Because I just love India…

I was looking through some statistics on the World Bank website. There is a table that outlines the schooling status of slum children in India. These slums are part of urban anthillls like Delhi, and are the areas most devastated by poverty.

The statistics, which I believe to be from 2009, prove startling. Slum children that never attended school by age 14 are calculated to be at 13.2 percent. School drop-out rates skyrocket from 4.3 percent at age 11 to 22.6 percent by age 12. That means there are five and a half times more dropouts once children hit age 12 as opposed to 11.

That seems to be the age that many of the slum children are compelled to work to add to their family income. This BBC news article explains some of the poor living conditions in Dehli slums. The article states that a third of the world’s malnourished children live in India. With rising food costs, parents struggle to feed, let alone educate, their children. Education becomes a lesser priority, and those children grow up to become adults who cannot find jobs to support their families. The cycle continues.

And, from what has hopefully been learned in my previous India post, the Indian government mandates that free schooling be at least available to all children without discrimination. It’s a great idea on paper, but when children are tasked with helping their parents feed their family, schooling is not the greatest focus, and justifiably so.

But a good thing has been happening in the last few years. There are now charity orgranizations that wheel buses into slums and pick up slum children for a time of teaching that won’t necessarily interrupt the children’s ability to hold their jobs. According to the Reuters article, many of the children let in by these buses have odd jobs that occupy them instead of school, to help their families.

Reuters: “These children have no time to go to school, unless the school comes to them,” said T.L. Reddy, founder of the CLAP Foundation, a non-governmental organization that runs the mobile school.

The buses park it in a dusty slum. Sometimes the buses are so full that the floors are covered with children sitting cross-legged, eager to learn. The bus interior is adorned with alphabet letters and numbers, according to Reuters.

Reuters: “The teaching is good in this bus and nobody beats us,” said 10-year-old Devi, who enrolled in the first grade of primary school three years ago but soon dropped out.

In hopes of educating and streamlining drop-out children into governmental schooling, the bus program had already made it possible for 40 students to so, as of the article publishing date in November.

Al Jazeera provides an informative newscast on the charity bus program:

It is refreshing to see some good being done for slum children, even if it is a little. If an ounce of hope is the surge we need to drive us forward with providing more aid and more assistance, then I am especially grateful for the program.

As an endnote, I thought I’d include the link for a book that touches on this topic. It’s the first book on my spring break reading list!


Here in the States

After 10 years of President George W. Bush’s implementation of the No Child Left Behind act, states are applying for waivers to bypass it. According to CBS News, 10 states have already qualified for such waivers: Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Colorado. New Mexico is the latest state to qualify for the waiver, says the Huffington Post

CBS says that 28 more states—plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico—have noted that they are seeking waivers as well. Why the mad scramble? Because a deadline for meeting certain education requirements approaches that may seem out of reach for many schools under No Child Left Behind.

The entire No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 can be found here

The No Child Left Behind act stipulates that all students should be proficient in reading and math by the 2013-2014 school year. Progress in these areas is measured through standardized testing.

Fox News Latino argues that this standard has often been too rigid for English language learners or the economically disadvantaged. 

 Several states, like New Mexico, had not been keeping up to the No Child Left Behind standard, according to the Huffington Post. The new policy under the Obama administration calls for plans showing they will prepare students for careers and college, rewarding the schools that perform the best and focusing on helping the schools that perform the worst. 

Instead of the pass/fail system of grading progress under No Child Left Behind, schools with waivers can be graded on a letter grade scale of A to F.

But the act also requires school districts to set aside 20 percent of their federal Title 1 funds each year to provide for tutoring and school choice options for economically disadvantaged students, says the Tampa Bay Times

 To be specific, these are the students in schools with a large low-income population that qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, 74,299 students in Florida received tutoring services last school year. Now that Florida has wriggled itself free of the No Child Left Behind Act, it can choose to differently spend those funds that would otherwise be going to tutoring low-income students.

But I honestly can’t think of a better use of that 20 percent of Title 1 school dollars. If the aim is to lessen the inequality gap and to better educate all students of all income levels, the free tutoring services offer a good method of progressing to that.

Statistics and interactive U.S maps can be found on the No Child Left Behind website

One chart that especially got my attention was the chart that measured state success in continuous growth toward the 100 percent proficiency standard of No Child Left Behind. It can be found here.

According to the chart, six states and the District of Columbia have not appeared to be on track toward the goal. Eight states appear to be partially on track. But the rest of the states are on track, according to these statistics.

Time will tell us if this new waiver system is an advantageous idea. Either way, I acknowledge the great care and consideration that must be put into making decisions about education policy.


