LONDON, – Keeping girls in school and taking young climate leaders seriously are keys to tackling climate change, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said on Friday.
Speaking to a virtual panel, Malala, 23, said educating girls and young women, particularly in developing countries, would give them a chance to pursue green jobs and be part of solving the climate crisis in their communities.
“Girls’ education, gender equality and climate change are not separate issues. Girl’s education and gender equality can be used as solutions against climate change,” Malala told an online event by British think-tank Chatham House.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some 130 million girls worldwide were already out of school, according to the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO, which said more than 11 million may not return to classes after the pandemic.
“When we educate girls … they can become farmers, conservationists, solar technicians, they can fill other green jobs as well. Problem-solving skills can allow them to help their communities to adapt to climate change.”
From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work, women and girls shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival, global aid group CARE International says.
Scientists expect forced displacement to be one of the most common and damaging effects on vulnerable people if global warming is not limited to an internationally agreed aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Climate disasters have also been linked with early marriage, school drop-outs and teen pregnancies, says U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.
Malala also called on world leaders to pay attention to youth climate activists, citing movements like “Mock COP” in November when young people launched a two-week event designed to mirror the format of the delayed U.N. climate talks.
“Listen to young people who are leading the climate movement. Young people are reminding our leaders that climate education and climate justice should be their priority.”
Apple produced a documentary about Malala in 2015 and teamed up with her Malala Fund in 2018 to promote secondary education to girls across the globe.
In 2009 at age 12, Malala blogged under a pen name for the BBC about living under the rule of the Pakistani Taliban. In 2012 she survived being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning against its attempts to deny women education.
In 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17. In 2018 she launched Assembly, a digital publication for girls and young women available on Apple News. She graduated from Oxford University in June.
As book titles go, the “Directory for Catechesis” is hardly the catchiest. But this volume could potentially transform the lives of thousands of people.
That is the conviction of Gail Williams, center manager at Caritas St. Joseph in Hendon, north London. When the updated directory — formerly known as the General Directory for Catechesis — was released in June, she was struck by what it said about people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are called to the fullness of sacramental life, even in the presence of serious disturbances,” the directory said. “The sacraments are gifts of God and the liturgy, even before being rationally understood, asks to be lived: therefore, no one can deny the sacraments to people with disabilities.”
“It means so much for it actually to be printed in there,” Williams told CNA, “because the General Directory for Catechesis is the go-to for anybody that’s not really doing this work. And they’ll often say: ‘Well, is it in the General Directory for Catechesis?’”
It means so much for it actually to be printed in there,” Williams told CNA, “because the General Directory for Catechesis is the go-to for anybody that’s not really doing this work. And they’ll often say: ‘Well, is it in the General Directory for Catechesis?’”
“To be able to say ‘Yes, it is’ is just amazing, because then you have real proof and back-up that actually the Catholic Church does want to embrace everyone and does want to encompass those that are usually ignored.”
For the past 40 years, Caritas St. Joseph has supported people with intellectual disabilities, as well as their families and friends, in the English Diocese of Westminster. Formerly known as St. Joseph’s Pastoral Centre, Caritas St. Joseph wants to share its expertise far beyond the borders of Westminster diocese, which includes all of London north of the River Thames and some outlying areas.
Williams believes that some parishes are scared of catechizing those with learning disabilities. She is on a mission to persuade them that it can, in fact, be “a really joyful journey.”
Her interest in catechesis began when her oldest son, who is severely dyslexic, started his First Communion course at the age of seven.
“Nobody understood how he functioned. In those days, it was all ‘sit down and read from the book,’ and it was so difficult for him,” she recalled.
She realized that her son’s faith grew by listening to the words said at Mass, as well as through the sounds and smells at the church they attended.
In 2006, Williams attended a course called “Symbols of Faith” at St. Joseph’s. When she returned to her parish with a deeper knowledge of how to teach the faith to people with learning disabilities, she made a disturbing discovery.
She found that there were families that didn’t bring their children to church because they couldn’t cope with crowds or remain still during the quieter parts of Mass.
“To go back and find that part of my parish family was missing because of all these reasons was a real eye-opener for me,” she remembered. “That’s when I really felt quite strongly that everybody should be included.”
Williams continued: “When you’re a parent of a child or an adult with a learning disability, and you are on the phone constantly to doctors, fighting for them at school, the last thing you really need to do is to feel shut off from your faith.”
The latest catechetical directory is the third since the Second Vatican Council. The first, the General Catechetical Directory, was published in 1971. The second, the General Directory for Catechesis, was issued in 1997. The latest version updates catechetical methods for the digital age and is likely to have a profound impact on the teaching of the Catholic faith around the world.
