UNESCO estimates that 121 million children and adolescents worldwide are out of school. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than half of these children and has the highest out-of-school rate of all regions.
When children miss out on acquiring basic numeracy and literacy skills they are excluded from formal education for life and face greatly reduced vocational prospects. Lack of education puts children at a much greater risk of a lifetime of poverty and poor health, creating a cycle they will pass on to their children.
Poverty, negative attitudes to education - especially of girls, limited access to school, poor quality teaching and forced labour all contribute to children being unable to attend school. Increasingly, dislocation due to conflict and natural disaster is disrupting the education of millions and creating a generation of unschooled and uneducated children.
SI Fund I: West Africa Speed School Initiative
In 2007, the Legatum Foundation, together with Strømme Foundation, launched the West Africa Children’s Education Strategic Initiative, a US $4.2 million three-year programme implemented by Strømme Foundation West Africa (SFWA) in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. These West African countries are three of the world’s poorest and least developed nations, according to the United Nations Development Index. It’s estimated that more than three million school-age children in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are not enrolled in school. Many of them have never attended and have little hope of entering the school system in the future, forcing them to fall further behind. Female literacy rates are particularly low – in fact, less than 20 percent of the women in these West African countries can read and write.
The innovative initiative aimed to reach over 32,000 disadvantaged children through an accelerated learning programme called Speed School – a ten-month programme that equips out-of-school children with the basic education and skills needed to pass public school entrance exams and enter the formal school system.
SI Fund II: Ethiopia Speed School Strategic Initiative
SPEED SCHOOL: WHAT ARE THEY?
Speed School is an accelerated learning programme that compresses three years of curriculum into 10 months, enabling graduates to acquire the skills needed to re-enter formal education.
The mothers of Speed School students join self-help groups for mutual support, adult learning, and microenterprise. Designed to run alongside Speed Schools as a complementary programme, the self-help groups boost the women’s economic standing, enabling them to support their children through primary school.
Preschool-age children are prepared for timely enrolment into first grade through a child-to-child programme and education quality is improved in formal primary schools through local link school development and teacher training.
Many Speed School Facilitators trained in active learning methods go onto obtain formal teaching qualifications and to teaching positions in mainstream schools.
The success of the West Africa Children’s Education Strategic Initiative inspired the Legatum Foundation to move the project to Ethiopia in 2011, partly to verify that the model was both transportable and scalable. Ethiopia, among the world's least developed countries, was suffering from an educational crisis. About seven million primary school-age children are out of school and 64 percent of the population is illiterate. A 2010 report by the Global Campaign for Education ranked Ethiopia as one of the six "worst places in the world to be a child" with regard to education.
In addition teacher absenteeism in primary schools poses the largest threat to children’s education in Ethiopia. Only 57 percent of 160 children in a pilot interview by our academic partner, University of Sussex, indicated that their teachers always attended lessons.
An Adaptable Model
While the West Africa Speed School curriculum included two languages (the children’s first language and French), the Ethiopia Speed School curriculum had to be adapted to include three languages (the children’s first language, Amharic, and English). This successful curricular adaptation supports the notion of transferability and represents a major achievement in demonstrating the broader applicability of the Speed School model.