Upheaval in sunny old Spain

Not too long ago, we were hearing a lot in the news about European countries riddled with debt and even requesting bailouts (Greece). So, in a way, it is not so surprising that in these nations corners were cut in order to maintain a shaky sense of stability– if that is even possible–or a better term, survival. It is perhaps even less surprising that the corners cut in these situations were for education.

Rewind a few months, back to October 2011. Fly over a sea or take a train across any number of countries, depending on where you’re from, and you’ll end up in Spain. This charming European nation, known to many as a vacation hotspot rather than a place of unrest, has hidden its devastation well.

But according to a Press TV article, Spain has the highest unemployment rate out of all of the nations in the European Union. Spain’s jobless rate was hovering at 22.7 percent in October (then inched up a little further to 22.9 by December).

To offer up a bit of perspective, the United States’ unemployment rate was at 8.9 percent at that time. I was taught in economics class that the natural unemployment rate can be expected to fall around five percent. And yet Spain’s unemployment rate was more than four times that expected amount? That creates the perfect atmosphere for protests to unfold.

According to the Buenos Aires Herald, Spanish teachers took to the streets in protest.

Apparently there was a government decision to increase weekly school hours—therefore decreasing the amount of teachers needed—and to cut back on class preparation time. The article found these reforms to pose the greatest threat to secondary schools. Union sources in the article report that nearly 80 percent of Madrid’s 21,000 secondary school teachers flocked the streets in protest in late October. The Madrid government is reported to have said that the number was half of that estimate.

This wave of protests continued on to October 23, when “tens of thousands” of people rallied in the Madrid city center against the education cuts, according to the Times of India.

Sources quoted in the article seemed to mainly be worried about the privatization of the education sector. One of the rattling fears of a protestor was that once schools are privatized, only the rich can get in.

But this is not a fight started by teacher, or parents, or lawmakers. It was brought to public attention mainly by Spanish students. On October 6, at least 2,000 students started what seems to be a domino effect in respect to the other protests that precipitated. They skipped class, donned matching green T-shirts with slogans, and marched in Madrid.

“We have less teachers this year, they closed the library because there is no one to work at it,” Alicia Fernandez, a 16-year-old high school student told Al-Jazeera.

The proposed changes in education could save the Spanish government 80 million euros on extra teaching staff, according to the Al-Jazeera article.

But as I’ve questioned before, and will question again, is it worth it? What will be the consequences of such a change?


An online tool to learn about the Holocaust

Today, the 27th of January, is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. It is declared an International Day of Commemoration to honor victims of the Holocaust by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution on Holocaust remembrance: resolution A/RES/60/7.

The resolution condemns any denial of the Holocaust’s happening. It urges schools of member nations to adopt educational programs that facilitate learning about the Holocaust to prevent the horrors of genocide in the future.   

The UN Department of Public Information has partnered with the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute to make the educational plans happen. According to a press release, the Shoah Foundation Institute was established by Stephen Spielberg in 1994. The institute manages one of the largest video digital libraries, with 54,000 testimonials from Holocaust survivors.

And now students and teachers have access to some of the video testimonials–more than 1,000 of them—as an online educational resource. The resource has been named IWitness. It is developed for students between the ages of 13 and 18. IWitness has added a deeply personal and relevant touch to learning about the Holocaust beyond what any textbook could teach.

“The video is an immediacy that allows them to not only see the faces but also hear the voices. It’s from a personal point of view because they are connected with something that is very human, and that’s unique,” Kim Simon, managing director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute told USC’s campus publication, the Daily Trojan.

The Shoah Foundation Institute’s Web site also states that the IWitness application contains access to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s vast Holocaust Encyclopedia and Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Resource Center. This includes access to archived documents, photographs, maps, letters, and diary entries.

That’s pretty cool, in my book.

On January 23, more than 350 New York metropolitan area high school students assembled at the UN Headquarters to discuss their experiences with IWitness, a UN press release states.  Students talked about the videos they had seen. They also had the opportunity to interview a Holocaust survivor, Roman Kent, who was a guest at the event.

A webcast of the gathering can be viewed here.

Other than the links I have provided, there isn’t much that has been written about the schools’ reception of this program. I can only assume that it has been a useful and positive educational tool. But I would really like to know how many schools and how many classrooms are implementing the program. Is the program available to college students like myself?

For this important part of history I am glad to see an innovative way of teaching. If we are to make sure history won’t repeat itself, it is important to learn fully as many different perspectives and voices on the subject as possible.

You can view some sample testimonial videos on the IWitness Web site.

So extensive are the archives that you can plug in a name and videos will appear. It may be worth a subscription.