When Williams begins catechizing a child, she takes them into an empty church and helps them to appreciate all the sensory elements: the colors, sounds and smells. She may lead them to the altar and explain why it is much more than an ordinary table.
“It’s not about long, convoluted words. It’s about showing and supporting them in making their own discoveries,” she said.
Williams urges parents of disabled children to raise the directory’s new recommendations with their pastors. If their parish doesn’t know where to begin, she advises them to contact Caritas St. Joseph or similar organizations where they live.
We can come out and we can train people, and we can share our knowledge, expertise and resources. But once you are trained, don’t be afraid to be the voice for those people who are left on the fringes of your parish,” she said.
Williams noted that, while her work is deeply rewarding, it can be emotionally draining. At one point, she was visiting families after finishing her day job.
“Sometimes you would spend one minute with the child because he had had enough at school that day and just wasn’t interested,” she said. “But then you would spend half an hour with the mum, because she hadn’t seen anyone all week or he had had a difficult day at school and she needed to talk to someone.”
“At those times you think ‘Well, I can’t catechize today.’ But actually you’re supporting the whole family. And it’s so important that even if it seems impossible, actually it isn’t. Kindness, patience and time is the best gift.”
There are also heart-lifting breakthroughs. Williams talks about discussing transubstantiation with a child who responded by making two sign-language gestures, one meaning “change” and the other signifying “creation.”
“So then you know that actually she’s understanding that that’s the Consecration, that the bread and the wine is changing and creating the Body and Blood. You get moments like that, that absolutely clarify what you are doing,” she said.
Above all, Williams wants parents to know that, thanks to the latest directory, a new path is open to them.
“It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are. God can always be present in your life,” Williams said.
“Quite a lot of time we get the question ‘Do they really know?’ And yes, they really do. Sometimes you have to work with someone for four years, sometimes for a year. Sometimes you can support them straightaway on the Communion program.”
“Just don’t be afraid,” she concluded. “It is possible for everyone.”
An estimated 463 million children have been unable to access remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic and widespread school closures, according to the United Nations children’s fund.
A new report published on Thursday by UNICEF said at least one-third of the world’s schoolchildren lack the equipment or electronic access that would allow them to pursue distance education.
“The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, said in a statement.
“The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come,” she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused the largest disruption to education in history, with schools closed in some 160 countries in mid-July, affecting an estimated 1.5 billion students, according to the UN.
A new report published in July by international charity Save the Children said nearly 10 million children may never go back to school because of deep budget cuts and rising poverty caused by the pandemic.
In an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, many countries switched to online learning, but aid groups say this has only widened the learning gap between children from rich and poor families.
The UNICEF report underlined gaping geographical differences in children’s access to distance education, with far fewer affected in Europe, for example, than in Africa or parts of Asia.
The report is based on data gathered from roughly 100 countries, measuring public access to the internet, television and radio.
Even children with adequate access may face other obstacles to distance education – whether the lack of a good workspace at home, pressure to do other work for the family, or a lack of technical support when computer problems arise, the UNICEF report said.
Of the students around the world unable to access virtual education, 67 million are in Eastern and Southern Africa, 54 million in western and central Africa, 80 million in the Pacific and East Asia, 37 million in the Middle East and North Africa, 147 million in South Asia, and 13 million in Latin America and the Caribbean.
No figures were given for Canada or the United States – the worst-affected country by the virus – where the issue of reopening of schools has sparked fierce political debate and concern among educators.
With the new school year soon to begin in many countries – including in-person classes in many places – UNICEF urged governments to “prioritise the safe reopening of schools when they begin easing lockdown restrictions”.
Where reopening is impossible, governments should arrange for “compensatory learning for lost instructional time”, the report said.
Accra, Ghana, – Salamatu Abubakar spent years of her childhood picking up scraps of plastic on the streets of Accra, the African coastal city that is the capital of Ghana. Her dad took the plastic to an open air market, selling it in bulk to recyclers and scrap dealers, and barely earning enough to get by.
In that same market, Samuel Ganyo, who had come with his mother to Accra from a poorer city in Ghana, sold slices of sugar cane to marketplace vendors, shoppers, and people passing by in cars. A popular snack across Africa, sugar cane didn’t pay enough for Samuel and his mother.
Daniel Lomotey started working in another Accra market when he was 10. He dropped out of school then, and started working for his uncle pushing a handcart hired by vendors to move their products in the Mandela marketplace. It was hard work, and it didn’t pay very much. And because Daniel, like Salamatua and Samuel, wasn’t going to school, his prospects for the future looked grim.
