Rebecca Turkington, assistant director of the Women and Foreign Policy program, and Rebecca Hughes, research associate with the Women and Foreign Policy program, contributed to the development of this blog post.
This article is adapted from a CFR panel, cosponsored by the Women and Foreign Policy program, on “U.S. Strategy on International Education: Why Does It Matter?” USAID Administrator Mark Green was joined by senior government representatives Julie Cram, senior coordinator of United States International Basic Education Assistance; Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen; Margaret Pollack, acting deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State; and Lona Stoll, deputy vice president, sector operations, Millennium Challenge Corporation. Panelists discussed the release of the first-ever U.S. government strategy on international basic education and new USAID Education Policy.
The new U.S. government strategy was mandated by the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act, which aims to accelerate the impact of U.S. basic education programs around the world. Why is this new strategy on international basic education so important, particularly for children impacted by conflict?
Mark Green: If you don’t have quality access, inclusive access to education, there’s no possible way you can get to self-reliance. And there’s no possible way that any of our other investments are going to be sustainable. So education is an extraordinarily high priority for us, because we see it as the sort of key to every other area we’re working on.
The world is changing rapidly - we’re looking at the millions of school-age kids who are unable to go to school particularly in crisis and conflict-affected areas. And so we’re looking for ways to try to reach out and help provide quality educational services in those settings. What keeps me up at night, is children being born in camps, being raised in camps, being educated in camps. Somehow, we expect them to be connected to the world around them and not vulnerable to the worst kinds of exploitative forces. So we’re trying to address that.
Margaret Pollack: At the State Department Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration, we focus primarily on refugees, whereas our USAID colleagues, focus on the internally displaced. There are over 70 million refugee and conflict-displaced individuals in this world. That’s, in my view, 70 million too many. But we complement our activities, through USAID’s work, and work with governments, ministries, host communities, and refugees to ensure that refugees have access to education even at the initial stage of displacement.
We have really has elevated what education means for refugees and conflict-displaced individuals. We have always worked in the field of education with refugees. But through the READ Act, and there’s a separate chapter in there on conflict victims that we’re really pleased and worked very closely with USAID on, that gives us the opportunity to really focus at the very beginning of a conflict, to especially get girls and young children into schools.
More than 130 million girls are still out of school from the primary to upper secondary levels globally. How does this new strategy and the USAID policy change the way agencies are coordinating on girls’ education?
Julie Cram: The whole strategy in our policy, and in our work together, lays out a focus on ensuring women and girls have better access to better quality education, and integrating that across all of our programs.
Margaret Pollack: The READ Act provides an opportunity for us to better coordinate across departments and agencies in terms of specifically targeting girls and making sure they have the educational opportunities that we know full well allows them to lead healthier lives.
Jody Olsen: I was just in Georgia last week for a week, focused on the technical, vocational programs that are in place in Georgia. And there, the MCC program had used results from a pilot that USAID had done to help shape the compact programming. The Georgian compact is very focused on science, technology, engineering, and math as a key to the transformation of the economy. And there was a camp specifically focused on girls and exposing girls to that STEM career path. Peace Corps volunteers were camp counselors at this camp that brought together girls from all around Georgia. And so there’s a whole effort by the Georgian government to also rebrand what technical vocational education and training is. And rebrand it for girls in particular and bring girls into these programs.
Can you speak about how the strategy coordinates with USAID’s global health programs to better ensure girls’ success in school?
Jody Olsen: We find helping girls stay in school is critical for their health. For instance, Peace Corps works through PEPFAR and DREAMS to keep girls in school so they are less susceptible to the behaviors that lead to HIV. So we work with our partners to discover the root cause of human capacity constraints. It’s different in different countries.
But there are themes like gender-based violence, the access to restrooms and facilities that allow girls’ health needs to be taken care of. And so a lot of times the infrastructure improvements we’re doing relate to having toilets in the school for girls and ensuring that schools that are close to villages so girls can get there safely.
How does the strategy encourage data collection and evaluation? Does the USAID strategy encourage recipient countries to measure outcomes?
Julie Cram: Data collection and evaluation are embedded within the strategy. In fact, our policy focused approach is ensuring that our country partners are using data to drive their decision making. One of the most important aspects of the strategy is its focus on national education sector plans, and data and measurement are fundamental to implementing these plans successfully. Because we know that the only way we’re going to get to the improved outcomes is for countries to measure and make better decisions based on their capacity to develop their own data management plans and knowledge management plans.
Lona Stoll: There is also a policy institutional reform component of this, too. In most of our partner countries they are putting gender policy in place for the first time. They’re really creating the same kind of data feedback systems to better understand over time why girls are dropping out or why girls aren’t going to school in the first place, and are working to ensure that there can be dynamic responses to these challenges.
Administrator Green, you’re a former teacher yourself. What drives your work and keeps you motivated?
Mark Green: Every time I go to a school, I’m excited about what I see in the eyes of kids. I started out as a teacher in Kenya. We didn’t have electricity. We didn’t really have running water. We had one telephone in the village. And we had one textbook for every dozen kids.
But my kids were absolutely desperate to learn. They used to ask my wife to come back in on Saturdays for more classes—alien concept in the United States of America, right? When you have kids that are desperate to learn, you can do almost anything. And so every time I visit a classroom I see that the kids are absolutely desperate to be there. If you’ve got that, that’s what you can build on. And so that’s why I’m excited.