A new frontier for women's education in Africa
Based on current education trends, only 56% of countries will have achieved gender parity in lower secondary education by 2015. And if we continue business as usual, the poorest girls in sub-Saharan Africa will not even achieve universal primary school completion until 2086.
To address this challenge, the Connect To Learn (CTL) initiative was established in 2010. A partnership of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Millennium Promise (a non-governmental organization, or NGO), and leading telecommunications company, Ericsson, CTL aims to scale up access to quality secondary education, especially for girls in rural Africa, by providing scholarships and Internet access.
In Rwanda, the scholarship program in the Millennium Village of Mayange, launched in January 2012, enrolled 44 girls. Not one girl has dropped out since, and among the 745 girls on Connect To Learn scholarships across Africa, the retention rate is 96.2%. President Kagame of Rwanda is a global champion of universal access to education. As co-chair of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Millennium Development Goals advocacy group and co-chair of the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission, President Kagame advocates for gender equity and access to broadband. Education is a national priority in Rwanda. Since 2012, 12 years of basic education are free, a rare accomplishment in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this progress, even in Rwanda attitudes toward the importance of girls’ education, early marriage, distance to school, and household responsibilities still keep many girls from attending secondary education.
While net attendance for girls in Rwanda is 88.5% at the primary level, it drops to just 15.6% at the secondary level. But this scenario is quickly changing. With access to Internet in rural schools, children in remote villages are seeing their communities magically appear on Google Earth and, for some of them, for the first time, they know where they are in the world, and can access quality education materials.
The international dialogue on education is shifting to focus on several of the challenges to education access and effectiveness that CTL addresses. For example, the proposed goal on education for the post-2015 development agenda talks about universal access to free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, and the new Goal on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls explicitly calls for the enhanced “use of enabling technologies, in particularly ICT (information and communications technology), to promote women’s empowerment.”
By making education more interactive and practical, technology has the potential to make a huge difference regarding the 250 million young people around the world who are unable to read, write, or do basic math, preparing them for jobs in an increasingly globalized world.
With 745 girls on scholarships in Africa, nearly 39,000 students benefiting from the CTL program globally, and collaborating with the education team at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Ericsson, governments, and local partners in Africa and other parts of the developing world, CTL will continue building evidence for how supporting girls’ education leads to increased attendance and retention year-over-year, and how integration of ICT can contribute to higher learning outcomes for girls and boys so that more students can, as one scholar in Rwanda says “acquire knowledge and become good citizens.”
Thomas Prior is a photographer based in New York. You can see more of his work at www.thomasprior.com