When Daniel was 12, he met Sister Anthonia Orji of the Daughters of Sacred Passion, a Nigerian religious sister working in Ghana. Sr. Anthonia helped kids do hard, heavy work on the streets, and helped them get back to school.
Sr. Anthonia is the centre manager and education officer at the Welfare, Empowerment Mobility Centre in the Archdiocese of Accra. Her work is part of the Rays of Hope project, which aims to help Ghana’s street kids, like Salamatua, Samuel, and Daniel, by giving them a home, and getting them enrolled in school.
Daniel is 18 now. He met Sr. Anthonia in 2014. And he told ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, that meeting her is the best thing to happen in his life.
“Through her guidance and support, I am now a final year Junior High student at the St. Peter’s Catholic School in Ayikuma. Apart from that, I have acquired the skills in sewing and barbering through training at WEM,” Daniel said.
Samuel, who is 16, also lives at the center, along with 22 other young people.
“I have learnt a lot like farming and barbering of hair as an additional skill to my schooling and I advise all vulnerable children who have the opportunity like me to make good use of it,” said Samuel.
The center doesn’t discriminate based upon religion. Though a Muslim, Salamatu said she has come to love Catholicism, through the guidance of Sr. Anthonia, whom she said is her mentor and mother.
“I picked polythene on the streets for my dad to sell in the Ashaiman market to earn a living. But thanks to Rays of Hope, I now live a life of dignity,” she told ACI Africa, adding, “Through the skills training and way of life at the center, I can pray the rosary and other Catholic prayers very well even though I am a Muslim.”
Ghana’s constitution prohibits many types of child labor. But Sr. Anthonia told ACI Africa that the constitutional law is not always followed, and that many poor children are put to work because of the poverty of their families.
Sr. Anthonia lamented school drop-out, child mortality, child labor, child trafficking, rape, prostitution and defilement of vulnerable children and urged Ghanaians to create a sense of belonging in street children.
She said that with the outbreak of COVID-19, the children ranging between the ages of 7 and 15 in residence at the WEM Center have been placed in various homes.
All the children, she said, were schooling at the St. Peter’s Catholic School.
“For the fear of the spread of the coronavirus at the WEM Center, 20 out of the 23 children have been placed in various homes of volunteer families and they are monitored daily by our re-integration staff,” Sr. Anthonia told ACI Africa.
The main aim of the center is to help Ghana’s street children get to school, and stay healthy, while staying connected with the parents and extended families of the children. The religious sister said that a lot of effort goes into establishing a frequent contact between the street survivors and their families.
“We believe that what God has created and bound together should not be separated. The connection to one’s family is the most valuable foundation for becoming a successful and responsible member of society. Therefore, we are convinced of putting all our effort, patience and love into the reintegration process of our beneficiaries,” she said.
Sr. Anthonia said that Christians have been endowed with the ability to perceive, appreciate and understand the situation of the vulnerable person, identify their needs, design needed services and facilitate the provision of requisite intervention to bring relief to them.
She appealed to parents and opinion leaders to jointly take steps to curb drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, teenage pregnancies, armed robbery, occultism and cyber fraud among the youth, especially those on the streets.
The work of her project, she said, begins with finding street children eager to go to school, and families willing to approve that.
“We search the streets of Ashaiman, Tema, Accra and its environs from the First Contact Place. Every year, we search for street children in the major cities in Greater Accra and those who are willing to be supported, along with their families, sign a contract for onward enrollment every September,” she told ACI Africa correspondent.
She explained that the center’s educational approach is divided into pre-school classes, formal education and informal education as well as moral and religious aspects of life.
“Pre-school” isn’t for younger kids, as the term denotes in the West. At WEM, all new recruits are prepared for school life through intensive one-year pre-school classes.
“The children who were once on the streets and not schooling will have to be prepared to enhance their reintegration into school life,” the nun said, and added, “This demands patience, energy and love.”
“In pre-school classes, we focus to improve their oral, literary and arithmetic skills through a structured curriculum, and in the later stage of their development in pre-classes, other subject areas are introduced.”
There are 36 children at the collection center who are being prepared for school life. The collection point, in extreme cases, serves as a temporary shelter for beneficiaries, whose relatives or parents have not yet been located.
The Nigerian nun explained that at the collection center, the beneficiaries come on a daily basis to be taught mathematics, English language and other subjects by the class teachers and volunteers.
“They are also educated on personal hygiene, social, religious and moral skills through classes and special programs,” she added, and explained that the children have a period of morning devotion after their chores, before they go into their classes for lessons.
The classes, she said, are divided into three levels to meet the children’s individual academic needs, as they undertake five hours of classes per day.