India, where my heart longs to go

For a few years, I’ve had in my head that I might want to teach children in India. I have never researched the educational situation there, but I have amassed a vague collection of knowledge about education on that side of the world, most of which may not even be correct. I see photographs of children living in dirt, poking through trash heaps. But I also hear, mostly in conversations about America’s educational pitfalls, how India and China crank out math and science geniuses by the boatload, then ship them to America. These students’ drive is intense, and all they want to do is study. They are no competition for our distracted and unmotivated youths of America, these conversationalists usually conclude.

I’ve skated on the tip of the iceberg, as far as researching this country’s education system. I hope you don’t mind reading a few statistics.

Here is what the government of India has decided in terms of education:

The legislative department of India upheld The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in 2009. It mandates that all children ages 6- 14 be enrolled in primary schools. It excludes the states of Jammu and Kashmir, which lie on the northernmost point of India, sandwiched between Pakistan and China. I see how this could be ambiguous territory. Also, children with disabilities should have a right to pursue education. They are allowed to transfer. Children from the “weaker section”, or lower class, shall not be discriminated against in terms of education.

It all looks so good on paper. I wonder if this is really the situation in India.

World Bank says that the number of out-of-school children was an estimated 8.1 million in 2009, which was a significant cut down from 25 million in 2003. Most of the students still not enrolled are from “marginalized social groups.”

Estimates of child poverty show that about 33 percent of Indian children up to age 14 are living below the absolute poverty line. This statistic increases a couple digits in urban India.

The absolute poverty line in India is defined by a number of factors, such as calorie intake and expenditures, and it is based on minimum living standards. Beyond that vague explanation, I admit that the poverty threshold is a bit more statistically defined than my simple mind can follow.

Another article I was looking at points out that just having literacy and a primary education is not of much value in the job market. It also says that “educational poverty” (aka no access to any elementary education) and “income poverty” are directly related. Elementary education has seen massive growth during India’s post-independence period. And though concerted efforts have been made to place children in primary schools, little attention is paid to the relationship between higher education and success in the labor market or development of the society as a whole. A few researchers have found that it is secondary education that cements the gains from primary education. With only a primary education, the article argues, it may be easy for students to slip below the poverty line once again after completing schooling.

So it looks like South Africa is not the only nation with a shortage of opportunities for higher education.

Article: Post- Elementary Education, Poverty and Development in India, by Jandhyala B G Tilak


On higher education in South Africa


Students try to force their way in to the University of JohannesburgStudents waiting to register at the University of Johannesburg.                             Source: Reuters, at the Guardian

The mother of a prospective student was killed Tuesday in a stampede of student hopefuls rushing the gates of the University of Johannesburg.

According to the New York Times article, the crowd had been waiting since before dawn for the handful of last-minute seats in the university. The Guardian reports that students and parents camped outside the school gates at least a day in advance. Only 11,000 students could be chosen out of the 85,000 that applied.

That could certainly be a cause for tension.

But I couldn’t come close to justifying this unspeakable tragedy with its cause. Someone’s mother is dead for this? Sources differ on whether the student even made it inside to register.

Though this death couldn’t be justified, I am looking to understand where these people are coming from. I know they are coming out of decades of oppression under white minority rule. I know young, black adults were barely given a chance at higher education under apartheid. And I’m willing to bet that it’s still not easy to obtain any kind of post-secondary education, even after apartheid’s end in 1994.

The Guardian argues that the issue is still one of race, one of class. The grip apartheid held on higher education opportunities has not been fully released. This incident was one that drew some of South Africa’s poorest students—the reason they were racing for seats in the first place was because they missed the first application deadline, which was only available online.

In a statement from the ANC Youth League, the serious gap in seats available and seats demanded at  universities like University of Johannesburg is considered a crisis.

To alleviate the stress between the number of qualified students and spaces available at universities, South Africa’s education minister, Blade Nzimande, suggests more students look at technical school, called Further Education and Training (F.E.T) colleges.

But there are students who spoke to the New York Times who said that a diploma from an F.E.T. college is not enough. Companies are simply not hiring.

In a nation crippled by high unemployment rates and wracked by poverty, it is no wonder how a matter like registering for a spot in a university has escalated into such an uphill battle for many. To think how easily I obtained university admittance in comparison is astonishing. My home state of Florida wants students to attend public universities so badly that it is willing to pay most of the tuition for students who fulfill a few simple requirements like GPA and community service involvement. Sure, the application process is unnerving for many students. Students don’t always get accepted to their first-choice college. But I am persuaded that my state– my country– has made opportunities for these students to attend a wide variety of universities or community colleges.

This unfortunate incident in South Africa is really a problem of the system. The nation has come a long way under the African National Congress, but it still has much progress to make, namely in the education sector. It is my hope that the change will happen quickly.