can get a job and support her niece. A student support group and the school lunch program funded by the World Food Program are important to Ruth.

One of Leah’s students attended college in the U.S. after completing secondary school and became a teacher. Two years ago Ken decided it was time to give back to his community and returned to Nairobi. He now reaches out to bright and needy children in Kibera and offers them hope and educational support.

I spoke with students who want to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, and teachers. Many would like to visit the U.S. and everyone could call out the name of our president. Learning and working together to solve the problems of hunger, disease, drought, and conflict resonated with my audiences. Will these students and millions of others around the world have the opportunities to pursue their aspirations and contribute to our global community?

In my visit to Uganda, I had the opportunity to meet microfinance association staff and borrowers. I was surprised to learn that the most frequent use of loans to members were not for business purposes, but to pay for school fees.

Most developing countries do not have the resources to scale up and provide quality education for all. Reports indicate Kenya alone needs 40,000 additional primary school teachers. We can do much better than this.

Let’s make a Global Fund for Education happen.

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