When they complete the one-year pre-class, they are enrolled into basic school after they have met the criteria, which include punctuality and discipline, ability to read and write, to calculate simple arithmetic, personal hygiene like bathing, washing, and neatness in dress, Sr. Anthonia said.
The children are admitted into Catholic schools because “we believe the environment and as well as the Christian routine will help grow their moral and religious values,” said Sr. Anthonia.
As part of its humanitarian activities, Rays of Hope sponsors the former vulnerable children from the basic to the tertiary level of education, providing shelter, food, accommodation, and school fees.
Sr. Anthonia said that passion to restore dignity among young people who have made mistakes in life inspires her apostolate.
“The work at Rays of Hope for me is not just work but rather it is a ministry and a call. Ordinarily, when you look at it with human eyes, you might not want anything to do with it,” she said.
“It is all about a call from God and a passion to make an impact in the young people’s lives.”
As a Grail sister of Tanzania I have had the privilege of ministering in the Maasai community of northern Tanzania, East Africa for many years. We started by educating the Maasai women, and as we lived with them and shared their lifestyle, we gradually learned what their special needs were and what we needed to do. For example, we have started feeding the Maasai children to reduce malnutrition and kwashiorkor due to lack of proper food and treatment.
The Maasai are semi-nomadic herders, who depend on their livestock for wealth, and the milk, meat and blood they provide. Their colorful traditions, customs and dress, and the fact they live near East African national game parks have made them well known among Kenyan indigenous ethnic groups. Most of them are either Catholic or Lutheran. Maasai women respect God, regularly meeting for small community every Sunday and Wednesday and for preparation of song for Sunday.
Presently there are a number of serious issues in Maasai society. For example, our Maasai girls — not just our students but the girls in primary school or younger — are being forced into early marriages. Sister Samba explained to me that the parents want them to get married in order to get their dowry. The dowry comes in the form of cows; in Maasai culture, the more cows you own, the higher your prestige.
Another serious issue is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Sister Deonisia tells us about this. It is a cultural initiation ceremony in which a number of young girls are circumcised. There are many negative consequences to their health, even death from heavy bleeding. Circumcision is a door to early marriage since most are married after the FGM ceremony.
We have kept records, and out of 389 girls we know that received FGM, 146 got married during this COVID-19 “holiday.” We have been working hard to get them back to school, and also we are fighting for the younger girls to get into primary school.
In struggling to get girls back to school, we make use of the police force to catch the parents, on the basis that they are neglecting the rights of their children to acquire an education. Most of the girls who are involved are between the ages of 6 to 13 years old.
Right now, the cases of girl students who were married during the COVID-19 crisis are now at the police court for judgement.
How can these girls be helped? I think the most important ways are:
Girls (students) need to be supported materially with uniforms and learning materials like exercise books, pens and pencils.
They need helpwith school fees to help them learn without worry.
We need to provide these girls with a dormitory because of the long distance from home to school; many girls have been raped on the way to school and have become pregnant.
Security is important when students are at school.
Parents need to be trained through seminars on the importance of a child’s rights to education.
Early marriages and FGM have led Maasai women to bring their girls to our convent in order to save the girls from these practices. As a result, we have started a center for Maasai girls. We have rescued them from FGM and fistula, (often a result of early-age childbirth) and have reduced the rate of death. A good number of Maasai girls have enrolled in the school. We have been so successful that our center for Maasai girls is now too small for the number of girls we serve, and we are trying to get a grant to make it bigger.
Freedom of speech is also an issue for Maasai women. Most men exercise power over women’s lives and personal freedoms; some women even have to get permission to go to town or visit friends.
Overworking is also a problem for Maasai women. In the Maasai community, women are responsible for maintaining the home, for cooking and cleaning, collecting firewood and water, looking after children, and building and repairing their huts.
It is obvious that married Maasai women have a workload that far exceeds that of married men. In a typical day, they clean their houses, cook, look after young babies, and fetch water. As there may be more than one wife in each household, the women share the workload among themselves and may delegate tasks to children and unmarried women in the homestead.
We Grail Sisters are working in more than seven villages, and the Maasai women, men, girls and children have become our friends. We share many things with them, and they tell us their likes and dislikes. They complain to us about some of their traditions: they don’t like FGM or early marriages, and are trying to stop these bad traditions. We are there for them and look forward to helping them improve their lives.
GULU, Uganda, – Every morning soon after dawn, 10-year-old Moses leaves home carrying trays of hard-boiled eggs and walks for half an hour to sell them outside a petrol station in the Ugandan city of Gulu.
With schools closed indefinitely since the nation went into a strict lockdown to fight COVID-19 in March, Moses is among some 15 million Ugandan children at risk of being forced to work as families are pushed towards extreme poverty, charities say.
After seven hours hawking his eggs, which sell for 500 Ugandan shillings($0.13) apiece, and doing his best to avoid police enforcing the lockdown, Moses picked up his trays and headed home.
“Business isn’t good. We won’t have enough food,” he said, as a group of boys, also selling eggs, asked him how his day had been.
A Save the Children report carried out in May found 56% of Ugandans had noticed an increase in child labour since the beginning of the lockdown.
“(There are) children in the streets selling stuff, selling alcohol, selling food in the markets, but also some of the big gold mines, we’ve had quite a few reports of more children going to work there,” said Alun McDonald, head of advocacy and communications for Save the Children in Uganda.
He said the charity has also been getting reports about increasing numbers of teenage girls being drawn into sex work to help their families make ends meet and buy everyday goods including food and sanitary pads.
The pandemic has put millions of children worldwide at risk of being pushed into labour, reversing two decades of work to combat the practice and potentially marking the first rise in child labour since 2000, the United Nations warned in June.
‘LIFE IS SO HARD’
Moses lives with his grandmother Fatima Khamis, 45, who looks after 16 children in total. As the only elder in her extended family she is expected to care for relatives’ children in a crisis situation, such as the pandemic.
Before the lockdown, Khamis used to run her own business selling snacks to students, but she had to shut down as customers stayed home.
Government food aid has barely covered the capital city, Kampala, and Khamis has received only 3 kg (6.6 pounds) of beans and 5 kg of rice since the coronavirus curbs took effect.
Besides Moses, two other girls work selling samosas but the household’s meagre income only stretches to one meal a day now.
“Life has become so hard,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Some of Khamis’s wards are orphans, some are her own children, and others have been placed in her care because their parents were unable to look after them.
Moses’s father is out of work while his mother got stuck in southern Uganda when the lockdown started.
Even before the pandemic shut down her business, the four youngest school-age children living with Khamis were not attending classes because she could not afford to pay school fees and buy books, paper and pens.
A girl holds her chalkboard as she arrives to attend lessons at the evening school in Ouakam neighbourhood, Dakar, Senegal January 16, 2019. Picture taken January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
DAKAR, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sierra Leone on Monday overturned a ban on pregnant girls attending school in a victory for human rights activists who had fought against it for five years.
The West African country introduced the ban in 2015 after a rise in rape, abuse and poverty during the deadly Ebola outbreak fueled a spike in teenage pregnancies.
The government held that allowing pregnant girls to attend school would tire them out, expose them to ridicule and encourage other girls to get pregnant, while critics said the ban increased stigma and set thousands back in their studies.
“The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education… hereby announces that the ‘ban on pregnant girls attending school’ is overturned with immediate effect,” the government said in a statement.
“Overturning the ban is the first step in building a radically inclusive Sierra Leone where all children are able to live and learn in safety and dignity.”
After years of advocacy proved unfruitful, human rights groups filed a case against Sierra Leone with West Africa’s top court in 2018.
The court ruled in their favour in December, saying the ban was discriminatory and violated the right to equal education.
“It’s been such a long fight,” said Sierra Leonean child rights activist Chernor Bah.
“We didn’t need to have gone through this. I feel for those girls who were abandoned by this policy, who went through all of this and who, most of them, will never probably recover,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Education Minister David Sengeh said the state would replace the ban with two new policies focused on “radical inclusion” and “comprehensive safety” in the education system.
Details were not yet announced, but the safety policy will include measures to protect girls from sexual violence in schools, said Judy Gitau, Africa coordinator of women’s rights group Equality Now, which worked with the government.
“We did not anticipate that the response would be as positive as it is,” she said.
Several other African countries also ban pregnant girls from attending school, including Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea.
Activists urged their counterparts in other countries to keep fighting.
“This victory shows the importance of collaboration between a variety of partners and not giving up,” said Sabrina Mahtani, a human rights lawyer who worked to lift the ban.
Computer lessons in Lagos. A national emergency response is needed to get all Nigeria’s children into quality schooling. Photograph: Cavan Images/Alamy
If you want a window on the condition of children in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, there is no better vantage point than the Katanga health centre in the impoverished northern state of Jigawa.
In a hut that passes for a nutrition clinic, a group of 25 women wait with their children. Tiny bodies bearing the hallmarks of acute malnutrition – distended stomachs and twig-thin limbs – are lifted into a weighing harness and their arms measured to check for signs of wasting. Ali, who has just reached his first birthday, weighs only 5kg – the average age of a two-month-old in the UK. His mother is 14.
Sitting under a tree in the forecourt, another severely malnourished child is gasping for breath. Nayo, who is seven months, has the telltale symptoms of severe pneumonia – a collapsed rib cage, deep cough and fever. He desperately needs antibiotics and medical oxygen. The clinic has neither. “I’m worried for his life, there is nowhere to go for help,” his mother tells me.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and a global energy-exporting superpower. It is endowed with vast natural resources. But the country is rooted near the foot of the World Bank’s global league table for human capital – a composite measure capturing the health, education and nutritional status of children.
Five years ago Nigeria’s leaders joined the rest of the world in embracing the 2030 sustainable development goals. They include targets to end preventable child and maternal deaths, eradicate malnutrition and give all children a quality education. Almost half of Nigeria’s 200 million population is under 15, and achieving these goals would catalyse the dynamic and inclusive growth needed to create jobs.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is either treading water or sinking like a stone on all the key 2030 indicators for child development. More than 800,000 children lose their lives each year, mainly to preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Over the past decade, the country’s share of global under-five deaths doubled – to 16% of the total – and continues to rise.
Malnutrition is endemic. Almost half of Nigeria’s children are stunted by nutritional deprivation, with devastating consequences for health and cognitive development. About 2 million face life-threatening malnutrition. Vaccination against killer diseases is critical for malnourished children. But millions of children in Nigeria have not been immunised.
More than 10 million children aged 5–14 years are out of school – more than in any other country – even though education is nominally free and compulsory. Most of those in school are getting a fifth-rate education after years of underinvestment. Children with eight years of schooling typically have learning skills equivalent to four years of primary education.
There are also deep fractures linked to inequalities in wealth, region and gender. Children born into the poorest 20% of families are eight times more likely to succumb to fatal illness. Young girls, especially those in the northern states, are far more likely to be forced into early marriage. Almost one in five girls are married by the age of 15, according to Unicef.
Nigeria’s child development crisis is a tragedy for the country. Over the next three decades the population will double, making Nigeria the world’s third most populous country. By 2050 almost one in every 10 children born in the world will be Nigerian. Sheer weight of numbers dictates that the fate of Nigeria’s children will shape the world’s development.
So what can be done to break the malaise?
First, Nigeria urgently needs to convert economic wealth into human capital, starting with investment in children. Current revenue collection levels are among the lowest in the world, holding back vital public spending in areas such as health and education. Changing this picture will require a broader and deeper tax base, with strengthened royalty collection from oil companies.
The federal government has passed some encouraging legislation on education and public health. But at 0.6% of GDP, Nigeria’s health spending is comparable to countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan. The result is clinics like the one in Jigawa, without trained health workers, medicines and vital equipment.
Second, a national emergency response is needed to get all children into quality schooling. Unlocking the potential of Nigeria’s children would transform the country.
That won’t be possible without a third component for change – a concerted drive to combat the deep inequalities facing girls and women. It is surely time for Nigeria’s politicians, as well religious and traditional leaders, to push for an end to child marriage – a practice that violates human rights, destroys opportunity and perpetuates poverty.
Former NFL player and Unity School co-founder Matt Birk. Credit: Ravens by Richard Lippenholz at Ravens Practice Balto Co/wikimedia. CC BY 2.0
by Perry West
Minneapolis, Minn., (CNA)– Not everyone who goes to high school will go to college, the founders of a new Minnesota high school say, but everyone should be prepared for leadership, service, and virtuous lives.
Preparation for a good life, no matter what comes after graduation, is the goal of Unity High School, set to open this fall in Burnsville, Minnesota.
Matt Birk, a retired football player who played with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, and Tom Bengtson, the owner of a small publishing company, are the founders of the school.
“At Unity, we are sure a lot of kids will go into college, some will go into the workforce, some will go into the military, some will discern religious vocations, and we think there is equal dignity in all of those things,” Birk told CNA.
“We are college prep but we are not only college prep. Not everybody is a candidate for college, people choose different paths and we believe that there is equal dignity in any of these paths. We are happy to prepare kids for post high school life regardless of what it looks like,” Bengtson added.
Birk has been involved with education programs in underprivileged communities since 2002, when he was playing professional football. As a father of eight, he said he knows that not all kids thrive in a competitive academic environment, noting that a “high-stakes” test-taking culture is not for everyone.
“If you look back at the genesis of the American education system, I think the original charter says the goal of education is to teach knowledge and develop character. As the U.S. keeps falling on the global list of test scores, we just keep focusing more and more on the testing,” he said.
“Character has been pushed out of mainstream education because it is all about the test now,” he added.
Birk said that because public school funding is tied to test scores, education models focus on test-taking skills, instead of adapting to the needs of each learner.
Birk added that while not every student is meant for college, every person can be formed for success.
“If we are only doing it to show how well we can take a test, what’s the point?” he asked.
“If you go to an Ivy League schools is that a guarantee to a great life? No, no it’s not. I would say the most important thing to me … is that they would have a firm foundation in their Catholic faith, that would be number one, and then, number two, I would say to be equipped with some skills to be able to help them with whatever path they choose.”
Birk added that digital technology has been detrimental to some areas of ingenuity – communication, teamwork, and social and emotional intelligence. As a result of increased technology and media influence, he said students are suffering more narcissism and depression, while developing less empathy and abilities to handle anxiety.
Unity will aim to address those issues when it opens this fall at Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in Burnsville. To start out, the school will only teach high school freshmen, but it plans to add a new grade each year, until the first incoming class graduate as seniors.
The school will start small. It has about a dozen students enrolled right now, and its founders hope to bring in around 25 for the first year. It is also working to be recognized as an official Catholic school in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Unity will focus on practical opportunities for students to develop skills in academics, character, leadership, and service.
Birk said the school will “be vigorously Catholic,” including opportunities for students to engage with an instructor who can foster “interior life and their personal relationship with Jesus.”
The former NFL center’s own faith is central to his life, he said. He is especially active in pro-life work. In 2013, after Birk’s team won Super Bowl XLVII, he declined to attend a reception at the White House.
“I have great respect for the office of the presidency, but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, ‘God bless Planned Parenthood.’ Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. I am Catholic, I am active in the pro-life movement and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t endorse that in any way,” Birk said.
He said he hopes Unity School will form students who are committed to faithful Catholicism.
“We really want the faith to be alive, to really be a part of the kids’ lives, not just taking a religion class,” said Birk.
Citing the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, Birk said, the Catholic faith has a great framework for building character. To foster character development, the school will be involved with long term service projects, like monthly outings to nursing homes, where the teens can get to know the people they are serving.
A major component of the school will be its “Real World Wednesdays.” On those days, the students will take “life skills” classes and character development, including opportunities to listen to guest speakers and undergo field trips and service projects.
The teens will learn entrepreneurship, leadership, interview techniques, resumes, and financial literacy. The students will also be exposed to trades, through courses and workshops in auto maintenance, metal or wood shop, or home economics.
The school will also partner with an organization called Pursuit Academy, which teaches ethical enterprise, encouraging students learn to become entrepreneurs, to plan and manage their future goals, and to be leaders in their communities. Among other things, the teens will learn about engaging with peer pressure, managing risk, and public speaking.
Birk said a focus of the “Real World Wednesdays” will be developing what he calls “the-other-people-matter” mindset.
By identifying the good in themselves and in other people, students will establish better relationships in the community and a better relationship with God, he said.
Developing leadership skills and character “might not necessarily help them get an A on a test or score higher on their SAT, but they are going to be equipped with skills that they can use in their lives, whether it is in the careers or their marriages or as parents or as communities members.”
“Let’s get them some of that stuff,” he added.
In light of the school’s emphasis on both academic and practical skills, Unity has chosen two patron saints: John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These saints are not only modern figures for students to model after but fantastic examples of the school’s goals, Bengtson said.
“John Paul II had all this rich philosophy of the dignity of the human person, which we will be teaching at Unity High School, including Theology of the Body,” Bengtson said.
“Then you got someone like Mother Teresa who took that theology and put it into practice – reached out to the poorest of the poor and saw dignity in folks who were in extremely dire circumstances.”
“In my mind, I seem them as both the hands and the heart at work together,” he added.
Bengtson said the school is convenient financially and geographically. Tuition will be $6,500 for the first year, which is half or even a third of the prices at other Catholic schools, Bengtson said. He also said the school will fill a neighborhood need in the southern metro area of the Twin Cities.
“It’s a large geographic area with 10 Catholic grade schools, through eighth grade, who collectively are graduating 300 students per year. Most of those students will go into public schools,” he said.
“About 75 students will stay in the Catholic school system and they have to travel quite a distance to Catholic high school.”
The lower price does mean there will be tradeoffs, Bengtson said, noting that the school will have to improvise for a gymnasium, science lab, and auditorium. However, the school will have a thoroughly Catholic culture, he said, with Mass three times a week and a holy hour once a week, which is not offered at all Catholic schools.
Birk expressed enthusiasm for the new venture.
“We are still very much like a typical school in a lot of ways, but we are tweaking the model. I don’t know where this goes, but hopefully it will show people that there is a better way to do it.”
Teachers from Kentucky gather inside the state Capitol in April to rally for increased funding. Photograph: Bryan Woolston/AP
Eric Blanc and Meagan Day
Educators in Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the country, are going on strike on Monday. By deciding to walk out for smaller class sizes, more support staff, fewer standardized tests and charter school regulation, LA’s teachers have ensured that California will be the next state hit by a strike wave that shows no signs of ebbing anytime soon.
The teachers’ upsurge was one of the defining stories of 2018. It began in West Virginia, where teacher and support staff decided to shut down the schools until their demands for better pay and healthcare were taken seriously. They won big, and they inspired educators across the nation to follow their example. Work stoppages soon swept across Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina and Colorado. Though not all their demands were met, teachers won major gains and changed the national conversation about the reasons for public education’s crisis.
Confounding all expectations, most of these actions erupted in Republican-dominated regions with relatively weak labor unions, bans on public sector strikes, and electorates that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Media pundits dubbed this a “red state rebellion”. But blue states are hardly immune to low pay, underfunded schools and frustrated teachers. Last fall, educators across Washington and charter school teachers in Chicago joined the strike wave – and strikes are now looming in Los Angeles as well as Oakland, threatening to disrupt business as usual for tens of millions of people on the west coast.
Above all, the teacher revolt expresses a rejection of the austerity and privatization agenda pushed by both Democrats and Republicans, particularly since the Great Recession. Today, 29 states have lower education funding than they did in 2008, and nationwide, education funding is still about $450 lower per student than it was a decade ago, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report. Last year, educators across the nation reached their breaking point, finally squeezed too tight by rising living costs, crumbling schoolhouses, and an encroaching school privatization campaign that opportunistically treats the crisis caused by underfunding as a pretext to further erode public education and labor unions.
However, 2018 wasn’t just the year that teachers had enough. Something else happened, too. West Virginia and subsequent battles have hammered home one of the labor movement’s most fundamental (and forgotten) lessons: strikes are the most powerful tool at working people’s disposal. Teachers have been rallying and lobbying against public education budget cuts for years – yet it was only once they began striking that politicians were forced to start making concessions.
At most times, in most places, workers feel powerless in the face of management. But when they organize to bring work itself to a halt, the balance of power fundamentally shifts. Suddenly the true importance of workers’ labor is laid bare, and the powers-that-be have a crisis on their hands. Strikes transform ordinary working people with little wealth and political clout into a force to be reckoned with. And all that’s necessary to tap into this game-changing, table-turning power is for workers to recognize the extraordinary value of their work, and organize with each other to withhold it.
Yet strike numbers have been declining for decades and it’s not hard to figure out why. Fewer workers are represented by unions than at any point in the last 70 years, thanks largely to a ruthless corporate offensive against the labor movement and basic union rights, including the right to strike. Unfortunately, most union officials have responded by retreating into a self-defeating reliance on electing and lobbying mainstream Democrats, instead of building disruptive strikes.
The teachers’ upsurge points the way forward for unions and the working class. But it will face new challenges in 2019. With the movement now spreading to the blue states, educators and their unions will no longer be primarily battling Republican politicians. To win in a city like Los Angeles means nothing less than taking on the Democratic party establishment. The corporate-funded drive to privatize LA’s public schools is not led by acolytes of Donald Trump. To the contrary: Austin Beutner, the billionaire investment banker installed as superintendent by deep-pocketed backers of school privatization, is a proud liberal and a longtime funder of the Democratic party.
Confronting Democratic politicians won’t come easy to many union leaders and educators, but the success of the movement depends on it. And if the strikes continue to spread, expect this growing labor militancy to exacerbate the polarizing intra-party struggle between the Democratic establishment and insurgent forces led by socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Winning in 2019 will also require foregrounding progressive taxation. Though districts and states can afford to make some immediate concessions – LA, for example, is sitting on $1.86bn in financial reserves – public education’s crisis can’t be solved without a massive re-investment in our schools. But who will pay for this? Against the inevitable attempts of mainstream politicians to pit teachers against other workers by cutting other social services or raising regressive taxes, educators and their unions will have to convince the public to join the fight for the only equitable solution: tax the billionaires and corporations.
The stakes are high. Public education remains one of the few remaining public goods in the United States. For that very reason, corporate politicians are doing everything they can to dismantle and privatize the school system. But if the teachers’ upsurge can reverse this offensive, there’s little reason to assume that working people will stop there. Saving public education may be the first step towards building a revitalized labor movement capable of bringing many of society’s basic necessities – from healthcare to energy production – into the public sphere. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/14/la-teachers-working-class-power-labor-strikes